Life tends to happen at a slower pace in Thailand so the political events of the past few days are likely to have left a few million heads spinning. No one in their wildest dreams would have predicted that, within 24 hours of the polls closing in Sunday’s general election, Pita Limjaroenrat (pictured, centre), leader of the Move Forward Party, would announce an agreement to form a coalition government.
At best, the nascent progressive party, which is made up of fresh-faced idealists and political rookies, hoped to finish second to Pheu Thai, Thailand’s largest opposition faction and a vehicle for the influential Shinawatra family. Having led two governments already this century, both of which ended in a military coup, this was meant to be the Shinawatras’ third coming.
The script has been ripped up. Sunday’s result has propelled Thailand into uncharted political territory. Move Forward’s politicians are genuine reformers. The party wants to end business cartels, amend the constitution to keep the army out of politics and, most controversially of all, rewrite the lèse-majesté laws that have kept Thai society in check for decades.
The new leadership stuck steadfastly by its principles during the election campaign, winning the trust of voters in the process. There’s no reason to believe that they will compromise now. This is going to cause a backlash from the country’s establishment but Thais of all ages want to talk about the future – and the principles that Move Forward stands for are very much it. Even if obstacles appear on Limjaroenrat’s path to becoming prime minister, the people have spoken and there’s no going back now.
James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor, based in Bangkok. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to the magazine today.