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Voters in Thailand have spoken — they want change


Voters in Thailand have delivered a stunning rebuke to the military-backed government there, voting overwhelmingly for opposition parties promising to bring change. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Bangkok.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The progressive Move Forward Party ran on a platform its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, called the 3 Ds - demilitarize, demonopolize and decentralize. It also backed marriage equality and an end to military conscription. And voters enthusiastically endorsed that vision in yesterday's vote. Twenty-five-year-old Wachiraporn Taweemaneekot cast her vote here in Bangkok.

WACHIRAPORN TAWEEMANEEKOT: I just wanted to see something new and something better because now we need the new thing to bring us to the future.

SULLIVAN: Move Forward also championed a more controversial call to amend the harsh lese-majeste law that prohibits criticism of the Thai monarchy. That law stipulates prison terms from 3 to 15 years if convicted. Hundreds have been charged under the law during anti-government protests in the past several years. The party's stance has drawn the ire of Thai royalists. But Move Forward leader Pita didn't back down on amending the law at a news conference late last night.


PITA LIMJAROENRAT: We have enough MPs to push it forward already. It's not conditional. It's already absolute that we're going forward with it.

SULLIVAN: Pita also appeared to extend an olive branch to last night's other big winner, the opposition Pheu Thai Party, which finished second and could now work with Move Forward and others to create a coalition government. Pheu Thai's exiled supremo, the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, recently expressed his desire to return to Thailand after the election, despite his pariah status with a royalist military-backed establishment.


PITA: Whether the return of Mr. Thaksin will destabilize Thailand political landscape, I think if it's a free and fair legal process, no one's going to induce more conflict. However, the opposite of that - if it's unfair, if it's unfree, if it's politically motivated, I think that could be a conflict.

SULLIVAN: There's also a number of ways the establishment could deny the opposition a chance to form a government. A 250-member military-appointed Senate could vote against it in parliament. And there are other tools at the establishment's disposal as well, including a court system that's brought down three opposition prime ministers and dissolved several parties, including Move Forward's predecessor, Future Forward, in 2020. Political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University says the threat of dissolution can't be discounted this time, either.

THITINAN PONGSUDHIRAK: Something will happen, most likely, because how could the conservative royalist establishment put up with the kind of agenda that Move Forward offers and call for - change and reform of the military and the monarchy?

SULLIVAN: Twenty-one-year-old activist Tantawan Tuatulanon, one of those charged under the lese-majeste law, worries about dissolution, too, and the threat of another coup by a military that's conducted to since 2006. But she says she's ready.

TANTAWAN TUATULANON: I think for me and for my friends, there's no more fear anymore. If the coup happen, then we just go out from our home and then fight with them.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.