Who are the new generation of women determined to shake up Thailand’s political scene?

Thailand has been in a state of limbo since their general election was held on May 14, when 42-year-old Pita Limjaroenrat—leader of the progressive Move Forward Party—stunned Thailand’s military-backed establishment by winning the popular vote.

On Monday, June 19, it was reported that Thailand’s poll body certified the results of last month’s historic election, which endorses the winners of all 500 seats of the lower house. 

Parliament must convene within 15 days to elect a speaker, who will then call for a joint session of the bicameral legislature to vote on a prime minister.

Move Forward swept up the most seats in Thailand’s historical election last month, and it brought with it a number of young politicians—namely women—who are more than ready to bring change to the country that has been ruled by a military and a monarchy for years. 

This, of course, is only if the country’s conservative establishment will accept last month’s results and accept Pita Limjaroenrat as Prime Minister. 

As incoming MPs, the women say that they see their gender as a strength to not only implement the reforms that the Thai people voted for, but also usher in a new era of equality. 

Ruengrawee Pichaikul, director of the Gender and Development Research Institute told media outlet Al Jazeera that 96 women were elected this year. This represents 19 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament, which is a slightly higher number than in the 2019 election.

It’s a potentially huge change for the patriarchal country. 

So who are the women who are expecting to get a seat at the table?

Have a seat and read on. 

1) Many of the MP women newly elected are under age 30

The election results showed that there is a generational turnover happening in addition to more gender diversity. 

Move Forward turned the tide and led with 36 women elected, while the Pheu Thai party was a close contender with 29, but still lost their stronghold of seats. 

Move Forward took seven out of ten seats and seven of the candidates elected—including five women—are in their 30s. 

What worked in their favor was the fact that Move Forward campaigned on a platform of deeper reforms.

“It’s a new generation, a new paradigm shift,” Ruengrawee told Al Jazeera, adding that the more Thailand democratizes, the more women will get involved in politics.

“If there is a more open society women will have more chances. Compared to military rule this is very, very different. In the [military-appointed] Senate, only 6 percent are women.”

2) Move Forward MP Phuthita Chaianun plans to rewrite the military-drafted constitution and address income inequality

While she was studying at Chiang Mai University, a seminar on democracy in 2011 sparked Phuthita Chaianun’s passion for politics. 

The 36-year-old Chaianun has witnessed her friends being arrested and sent to jail, flee the country, and even disappear altogether. 

As a political activist herself, Chaianun spent a night in jail for protesting the anniversary of the 2014 military coup. 

Her plight never made her afraid per se, but she said that she did become disillusioned because of the country’s divisions on the pro-democracy movement. 

Now that she is in parliament, Chaianun not only aims to help the Move Forward rewrite the military-drafted constitution and address income equality, but she also wants to help her friends who are facing what she calls politically-motivated charges. 

“[I want to] revive justice in Thailand,” she said in a recent interview.

Chaianun said that she also wants to work with other female politicians to introduce a quota for women in parliament. 

She credits Move Forward’s victory in Chiang Mai to its more radical calls for reform.

“People understand that populist policies don’t work any more. They understand the economy and politics should go together. The way to fix the problems in the economy is to fix the entire political structure,” she has said.

Chaianun says that even if the conservative establishment finds a way to block the Move Forward party from forming a government, that something has intrinsically and fundamentally changed in Thailand and there is no going back to the old ways.

3) Pheu Thai Party MP Srisopha Kotkhamlue is focused on economics and human rights—particularly same-sex marriage 

Even though Srisopha Kotkhamlue won her race by a comfortable margin, she said the election was disappointing for her party, Pheu Thai. But she considers the loss as a lesson to learn from. 

The 30-year-old MP has an economics degree from Kingston University in the United Kingdom and believes that her party is the best one to work on the country’s economic problems, even though voters have said otherwise. 

She also wants to work on human rights, especially same-sex marriage. 

Kotkhamlue believes her gender will be a strong point in that women are easier to talk to, she has said. “We’re better at understanding how people feel.”

She’s not worried that being the daughter of a prominent politician will hinder her progress. Instead, Kotkhamlue would much rather focus her energy on establishing her political brand and identity. 

4) Move Forward MP Karanic Chantada wants to improve the country’s social services—particularly public health services 

Karanic Chantada went to pharmacy school but then went a different route by becoming a flight attendant for China Airlines. 

It was during the COVID pandemic that Chantada came back to pharmacy work—what she calls her political awakening. 

“During COVID-19, there was a shortage of hygienic products like face masks and the prices of everything shot up. Before, it was 100 baht [$2.9] for a box of face masks but it increased to 700-1,000 baht [$20-$28],” she said in a recent interview with Al Jazeera. 

As senior government officials were implicated in stockpiling and price gouging—something that angered the country—Chantada channeled her own rage into volunteering with Move Forward. 

The 32-year-old also sees her age as an advantage.

“Young people are not under the traditional hierarchy system [so] they’re not afraid to ask questions, to demand their rights or to give their opinions,” she said.

5) Move Forward MP Rukchanok Srinork’s grassroots campaign ousted the son of one of Thailand’s most powerful political families 

Rukchanok Srinok has been referred to as a  “giant killer” by Thai Media outlets for stealing a seat from Wan Ubumrung, who is the son of a veteran politician from Pheu Thai—the country’s heavyweight opposition party.

The former pro-democracy activist protested in the streets against the military establishment.

When out and about campaigning, Srinok made waves online for cycling around her district Bang Bon in the sweltering Bangkok heat. 

While the other candidates “cruised” around in pickup trucks, Srinok said she was able to have genuine conversations with the constituents. 

Her campaign team was also creative in other ways. In the mornings, Srinok would stand at road junctions and use the minute and a half or so when traffic stopped at red lights to shout her campaign messages through a megaphone. 

She also got her team to hand out campaign leaflets that were styled into garlands or bags—similar to the ones sold by street vendors in Bangkok’s huge traffic. Then in the afternoons Srinok would bike around with her megaphone. 

Srinok’s dream is to create a Thailand that is more equal. She says that when it comes to the education and justice system, there is a huge discrepancy in the experiences of the rich and the poor.

“To be born poor in this country is a very big thing,” she told British newspaper The Guardian in an interview. “If you’re born poor you don’t have the resources, you can’t go to a good school, you have less opportunity.”

Srinok on her huge upset win: “We’re starting a new era.”

Also read:

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Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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