Thai election runner-up agrees to coalition with conservative party

Pheu Thai Party attempts to form government as winner Move Forward’s efforts repeatedly blocked in parliament.

Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul and Pheu Thai Party leader Chonlanan Srikaew shake hands after a press conference
Bhumjaithai and Pheu Thai party leaders shake hands after announcing an alliance in Bangkok on August 7, 2023 [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Thailand’s populist Pheu Thai Party, the runner-up in May’s elections, announced it is forming an alliance with the conservative Bhumjaithai Party and is open to other parties joining to form a government.

Pheu Thai, a party linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, stepped up last week to try to form a government after election winner Move Forward’s attempts were blocked twice in the National Assembly.

“We would like to thank Bhumjaithai for accepting the invitation so that we can step over this political deadlock,” Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew said on Monday, adding that real estate mogul Srettha Thavisin remained the party’s candidate for prime minister.

Cholnan said Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai would seek support from other parties in forming a government. “We want all parties to support the candidate from Pheu Thai,” he said.

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy has been beset by political uncertainty since opposition parties rode a wave of anti-establishment support to crush the military-backed rulers at the polls in May.

Move Forward – a progressive party that campaigned on reforming lese majeste laws, which criminalise criticism of the monarchy – failed twice to find enough support in the royalist-dominated Senate to get party leader Pita Limjaroenrat voted in as prime minister.

Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, attends a press conference following the general election, at the party's headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, May 15, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo/File Photo
Move Forward party leader Pita Limjaroenrat [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

The Move Forward Party won 151 seats in the election. The party has since then been sidelined, prompting some Thais to take to the streets to call for politicians to respect the will of the people.

Move Forward pulled together an eight-party coalition with 312 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives. However, under the military-enacted constitution, confirming a new prime minister requires a majority vote in both the elected House and the 250-member Senate, which was appointed by a previous military government.

Until last week, Pheu Thai was part of Move Forward’s eight-party alliance. After the Senate blocked Move Forward’s bid for the premiership for the second time, Pheu Thai withdrew from that alliance and said it would try separately to form a government.

“We didn’t get enough support from other parties and the Senate when Move Forward was trying to form a government,” Cholnan said, adding that Pheu Thai had a “high chance of success in forming a government with Bhumjaithai”.

The Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai parties have 212 House seats in total.

Bhumjaithai, best known for delivering on a 2019 campaign promise to legalise cannabis in Thailand, had previously insisted it would not be part of any coalition containing Move Forward.

Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul said his party partnered with Pheu Thai on three conditions, including dropping the lese-majeste amendment and not forming a minority government.

“Third, if Pheu Thai leads the government for Bhumjaithai, the Move Forward party cannot be part of the government,” he said.

A joint sitting of the two houses of parliament has to vote for a prime minister, who then forms a government. A date has not yet been set for the next vote on the premier.

Source: News Agencies