With Thailand’s national elections planned for early 2023, the mood among opposition members of parliament and activists—and even members of the pro-military coalition in power—is increasingly sour. Protests have been simmering over recent weeks in Bangkok, and this growing anger is setting the stage for political chaos in the coming months, and possibly a highly problematic election next year.
Thais are furious, in part because Prayuth Chan-ocha, the de facto head of the coalition government led by the pro-military Palang Pracharath party, insists he can continue as prime minister, despite a constitutional term limit of eight years. Prayuth has been prime minister since leading the 2014 coup that deposed the last fairly elected Thai government, but he claims his eight-year count should actually start in 2019, when he was elected prime minister in an election that was perhaps free but not fair. The Constitutional Court recently suspended Prayuth as prime minister until a final ruling decides his fate, though he remains defense minister.
However, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan—hated by Thai democracy activists for the critical role he played in the 2014 coup—took over as acting prime minister when Prayuth was suspended on Aug. 24. Prawit’s ascendance is hardly placating opposition forces or doing anything to woo the majority of Thais who will probably vote for an anti-military, pro-democracy party in next year’s elections. And with the courts in Thailand still incredibly loyal to the military and its allies, it’s certainly possible that a judge will rule that Prayuth’s clock should be reset to start 2019, allowing him to run for prime minister again next year.