16 June 2019

Stability over progress

KONFRONTASI -  After a lengthy delay, voters in Thailand went to the polls on Sunday. Political watchers waited with bated breath as the Thai people delivered their verdict on the military junta. Judging on the provisional results from Sunday’s ballot, a substantial number of voters prefer stability over improvement in the country’s economy.

Although the prodemocracy Pheu Thai won an estimated 138 of 350 constituency seats as of Monday afternoon, it will have to work hard to build a coalition to govern the country given the requirement that to form a government parties or a coalition of political parties need to gather 250 seats in parliament. It is widely expected that Pheu Thai will form a coalition with the new party Future Forward, led by young tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The result for Pheu Thai, a party founded by former prime minister Thaksin Sinawatra, was all the more disappointing for the prodemocracy movement, given that the party was expected to have an easy win.

The result for the junta-backed party, Phalang Pracharat, was far better than expected. The party, which nominated junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, may only win 96 seats in parliament, but it racked up more than 7.6 million votes with more than 90 percent of ballots tallied, a vote haul that could give the government it tries to form a claim to legitimacy. Coupled with a provision in the Thai constitution, which gives the military junta the right to appoint all 250 senators in the upper house, who then get to vote on the prime minister, it looks certain that Prayut will continue to lead Thailand and the junta would therefore maintain control over the country.

Having said that, the election has apparently brought little change and now with a greater popular mandate, it is likely that the future administration led by Prayut will focus on bringing stability by doing more to curb protests and dissent. The market appears to be happy with the election result. The baht, Asia’s best performing currency this year, strengthened 0.4 percent to 38.57 against the US dollar on Monday while the Thailand’s SET Index lost 1.3 percent less than declines in the broader Asian benchmark amid a global sell-off.

It appears that after five years of uncertainty, Thailand can now hope for stability. Its neighbors will also look to Thailand, the current chair of ASEAN, to lead efforts in progressing ASEAN integration and upholding the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.(Jft/TJP)

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