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Two recent national opinion surveys show that the opposition parties in Thailand are still in the lead one week from the country’s May 14 general election.
In a surprising turn of events, Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward party, has become the most popular choice for Thailand’s next prime minister, according to two recent polls.
Pita, a 42-year-old Harvard graduate, has overtaken Paetongtarn Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai party, who had been leading most polls this year.
The rise of Move Forward
Pita’s rise reflects the growing support for Move Forward, a progressive party that appeals to young Thais who are dissatisfied with the military-backed government of Prayuth Chan-ocha. Prayuth, a former army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup, has seen his popularity plummet amid economic woes, political unrest and a slow COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
The polls by Nation media group and the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) show Pheu Thai and Move Forward as the clear frontrunners for the May 14 election, with each having roughly triple the support of Prayuth’s United Thai Nation party. The pro-military Palang Pracharat party and its coalition partners, the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, are trailing far behind.
Another Thaksin sequel ?
Paetongtarn, 36, is the daughter and niece of two former prime ministers who were ousted by military coups. She has been absent from campaigning since she gave birth to her second child on Monday. She has hinted that she could form an alliance with Move Forward if Pheu Thai wins the election, and ruled out any cooperation with military-backed parties.
After the general election, the next prime minister will be elected by a vote of 250 military-appointed senators and 500 lower house members, a process that favours the pro-military camp. In order to select a prime minister, the opposition would consequently require 376 MPs in the lower chamber.
A crucial test for Thailand’s democracy
The election is seen as a crucial test for Thailand’s democracy, which has been marred by decades of coups and protests. The outcome could determine whether the country can move forward from its political divisions and address its economic and social challenges.
Since the 2006 military coup that caused the then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to leave the country, Thailand has been in a state of political turmoil, with increasing conflict between pro- and anti-Thaksin groups.
However, Move Forward has emerged as a third force in the political scene and has not aligned itself with either faction. As part of its campaign, Move Forward has proposed changes to the country’s lese-majeste law, which punishes those who show disrespect to the royal family, as well as reducing the number of high-ranking military officers. The party has also expressed support for demonstrators calling for royal reform, which has helped it gain support among young people.