Move Forward encourages Thai voters with vow to reform royal family | Military News

Bangkok, Thailand – At a busy intersection on the outskirts of Thailand’s capital Bangkok, a young woman holding a heavy megaphone urges passers-by to vote for her in Sunday’s general election, curbing the monarchy and military stranglehold on the Southeast Asian country. He promised a “new kind of politics”. office work.

“It’s time for a change,” said 30-year-old Chonticha Junganglu on Thursday, his voice hoarse after months of campaigning.

“We have been under military rule for nine years. It’s time to remove the military from Thai politics.”

Chonticha, known as “Look Kate,” spearheads the youth-led Progressive Party (MFP), which has inspired Thai voters young and old. Analysts have described the party as “the new game” in Thailand, a country of 71 million people, where voters have long had the choice between a party aligned with the royalist-military or exiled billionaire Thaksin.・It was a Shinawatra political party. The fierce power struggle between the two led to the overthrow of Thaksin’s government in 2006 and her sister’s Yingluck in 2014 in military coups that plunged the country into political stagnation for nearly two decades.

Ambitions for change appeared high in Chonticha’s constituency in Pathum Thani province, 41 kilometers (26 miles) north of Bangkok.

On their way to work in the morning, many people stopped for a moment, rolled down their windows, gave a thumbs-up, and offered words of encouragement.

“Keep fighting,” one woman yelled from her car, while another on a motorbike stopped for a quick selfie and a cold drink.

Chonticha Jungangru introduces himself during an election campaign in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok, Thailand, on April 17, 2023. [File: Sakchai Lalit/ AP]

“Nine years has been too long,” said a woman on a motorbike, referring to the nearly ten-year rule of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who spearheaded the 2014 coup as military commander. The retired general returned to power as head of the civilian government in 2019 after an election that rebels said had been rigged, an allegation he has denied.

Prayuth is seeking re-election, but his Unionist Party of Thailand (UTN) has been trailing in polls, coming in third in recent polls. Support for the party is a fraction of that of Pheu Thai, the main pro-Thaksin party, and second-placed MFP.

The Pheu Thai Party has long held the lead in public polls, but the MFP has narrowed the gap in recent weeks. The Pheu Thai Party currently has around 38% support, down from 47% in April, while the MFP has 34% support, up from 21% previously, according to a National Institute of Development Management study. are doing.

one large poll The MFP’s prime ministerial candidate, 42-year-old Pita Rimjaroenrat, has emerged as a popular candidate, according to a report published last week in The Nation. The businessman had an approval rating of 29.37%, compared to 27.55% for the pro-Thai candidate, Petongtarn Shinawatra, the 36-year-old daughter of exile Thaksin.

“Rotate the dial”

Observers attribute the MFP’s popularity to its bold promises to reform the military and monarchy. These included pledges to abolish the military-drafted constitution, abolish conscription, reduce the size of the military, and amend Thailand’s strict lese majeste law, making insults to King Vajiralongkorn punishable by up to 15 years in prison. be

The latter subject, once taboo, is now on the rise in Thailand, thanks to tens of thousands of young protesters who took to the streets across Thailand in 2020 and 2021, calling for a curtailment of the king’s powers. It is hotly debated among citizens.

The MFP is the only political party that has pledged to meet the protesters’ demands.

“The MFP seeks to take Thai politics to the next level by calling for structural reforms in the existing power centers, especially the military and the monarchy,” said Thitinan Ponsudirak, professor of international relations at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. Stated.

“This will change the course of Thai politics from a battle between the conservative royalist regime, which revolves around the military, monarchy and judiciary on the one hand, and Thaksin’s political forces on the other. The cry of the front and the younger generation is the reform and adjustment of the military and the monarchy.”

Formed in 2020, MFP is the successor to the now disbanded organization. future advance party. Led by auto-parts billionaire Thanathorn Juanlongluangkit, Future Forward surprised Thailand, which became the third party in parliament, winning about 81 seats in the 2019 general election. But within a few months, outspoken opinions were being expressed. Thanathorn was disqualified He was indicted by the House of Representatives for illegally holding shares in media companies and violating election laws.

And in early 2020, Future Forward will completely dissolved Suspicion of receiving illegal loans from Thanathorn. The popular politician was also banned from politics for ten years.

The dissolution of Future Forward was a significant trigger for student-led protests.

Ignoring COVID-19 restrictions and borrowing pop culture themes from Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series, tens of thousands of young people will hit the streets of Bangkok and other cities starting in June 2020. let out, Systematic democratic reform and abolish the blasphemy law.

The authorities responded with force. Police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and arrested dozens of high-profile activists on sedition charges. At least 242 protesters have also been charged with insulting the king.

The MFP was formed in the midst of turmoil, with Future Forward MP Pita emerging as the leader of the new party. With its promise to reform the lese majeste law, MFP has attracted the support of many activists in the student-led movement.

Among them is Chonticha, who could be charged with two charges of defaming the king and 26 other criminal charges over his role in the protests.

