Thailand is (probably) getting a new leader

Briefly: Several pro-democracy parties are now working to form a coalition government after trouncing military-backed parties in Thailand’s elections on Sunday. Turnout hit a record high, with over 75% of eligible voters participating.

In theory, the front-runner to emerge as prime minister is Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year old Harvard alum and former tech exec. His upstart Move Forward party won the most seats, so he’s teaming up with smaller parties to try and unseat the military-backed government that came to power after a 2014 coup.

But here’s the catch: even with a coalition, Pita is still about 66 seats short of the full parliamentary majority that’d ensure he becomes prime minister.

And here’s the bigger catch: Thailand’s senate, appointed by the military junta, is unlikely to back a candidate like Pita calling for an end to military rule. And smaller parties in the lower house seem wary of Pita’s outspoken stance on the Thai monarchy. So it’s hard to see where Pita can get those final 66 votes from.

Intrigue’s take: The junta has now baked so many contradictions into Thailand’s political system: it wants democracy without losing control; civilian rule without civilians. But after Sunday’s thumping, it’ll have to choose one or the other.

And Thailand’s military doesn’t exactly have a history of choosing democracy.

Yet the Thai people don’t exactly have a history of ceding their democracy easily.

Also worth noting:

  • Pita’s Move Forward party campaigned to reform strict laws that ban criticism of the Thai monarchy (punishable by up to 15 years in prison).
  • A Thai court dissolved Move Forward’s predecessor party in 2020 over alleged campaign finance violations, leading to large protests.
  • In a news conference on Monday, Pita said there’d be “a hefty price to pay for someone who’s thinking of abolishing the election results or forming a minority government.”
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