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Uncertain times for Thailand’s monarchy and their lèse majesté laws

Thailand’s elections were held over the weekend – the result of which gave the world a much different image than what many were predicting. 

First and foremost, voter turnout at the polling stations was at a record high, with many young people and first time voters turning out to cast their ballots. 

Second, the parties receiving the most support was also something of a surprise. Move Forward, which was considered an outsider by most opinion polls, ended up securing the most votes, and its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, has already declared himself ready to be the country’s newest Prime Minister. 

The second largest party is the populist Pheu Thai, with its leader, Paethongtarn Shinawatra, making it known that she is open to a governing coalition. 

The party currently in power and backed by the military only finished in fifth, making its future quite uncertain. 

Because of the extremely complicated Thai electoral system, it is not yet clear whether or not the opposition coalition will have the necessary votes to actually proceed with the formation of a Government, but, if they were to succeed, they have expressed intentions to change the country’s constitution. 

Mr Limjaroenrat made it clear that one of his first priorities will be to change the country’s controversial lèse majesté law, which has penalised a lot of citizens. As it currently stands, it makes it almost impossible to criticise anything about the Monarchy, or any member of the Royal Family. 

But opposition parties have also made it known during their electoral campaigns that they wish to reform the constitution of Thailand, and these reforms should include the Monarchy. 

Now, their wish is not to abolish the institution, but rather to bring it in line with other countries, giving the King and his family more ceremonial than political powers, as well as bring an oversight role of Parliament over the job carried out by the Monarch.

This is one of the most important reasons that could lead to the 250 military-appointed senators to block the formation of a Government by the opposition parties. The Armed Forces took power in 2014 with a military coup, and there are concrete fears that this could happen again, were the opposition parties not able to find common ground for a coalition. 

If Move Forward and Phue Thai succeed in their intent, however, Thailand could see its institutions being rebalanced towards a more Western-style Monarchy, a change that, in the current situation, seems to be unthinkable.