Thai political deadlock drags on as vote for prime minister is delayed

Prolonged post-election uncertainty is raising questions over stability in Thailand, which has seen two coups over the past 20 years.

Supporters of the Move Forward Party burn an effigy during a protest at Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, August 2, 2023.
Supporters of the Move Forward Party burn an effigy during a protest at Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, August 2, 2023 [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

Thailand’s parliament has postponed a vote for the next prime minister after the Constitutional Court began considering a case challenging the legislature’s refusal to allow the election-winning party a second shot at forming a government.

The move on Thursday prolongs a political deadlock that has raised questions about stability in the Southeast Asian nation, which has seen two coups and waves of street protests over the past two decades.

Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha told reporters that a vote for a prime minister, which had been scheduled for Friday, could only be held after the Constitutional Court rules on the appeal by the Move Forward Party.

“We have to wait for the constitutional court to make its decision on August 16 before determining when we will have the vote again,” he said.

Move Forward won the most seats in a general election held on May 14 and forged a coalition with seven other parties in order to form a government.

The alliance controlled 312 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives but was unable to form a government because of resistance from conservative opponents and the 250 members of a Senate appointed during military rule.

The prime minister is chosen in a joint vote of both houses of parliament.

An initial bid by Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat in July fell short by more than 50 votes, largely because only 13 senators backed him. The conservative legislators say they oppose Pita because of his party’s pledge to reform a law banning criticism of the country’s monarchy.

His second attempt a week later was blocked by a procedural vote in parliament, which said his name could not be nominated again.

The kingdom’s ombudsman referred the decision to the Constitutional Court to determine if it was in line with the constitution.

The court said on Thursday that it needed more time and evidence to decide whether to accept the case and would consider it on August 16.

“The Constitutional Court has considered that the request requires thorough deliberation as it includes the administrative principle in the constitutional monarchy system, so the Court has decided to postpone the deliberation to study more information,” it said in a statement.

The deadlock has strained the reformist coalition, and on Wednesday, Pheu Thai, the second biggest party in the alliance, announced that it will attempt to form a new government without Move Forward.

Chonlanan Srikaew, Pheu Thai’s leader, said at a news conference on Wednesday that after speaking with other parties and senators, it was clear that Move Forward’s stance on the monarchy was a major obstacle for the coalition in rallying enough votes in parliament to confirm a new prime minister.

Chonlanan said Pheu Thai would nominate real-estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin for prime minister and will announce its new coalition partners on Thursday.

Public frustration has grown amid the prolonged uncertainty, with supporters of Move Forward staging several protests calling for senators to stop blocking the candidate from the eight-party coalition.

On Wednesday, dozens of protesters rallied outside the Pheu Thai headquarters to demand that the eight-party coalition stay together.

Upon hearing the news that Move Forward has been excluded from the coalition, they laid effigies at the front gate and set them on fire.

Move Forward won the votes of many young people and its exclusion from power by conservatives allied with the royalist-military establishment has raised the prospect of a return of the sort of street protests that have brought intermittent turmoil to Thailand over the past decades.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies