There could only be one place for Thailand’s youngest and most progressive party to celebrate its astonishing success in the election.
Move Forward and its supporters held their victory rally next to the art deco edifice known as Democracy Monument.
Situated right in the middle of the grandest boulevard running through Bangkok’s historic royal quarter, it has long been a symbol of the country’s frustrated democratic hopes, and the difficult relationship between those hopes and the exalted status of the monarchy.
That relationship, once an unmentionable topic, is now on the agenda of the winning party. As is amending the lese majeste or 112 law, forbidding the insult of the monarchy, under which dozens of young protesters who often rallied at this same spot have been charged and jailed.
Lorries clad in the party’s trademark orange circled the monument, its leaders waving at cheering supporters, many wearing orange ribbons in their hair and on their wrists.
“We are so excited and happy,” said Wiwan Sirivasaree, 35, and Narunphas Kornasavakun, 36, two women who stayed up all night to watch the results come in. “We have waited four years for this, after what happened last time.”
They were referring to Move Forward’s previous incarnation Future Forward, which also performed well at the last election in 2019 on the back of a passionate young following, only to be dissolved by Thailand’s Constitutional Court and have many of its MPs banned from politics.
But Move Forward has come back even stronger, and attracted the support of a much wider range of people.
“I think it is fair to say that the sentiment of the era has changed,” said the Move Forward leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, at his first post-election press conference.
Although the party’s performance – giving it an estimated 151 seats – leaves it well short of a majority in parliament, it was so much stronger than predicted, and better than any other party, that it is being widely seen as a popular mandate for its reform agenda.
It has now agreed with Pheu Thai, the second-largest party, which was also in opposition, to form a coalition government. With four smaller opposition parties, Mr Pita said, they do have a clear majority, and a mandate to govern.
“The people of Thailand have already spoken their wish, and I am ready to be the prime minister for all, whether you agree with me or disagree with me,” he added.
However, this proposed coalition would not have sufficient seats to outvote its opponents and the unelected 250-seat senate – that, under the military-drafted constitution, is allowed to join the vote for the next prime minister.
As the senators were appointed by incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, it is presumed that they will oppose a Move Forward-led administration. If that happens, there could be a long political stalemate in Thailand.
Move Forward seems prepared to take that risk, as if daring the much-criticised senate to block them.
“With the consensus which came out of the election there would be quite a hefty price to pay for someone who is thinking of abolishing the election result, or forming a minority government, and I think the people of Thailand would not allow that to happen,” Mr Pita said.
Aside from the senators, the other unknown is whether the Election Commission or the Constitutional Court, two institutions notorious for their role in disabling previous elected governments, find some pretext for dissolving Move Forward.
“In other countries when you have the largest two parties like this, combined, with control of more than half the lower chamber, you should be able to form a government,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, from Chulalongkorn University. “But in Thailand it is up to the referee agencies. And they have shown themselves not to be impartial.”
As things stand, Move Forward says it is preparing for government, an unfamiliar experience for its new MPs, some of whom are young political activists with multiple criminal charges hanging over them for their street protests.
If it is allowed to take office, the people of Thailand will have the youngest and most progressive government in their country’s history.