Breaking News from Opposition International Bangkok Correspondent

Not as democratic as shown

Thailand’s election campaign is in full swing, with 21 parties competing in the second ballot since the 2014 military coup. Some election frontrunners include activists who led student protests against the junta and even balked the country’s lesse majeste laws against criticizing the monarchy. Rangsiman Rome serves as a spokesman for the Move Forward Party and is a former student activist who was instrumental in organising anti-military activities during the junta years of 2014-2019. During the junta even Thailand’s anti-military ‘Red Shirt’ movement, which was allied with the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinwatra, had gone quiet, adopting a wait-and-see approach until elections were held. Rome and a small group of student radicals formed the New Democracy Movement, organised largely out of Thamasat University, which held theatrical protests against military rule.

The students’ messaging grew ever-bolder and after the junta was dissolved in early 2019, they began to openly demonstrate against the dreaded Article 212 that prohibits criticism of the monarchy. The effort ultimately failed, with many students facing legal charges that still linger.

After a brief hiatus, activists like Rome re-appeared as candidates or activists in the Move Forward Party, which opposes military rule and favours change to the role of the monarchy in Thailand. The party does not publicise how many of its candidates are from the student movement, but a review of the candidate list published on its website shows some displaying the ‘three finger’ salute that characterised protests during the junta. Analysts contend that at least 20 of Move Forward’s candidates are former protesters.

In addition to Move Forward are the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai led by Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra and the Thai Sang Thai Party. Insiders expect the opposition to perform well in the May 2023 vote, but doubt whether they will can form a government. Under the revised 2017 constitution introduced by the junta, a senate hand-picked by the military must approve the new prime minister, making it unlikely for the opposition to prevail. According to an insider in the Red Shirt movement though, an unfavourable election result will not cause protesters to return to the streets en masse as that did 2010. “The Red Shirts are focusing on reforming the Senate, which will be in two-years time. We will wait out the 2023 election and keep quiet until the senate question comes up.”