Thailand’s Move Forward Party, allies agree on coalition platform

Eight-party coalition announces ambitious plans for reform, but makes no mention of a divisive royal insult law.

Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party has signed a coalition agreement with seven other parties, promising to draft a new constitution, end monopolies and allow same-sex marriage if they are allowed to form a government, but the deal made no mention of a controversial proposal to revise royal insult laws.

The 23-point agreement, unveiled on Monday, outlined the coalition’s policy plans and priorities as it seeks support among legislators to form a government after nine years of conservative, military-backed rule.

Move Forward, along with Pheu Thai, a populist party linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, dominated last week’s election in a resounding rejection of the royalist military-backed parties that have controlled the country since a coup in 2014.

“This is another historic moment that shows we can transform the government to democracy peacefully,” said Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, who is seeking to become Thailand’s next prime minister. “The purpose of this Memorandum Of Understanding is to collect the agenda that all parties agree and are ready to push in government and parliament.”

The signing took place on the ninth anniversary of the military coup that brought army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha to power.

Move Forward was the surprise winner of the May 14 election, emerging with the most parliament seats with the help of young voters excited by an agenda that puts the party at odds with some conservative business interests and institutions, including a plan to amend a lese-majeste law that punishes perceived insults of the monarchy with up to 15 years in jail. Critics of the law say Prayuth’s government has used it to stifle dissent.

But Move Forward’s alliance members have expressed reservations, and Monday’s agreement did not include a proposal to reform that law.

It instead affirmed the country’s “status as a democracy under a constitutional monarchy framework, and the inviolable status of the monarch”.

Pita said on Monday he did not think his party’s independent attempt to push reform of lese-majeste laws will put off the upper house, whose backing the coalition needs to appoint a prime minister and form a government.

The eight-party coalition controls 313 seats in the lower house, a strong majority, but that is not enough to assure it can take power. Under the military-drafted constitution, the prime minister is selected by a joint vote of the lower house and the Senate, whose 250 members were appointed by the post-coup military government. That means the winning candidate needs at least 376 votes.

Several senators have said they will not vote for Pita because of the lese-majeste issue.

Pita said he has a team to explain how Move Forward plans to amend the law “so it cannot be used as a political tool” and “this will ease the concern of senators”.

The coalition’s agreement includes most of Move Forward’s flagship policies, such as drafting a new, more democratic constitution, passing a same-sex marriage law, decentralising administrative power, and transitioning from military conscription to voluntary enlistment “except when the country is at war”.

It calls for reforms of the police, military, civil service and the justice process, abolition of business monopolies, notably in brewing and other alcohol production, and the restoration of controls on the production and sale of marijuana after Thailand’s poorly executed de facto decriminalisation last year.

It also seeks reform of welfare and education, as well as a balanced foreign policy that revives Thailand’s role as a leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

It states that “all parties have the right to advocate for additional policies as long as they do not contradict the policies outlined in this agreement”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies