By Vijitra Duangdee

BANGKOK — At a Bangkok intersection, 34-year-old human rights lawyer Jammy shouts over the traffic through a megaphone urging commuters to vote for Move Forward, Thailand’s most radical party, which is hoping the youth vote in Sunday’s election rewards it with a role in a coalition government.

Momentum is building behind the party, with polls putting it second, behind Thailand’s biggest party, the pro-democracy Pheu Thai, and making its articulate leader Pita Limcharoenrat the most popular candidate for prime minister.

The target is simple, Jammy – a mother of two whose full name is Sasinan Thamnithinan – told VOA last week.

“We want the army to leave power,” she said.

“I want my kids to grow up in a democratic country, where they can make their own free choices. I think many Thai people want the same,” she said.

The army has not allowed elected governments to survive for long during Thailand’s messy history and has carried out a coup every seven years on average since 1932, when Thailand became a constitutional monarchy.

The last one was in 2014 by Prayuth Chan-ocha, then army chief, who later rebranded himself as a civilian premier and has not left office since.

He is seeking a return to power in the election Sunday and has a good chance with the backing of a conservative alliance of lawmakers and a 250-member Senate handpicked by him.

But after nine years in charge, Prayuth has few fans among younger voters.

Forty percent of eligible voters were born in the early 1980s and later, with 4 million casting votes for the first time Sunday.

Those votes are expected to go to the Move Forward Party, experts say.

“Move Forward is the only party that talks about structural change,” said Sayo, 24, who did not want to give her full name, selling party T-shirts at a recent rally in central Bangkok.

“This country is run by capitalists who are squeezing everything out from the people at the bottom,” she said.

In the final week of campaigning, the party has sent its star speakers across the country in four tour buses north, south, east, and west, pulling large crowds as they travel back to Bangkok in a caravan dubbed “all roads lead to Government House.”

“We’re not really fully democratic … the country has been militarized for a very long time so the power structure and national budget focuses on this militarized government,” party prime ministerial candidate Pita told VOA.

A Harvard-educated business executive, Pita insists his party is the only one addressing Thailand’s deep-seated problems.

Move Forward wants to open Thailand’s monopoly-dominated economy, end conscription, and protect freedoms after years under Prayuth, during which government critics have been arrested, charged, or threatened.

“We have been monopolized so the inequality of the money in our pocket is not so much bad luck but is structurally inherited,” the 42-year-old Harvard graduate added.

A May 5 poll by The Nation Media Group, Thailand’s largest, of over 100,000 voters put Move Forward on track to win nearly 80 constituency seats and another 30 party-list seats. Those are selected in a second vote which reflects the proportion of ballots cast.

Analysts are more cautious, saying it will be hard for Move Forward to win 100 seats, but it may eat up some of the support for Pheu Thai, the party of the political dynasty of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which is expected win most seats in the fully elected 500-member House of Representatives. Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is one of its candidates to be prime minister.

It shares Move Forward’s desire to get the army out of politics and the two parties could form a coalition if their combined seats get near a majority of the 700-member two-chamber parliament.

Threats ahead

Move Forward’s rivals in the conservative establishment, though, say it is a party of upstarts who are determined to rip up Thailand’s culture and hierarchy, headed by the powerful monarchy.

Poll success often attracts enemies in Thailand. Shinawatra parties have been hit by two coups in 17 years, with a number of their parties disbanded by courts.

Move Forward’s first incarnation, Future Forward, was dissolved a few months after the 2019 poll, the first election it ever contested in which its 6 million votes took it to third place and stunned the establishment parties.

Its charismatic leader at the time, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was banned from political office for a decade, sparking mass protests, which for the first time raised the question of reform of the monarchy and the tough royal defamation criminal law that protects it.

“The chances [of dissolution] this time are pretty low … but there’s always a risk because Thai laws allow dissolution of political parties over the slightest thing,” said Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, a constitutional law scholar at Chulalongkorn University told VOA.

“The courts may be hesitant as the last time they dissolved the party, there were huge street protests,” Khemthong added.

Any move against a party could take several months, in what is likely to be an unpredictable, drawn-out period between the polls and a government being formed.

The party says it is ready for whatever lies ahead and is confident in the long-term in its vision for the country.

The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Voice of America.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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