Thai opposition parties agree to form coalition government after shocking victory

Thailand’s two main pro-democracy opposition parties agreed to form a coalition government on Monday, one day after they swept to a landslide victory in elections that saw voters demand a change in the decades-long hold on political power by the military and the monarchy.

The progressive Move Forward Party stunned observers by coming out on top of the race for 500 seats in the House of Representatives, edging out the heavily favored populist Pheu Thai party.

With all votes counted as of Monday morning, Thailand’s Election Commission said Move Forward had won 151 seats, while Pheu Thai took 141 seats.

“The people of Thailand have already spoken their wish and I am ready to be the prime minister for all, whether you agree with me or disagree with me,” Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat said at a press conference Monday.

The 42-year-old said he had invited Pheu Thai, whose leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra was seen as the front-runner leading up to the election, as well as four other parties to form a coalition government. Together, the parties would control 309 seats.

“It is safe to assume that we have secured a majority in forming the government going forward,” Pita said. “We’ll try to form the government as soon as possible to avoid any delay or vacuum.”

Pheu Thai congratulated Move Forward on the victory and said in a statement that it would accept the invitation to join the coalition government. The populist party had dominated electoral politics for the past two decades but was repeatedly removed from power by military coups and judicial interventions.

Paetongtarn’s father, billionaire tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as prime minister in 2006. Her aunt Yingluck also served as prime minister before being removed by the military in 2014.

“Pheu Thai Party wishes to confirm that the party has no plan to compete with the Move Forward Party in order to form the new government,” the statement added.

Sunday’s election result was a strong repudiation of the military-backed government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who seized power in a coup in 2014. The two main army-allied parties only managed to take 76 seats in total.

Move Forward galvanized a younger generation of voters with an ambitious agenda that promised to rewrite the constitution, end military conscription and — most radically — reform the lese-majeste law that makes it a crime to insult the king or members of the royal family.

Pita confirmed on Monday that his government would go forward with a reform of the law, a once-unthinkable proposition in Thai politics and a subject that Pheu Thai had avoided during its campaign.

The Harvard-educated former business executive said Sunday’s stunning result proves Thailand is ready to break the hold of the military- and monarchy-aligned establishment over Thai politics.

“The sentiment of the era has changed,” he said. “The timing was right. People have been through enough of the last decade. Today is a new day and hopefully it’s full of the bright sunshine of hope going forward.”

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