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Battle for Thailand’s Future: Elite vs. Underdogs in Shocking Election Showdown!

The Move Forward Party, currently gaining momentum in opinion polls leading up to the May 14 election, is eager to recover from the “lost decade” under a military-backed rule. It aims to implement comprehensive reforms to reinvigorate Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Pita Limjaroenrat, the 42-year-old Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate and party leader, is advocating for spreading economic activity beyond Bangkok, dismantling business monopolies, and reducing the armed forces’ political influence.

“In terms of policies, we need to do three things: de-militarise, de-monopolise, and decentralise,” said Mr. Pita during a Bloomberg TV interview. “That’s very much my 100-day agenda.” The upcoming general election presents a struggle between the ruling military-backed coalition’s pro-establishment parties, which have controlled the country since the 2014 coup, and the pro-democracy opposition, including the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties. One major focus is reviving the once-thriving economy that experienced the slowest regional growth last year due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on tourism and manufacturing.

According to Mr. Pita, who was nominated earlier this month as the party’s prime minister candidate, “The stake is the 1% versus the 99%. If the incumbent wins, that 1% will keep prospering and inequality will grow. If the 99% wins, that means Thailand will change for good. People label us as extremists, far-left, and all that. But we’re fighting for that 99%, going against the 1% that is the elite, the military, the money.”

The Move Forward leader plans to eliminate outdated laws that hinder businesses and introduce progressive measures to “finally democratise” Thailand after years under military rule, which he refers to as a “lost decade.” His 100-day agenda includes initiating the overhaul of the charter drafted following Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s (the former commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army) May 2014 coup, which ousted the Pheu Thai Party.

Mr. Pita mentioned ending a few liquor companies’ monopoly and passing a marriage equality bill as examples of the reforms Move Forward proposes. Additionally, the party will aim to end mandatory military conscription, reduce the army’s size, free up the defense budget, and stop the cycle of coups.

Established in 2020 after the Future Forward party was disbanded and its founders were banned from politics, Move Forward has adopted much of the progressive ideology and the drive to change the post-coup constitution. Mr. Pita believes his party can secure over 100 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, up from around 80 won in 2019. He hopes to seize the premiership from Gen Prayut, with Pheu Thai’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra whose government was toppled in a 2006 coup, leading a crowded race.

A recent survey by the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida) showed the party winning around 21% of votes, a four-point increase from the previous month. Though recent Nida surveys demonstrate Mr. Pita’s growing popularity over the last few months, another survey by Thai language newspapers Matichon and Daily News this week ranked him above Ms. Paetongtarn.

However, gaining more seats in the election will not guarantee Move Forward’s rise to power, as the military-appointed 250-member Senate holds the key to government formation. The rules are weighted against pro-democracy parties, which means Mr. Pita’s party will be required to collaborate with Pheu Thai, which is projected to win the majority of seats.

If Pheu Thai and Move Forward jointly win 300 seats in the House of Representatives, they can form a government with one of their prime ministerial candidates at the helm, according to Mr. Pita. The possibility of the party’s dissolution always lurks, as Move Forward’s predominantly young parliamentarians made a name for themselves over the past four years by revealing corruption and challenging the status quo benefiting big businesses and powerful elites. Mr. Pita warns that any attempt to disband the party will come at a high cost, such as another youth protest akin to a “wildfire.”

“We’ve learned our lessons and are prepared legally,” said Mr. Pita. “People are fed up, especially the younger generations. We cannot tolerate this kind of thing anymore.”

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