After months of political wrangling following the May 14 national elections, Thailand has a new government led by the longtime opposition party, Pheu Thai. But the outcome—a result of a deal between Pheu Thai and several parties aligned with the military—has angered many reform-minded Thais. A plurality of voters supported the more progressive Move Forward party, which promised to democratize Thai politics. When Move Forward could not garner enough support for its prime ministerial candidate in the military-aligned Senate, Pheu Thai forged a new coalition, excluding Move Forward. Meanwhile, Pheu Thai’s elder statesman, Thaksin Shinawatra, has returned to Thailand from a fifteen-year self-imposed exile, suggesting he may be expecting a royal pardon for crimes he is accused of, in exchange for Pheu Thai allying with the conservative establishment.
In addition to the drawn-out process of forming a government, the future of another institution of the Thai ruling establishment, the monarchy, is uncertain. King Vajiralongkorn’s chosen successor is reportedly in ill health, and another formerly disowned son returned to Thailand after twenty-seven years in exile. Given Move Forward’s outspoken calls to reform the monarchy during the campaign, the palace may recognize it needs to reform itself to maintain public support. Both developments suggest that Thailand will remain politically unstable, undermining its regional influence in Southeast Asia and its utility as a treaty ally to the United States. For more on Thailand’s multiple challenges, see my new CFR In Brief.