During this year's national elections, which were the freest in many years, Thailand experienced a remarkably chaotic electoral outcome and subsequent post-election negotiations. Move Forward, the party most dedicated to institutional reform, including the military and even the monarchy, secured the most seats in the lower house of parliament. They attempted to form a coalition with other seemingly democratic parties, such as Pheu Thai, the long-standing populist vehicle associated with the Shinawatra family, and smaller parties. However, they were unable to establish a government. This failure was due to the Thai constitution, which was crafted by the junta that ruled the country in the previous decade. According to this constitution, a coalition needs not only half of the 500-member lower house, which Move Forward and its allies had, but also half of the combined lower and upper house, totaling 750 legislators. The upper house, however, was handpicked by the military and, with few exceptions, was unlikely to support a government led by or including Move Forward.
Subsequently, frantic horse-trading ensued. Pheu Thai, a party known for its transactional approach, ended its alliance with Move Forward and other parties in the democratic coalition. They formed a government endorsed by the military-appointed senators alongside a diverse array of other parties, including pro-military factions and remnants from the past. Pheu Thai's decision to abandon the democratic alliance, however, provoked the ire of Move Forward voters, particularly many young Thais. They now view Pheu Thai, which had long been seen as a democratic standard-bearer (having had two prime ministers removed by coups), as aligning with the military, monarchy, and other establishment forces. Pheu Thai's image was further tarnished by the fact that, just as this deal was struck to gain control of the government, Thaksin Shinawatra, a prominent figure in the party, returned to Thailand after a lengthy exile and received pardons for most of the crimes he had been accused of.
Amid this turmoil and frustration, questions arise about whether Pheu Thai and its partners can effectively govern in a manner that reunites the Thai population, fortifies long-eroded democratic institutions, and tackles Thailand's other pressing issues, including a relatively weak economy, youth unemployment, and other concerns. For more insights on how Pheu Thai is responding, you can read my new article in World Politics Review.