Thailand’s Pheu Thai allies with military rivals to form new government

Move comes as Pheu Thai founder Thaksin Shinawatra prepares to return home after 15 years in self-imposed exile.

Srettha Thavisin, a local property tycoon and Pheu Thai Party's new adviser, and Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, both lined up as Pheu Thai Party's prime ministerial candidates, arrive before the draw for the party's list usage for the upcoming election ahead an event by the election commission in Bangkok, Thailand, April 4, 2023.
Pheu Thai is expected to nominate real estate mogul Srettha Thavisin (second from front left) as the country's next prime minister [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Thailand’s populist Pheu Thai Party has formed a coalition with 10 other parties, including two allied with its former military rivals, in a bid to form a new government and end three months of political deadlock.

The announcement on Monday came a day ahead of a parliamentary vote for a new prime minister and as Pheu Thai founder and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, prepares to return to the kingdom after 15 years in self-imposed exile.

Pheu Thai is expected to nominate real estate mogul Srettha Thavisin as the country’s next leader.

The party came second in Thailand’s May 14 election, but took over the formation of government after conservative members of an unelected upper house blocked attempts by Move Forward – the progressive party that won the vote – from securing the top job for their candidate.

Srettha, 60, a political newcomer, will need the support of 375 legislators, or more than half the combined upper and lower houses of parliament, to be endorsed as prime minister and form the next government.

Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew told reporters that its new coalition has the backing of 10 other parties, including the United Thai Nation Party affiliated with outgoing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and the Palang Pracharat Party of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

Prayuth, a former general, orchestrated the coup that toppled a Pheu Thai government led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, in 2014. Once in power, Prayuth engineered rewrites of Thailand’s constitution to make it extremely difficult for election winners not favoured by the conservative establishment to form governments.

The Bangkok Post website said the 11-party coalition backing Pheu Thai’s Srettha has 314 votes in the 500-member lower house. Pheu Thai is the largest party in the coalition, with 141 votes.

“We are confident that Srettha will pass the vote,” Cholnan said.

“We must quickly work to restore the economy and come up with policies that will develop mechanisms for the stability of politics, the economy and society,” he added.

Move Forward, which has 151 seats, has said it would not back Pheu Thai’s multiparty effort, arguing it distorted the election result and was against the public will.

Opinion surveys show most Thais disagree with Pheu Thai’s plan for a coalition government that includes Prayuth and Prawit’s parties. The poll by the National Institute for Development Administration, published on Sunday, showed that about 64 percent of those surveyed disagreed or totally disagreed with the idea of Pheu Thai allying with the military-backed parties.

Cholnan acknowledged the political divisions in the alliance but said rival forces had a duty to the public to not delay the formation of a government.

“Throughout this time we faced division with a fair heart and a determination to overcome that division,” he said. “The goal right now is shared responsibility for the sake of the country.”

Thaksin’s daughter meanwhile has apologised to the public on Pheu Thai’s behalf, for failing to keep its election pledge of not joining the military parties.

“We have to make adjustments to keep the country going,” Paetongtarn Shinawatra said on Sunday.

“Of course, Pheu Thai has the price to pay, that is the criticism of the people,” she said. “We humbly accept and apologise for making many disappointed and sad.”

The party will work fully to solve the country’s problems if it can form a government, she said, adding that her father’s planned return to Thailand had nothing to do with politics.

The 74-year-old former telecommunications tycoon, who was prime minister from 2001 until he was deposed in a 2006 coup, is expected to land at Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport at 9am (02:00 GMT) on Tuesday. His arrival will come just hours before the parliament votes for prime minister.

Thaksin, who has lived mostly in Dubai since fleeing Thailand to avoid a jail sentence for corruption, still faces the possibility of prison time.

“Thaksin’s return on voting day shows that he is confident that Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidate will be elected in one round,” said Thanaporn Sriyakul, chair of the Political Science Association at Kasetsart University.

The Nation, a local newspaper, citing unnamed sources said on Monday that Thaksin will be arrested as soon as he disembarks from his private jet and will be taken to the Supreme Court and handed over to the Department of Corrections.

“Since Thaksin is elderly, prison doctors will determine if he needs to be under the close care of doctors or not. If he is found to have a chronic condition, doctors will decide whether he should be detained in the prison hospital,” it reported.

“Once inside prison, wardens will consider allowing him to only be visited by close relatives during the initial period of his detention,” it added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies