Election staff marking votes for party number 31, Move Forward Party (MFP) on 14 May 2023. MFP won overwhelmingly in Bangkok with all but one seats going to its candidates. (Photo: Terry Xu)

As preliminary election results of the 2023 Thai General Election suggest a significant shift in power, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has issued a statement calling on Thai authorities to protect and uphold the democratic will of the people in forming the government.

The Move Forward party, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, appears to have garnered 151 seats, while fellow opposition party Pheu Thai, led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, has secured 141 seats, according to the preliminary results.

This puts the opposition parties in control of 292 out of 500 lower house seats. Meanwhile, the United Thai Nation Party of incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha is trailing in fifth place with just 36 seats.

APHR Co-chair and former Malaysian MP Charles Santiago congratulated the Thai people for their substantial turnout and peaceful voting, stating, “The voters have spoken, and their message is clear: they want real democratic reform.”

Despite the strong showing from opposition parties, the formation of a new government could face hurdles due to the 250 military-appointed members of the upper house, who will also be voting on the next prime minister.

Santiago urged the Royal Thai Military to heed the demands of the Thai people, “Subverting the election results and blocking the formation of a new government by the winning parties would be an unconscionable betrayal that would only result in unrest and instability. We, therefore, urge the military and incumbent government to do the right thing and abide by the will of the people.”

Amid these concerns, Pita Limjaroenrat confirmed discussions with leaders of several parties, including Pheu Thai, Thai Sand Thai, Prachachat, Sereeruamthai, and the Fair Party, to form a coalition government. These parties collectively hold 309 seats, a significant majority.

Pita emphasized the importance of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the coalition government’s term, offering transparency into the government’s plans and actions for the first 100 days and the upcoming year.

Notably, Pita stressed the need for army reform and the abolition of conscription, expressing his readiness to assume the role of Defense Minister if necessary.

Pita also dismissed concerns about the Senate’s support for his bid as Prime Minister, expressing confidence in the public’s will. However, Senator Chalermchai Fuangkon cautioned against over-reliance on the senators’ decision-making, reminding Pita that the senators were appointed by the groups forming the coalition.

In a promising development last Thursday, Thailand’s army chief General Narongpan Jitkaewthae pledged no return to military rule despite the army’s history of seizing power, most recently in 2014. “There shouldn’t be (a coup) any more. For me, this word should be deleted from the dictionary,” he said.

As the official results are awaited, both the Thai people and the international community will be closely watching the unfolding political landscape, hoping that the democratic will of the people is respected.

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