Opinion: Mistrust Prevails Following ‘The General’s’ Election

A poster with an image of junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha telling Thammasat University students to put their dishes at proper places after eating at a canteen.
A poster with an image of junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha telling Thammasat University students to put their dishes at proper places after eating at a canteen.

Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukTwo issues emerged from Sunday’s tight election result: trust and legitimacy – or the lack thereof.

The Election Commission’s abrupt end of supplying poll results to the public in the middle of Sunday’s election night and other reported irregularities created a loss of trust. Already, on Change.org, nearly 1 million have signed a petition calling for the removal of the commission.

Those on the anti-junta camp are well aware that it was the junta-appointed rubber stamp parliament, known formally as the National Legislative Assembly, which selected the commissioners. And they simply do not trust them.

Distrust exists on both sides, however. A long-time, well-educated acquaintance whom I met Tuesday by chance while he was on his way to give a talk about the future of Thai politics, didn’t wait long before floating the accusation that Future Forward Party is a threat and will seek to turn the kingdom into a republic. Repeated denials by Future Forward Party leaders means nothing to these people.

That’s not all. There is little doubt that the soon-to-be-announced 250 senators selected by junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha’s will vote to help him retain the premiership.

If Prayuth is shameless enough to have staged a coup and made himself prime minister, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a Prayuth-appointed senate voting him the head of government.

It means that even though a Pheu Thai-led coalition mustered 255 seats from at least six political partners Wednesday, it is still more likely that the pro-junta camp will rely on the 250 votes from the upper house to form a government.

Almost immediately, leaders from the pro-junta party Phalang Pracharath denounced the bid by the Pheu Thai-led seven-party coalition, citing it has more popular votes than the Pheu Thai – which has more MP seats.

“We have the legitimacy to form a majority government and support Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha as the [next] prime minister,” said Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, the party’s spokesman. “What’s more important, we won the most number of votes, about 8 million. This is the vox populi to have Gen. Prayuth as a prime minister.”

It doesn’t matter if Thailand’s political system is supposed to be a representative democracy, the pro-junta party is now claiming to be legitimate for winning the popular vote. Never mind if Pheu Thai has more MPs than Phalang Pracharath – 137 versus 119.

Phalang Pracharath secretary general Sonthirat Sontijirawong said on Wednesday that “true democracy is respecting people’s voices. Phalang Pracharat is a democractic party.”

I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the same Sonthirat who until earlier this year willingly served a junta leader and joined an unelected military government. I can’t help but wonder how Phalang Pracharat could claim to be a democratic party when its leaders have served an unelected military government and are now nominating their boss to become prime minister again. This too, most likely with the votes from the 250 unelected senators – who will be selected by no less than Prayuth himself.

In Thailand, fakeries are not limited to fake Swiss watches and branded handbags, but fake democracy and fake democratic parties too.

Then there are the uncertainties. Under election law, the official results can be announced as late as a month from now, or May 9. Although 100 percent of unofficial votes have been revealed, with Phalang Pracharat winning 8.4 million votes the Pheu Thai’s 7.9 million, it’s hard to tell if there may be disqualifications in the weeks ahead. That means the results may not be finite for the next five weeks. One also wonders why the commission changed the voter turnout on Thursday from 65 percent to 74.6 percent.

Which side has the legitimacy to form a government is a contested issue. The answer depends on who you ask.

What will the anti-junta camp do if the pro-junta camp relies on the 250-appointed senators to install Prayuth as an “elected” prime minister after May 9? Will there be a political boycott? Will that lead to political paralysis and violence followed by another military coup?

No matter which side manages to form a government, the next administration will most likely be a very fragile coalition with a very slim or no majority in the house of representatives.

Thailand after general elections – or rather the general’s elections – is unstable and unpredictable. However, that might at least be better than being “stable” directly under Prayuth’s military dictatorship for more years to come.