“When the youth uprising broke out here in Thailand, young people were risking their lives in the streets to talk about one of Thailand’s most untouchable topics: monarchy reform and defamation of the royal family,” she said. told Al Jazeera.

“But looking back at Congress at the time, not many politicians were willing to speak up about it, and that really disappointed me,” she said. I want to be a legislator who delivers all requests to Congress.”

focus on democracy

Recent polls show the MFP will likely win between 70 and 100 seats in Sunday’s election. About 500 seats are contested, including 400 directly elected seats and 100 seats allocated from party lists.

The MFP’s popularity is likely to negate the landslide that Pheu Thai has long pursued. The latter are now on track to win a total of about 220-240 seats, according to opinion polls.

The Pheu Thai Party and the MFP have shown their willingness to form a coalition, but even with a total of 340 seats in a 500-member chamber, a government cannot be formed. About 250 non-elected senators are allowed to vote for the prime minister under the Thai military-drafted constitution.

Amid the expected funding shortfall, the Pheu Thai Party is considering a power-sharing deal with a smaller royalist-military party, the Paran Pracharat Party, led by Prayut’s current deputy Prawit Wongsuwan. Rumors are circulating thatThese reports are not popular with the public voters who want change, likely to contribute to MFP approaching On Pheu Thai Party’s lead in polls.

MFP leader Pita drew the most enthusiastic response from the crowd at a party debate at Bangkok’s upscale mall Siam Paragon on Thursday. He was the only prime minister candidate to attend the four-party debate, while others sent senior officials. The young audience erupted in deafening applause each time Mr. Pita spoke, but there was a roar of boos as officials from Mr. Prayut’s UTN and Mr. Prawit’s Paran Pracharat took center stage. .

With a wide smile on her face, Pita vowed “total democracy” and equality for all Thais.

“Give us a chance to go vote on Sunday and do something we’ve never done before,” he said. “Our main focus is on human resources. We are not allied with UTN or Paran Pracharat,” he declared, to great cheers.

The surge in support for MFP seems to have worried Thailand’s contribution.

Titipol Pakdewanich, professor of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University in eastern Thailand, said the party, which had focused its election campaign on stimulating Thailand’s economy during the pandemic, “started incorporating the words liberty, liberty into its election campaign.” ‘ said.

“So unlike past elections where economic policy dominated the race, now the focus is on democracy,” he said.

Earlier this week, Pheu Thai Party’s Petongtarn even promised not to cooperate with Prayut and Prawit. But she refused to work on reforming the lese majeste law, saying only that her party intended to discuss the issue in Congress. Many see the move as potentially aimed at reconciliation with the palace.

That appears to have pushed young voters further apart, with about 3 million of them voting for the first time on Sunday.

blasphemy law

On the streets of Bangkok this week, a number of young voters told Al Jazeera that they preferred MFPs to Pheu Thai Party. Strong stance on the lese majeste law known as Article 112.

“MFP fights for democracy. They are steadfast,” said Phatcharadanai “Fifi” Lawansov, 27, from the working-class Bangna district. “In 2020, we sowed the seeds of change, and MFP is a party to help ensure this change is realized.”

In central Bangkok, 33-year-old Natopatsong Tunyatarinun, who dressed his poodle in orange from the MFP, expressed similar sentiments, saying he would vote for the party because of its promise to rewrite the constitution. . Another group of four women, all in their 20s, also praised the MFP’s “clear position” on Article 112 and said they would vote for the Progressive Party.

Conservatives seem to be concerned about the popularity of MFPs.

Phetongtarn Shinawatra (right) attends a mass rally event ahead of the upcoming elections in Bangkok, Thailand, May 12, 2023. [Jorge Silva/ Reuters]

On Wednesday, the candidate of the ruling Paran Pracharat party petitioned the election commission to remove Mr. Pita from politics, claiming he held undeclared shares in a media company. This is the same charge that led to the election stripping of Future Forward leader. 2019 Congress.

Pita denied wrongdoing and claimed the company in question went off the air in 2007.

Titipol of Ubon Ratchathani University said the politician’s future rested on Sunday’s vote. If Prayut’s UTN and Prawit’s Paran Pracharat fail to exceed the 25-seat threshold required for prime minister nomination, “they may try to attack the Forward Party.” This could entice lawmakers to abandon their party and switch allegiance, as some Future Forward politicians did in 2019, Titipol said.

“In Thailand, if you have the money, you can do this,” he says. “It’s a very lucrative market. If you get voted as an MP, you can become a millionaire overnight.”

But MFP candidates and supporters seemed unfazed.

“We are not worried,” said MFP candidate Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep, who is running for a seat in Bangkok. “We have already shown them that we can come back stronger. MFP is much stronger than Future Forward at the moment.”

At Pathum Thani, Chonchita said the MFP has been in politics for a long time.

“When I go campaigning, I see children aged 10, 12, 15 who tell me they support the Progressive Party … when those children grow up, they will run the country. will change,” she said.

“There will soon be changes in Thailand,” she says. “Probably a lot sooner than we think.”

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