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Thai Ex-leader Thaksin Slams ‘Terrible’ Polls

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Somchai Kwankijsawet
Bangkok
2019-03-25
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Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra welcomes Princess Ubolratana as they arrive for the wedding of Thaksin’s youngest daughter at a hotel in Hong Kong, March 22, 2019.
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra welcomes Princess Ubolratana as they arrive for the wedding of Thaksin’s youngest daughter at a hotel in Hong Kong, March 22, 2019.
AP

Updated at 5:01 p.m. ET on 2019-03-25

Exiled politician Thaksin Shinawatra on Monday slammed Thailand’s election even as his pro-democracy party and the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party (PPP) claimed that each had mandates to form a ruling coalition government.

Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party based this claim on Election Commission results showing it had won the largest number of seats in the lower house, while the PPP pointed to its lead in the popular vote.

“This is a terrible, and sad, moment for my country,” Thaksin wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times that blasted Thailand’s junta.

The polls were the first nationwide vote held since the military overthrew Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in a coup nearly five years ago. Thaksin, a former PM, was himself deposed by military force in 2006.

“People in office are supposed to come and go while the system remains. This military government is ready to destroy the system simply to keep its people in power,” Thaksin said in his op-ed article.

Pheu Thai had won 137 of the 350 contested seats in the lower House of Representatives and PPP, which supports Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, had taken 122, according to election results announced Monday. Both were scrambling to form coalitions with the three other major winners, Future Forward (84), Democrat (52) and Bhumjaithai (51).

The figures combine directly elected seats and 150 party list seats, which BenarNews has calculated based on a mathematical formula devised by the junta that gives parties credit for total votes received (see graphic). The Election Commission said it would officially announce the party list MPs in early May.

In addition, the 250 members of the Senate, who are being hand-picked by the junta, will join the lower chamber in electing the next prime minister. The senators have yet to be announced.

Because of the way they are selected, most senators are expected to vote for Prayuth, giving him a boost toward the 376 votes (one more than half the 500 in the House combined with 250 in the Senate) needed to become prime minister. In previous elections, the Senate was not involved in the election of the prime minister so only 251 votes in the House were needed.

Sudarat Keyuraphan, who leads Pheu Thai, said she was ready to lead.

“As the party that was given the biggest mandate by the people, we will further gather the seats to form a government. As we’ve said before, the party that won the most seats in the lower house should be the one to form the government,” she said.

She questioned the election results.

“There were many irregularities in this election so these are the things that need to be solved and to be made clear,” she said. “Otherwise, it will not get international credibility and pose suspicion to Thai people.”

Palang Pracharat Party leader Uttama Savanayana (left) walks into a press conference in Bangkok, March 25, 2019. (AP)
Palang Pracharat Party leader Uttama Savanayana (left) walks into a press conference in Bangkok, March 25, 2019. (AP)

Coalition discussions

PPP leader Uttama Savanayana, on the other hand, pointed to the vote total. His party received 7.7 million to Pheu Thai's 7.2 million, according to the EC tally of 95 percent of the vote.

Palang Pracharat Party got the most votes in this election. From now on, we will discuss with like-minded parties who share the ideology and policy to form a government,” he said.

A Thai analyst said PPP was more likely to establish a working coalition that would give Prayuth enough support to continue leading the country.

“Bhumjaithai Party and the Democrat Party lean toward Palang Pracharat, who is ready for negotiation. It is hard for Pheu Thai to form a coalition,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University.

The leader of the Future Forward Party, meanwhile, said he was open to working with another party seeking a return to democracy.

“We are willing to form a coalition with the party that got the most seats in the election, with conditions,” Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said in an apparent reference to Pheu Thai.

His conditions focus on amending the constitution, including revoking section 279 that allows the National Council for Peace and Order (the junta’s official name) to maintain power by turning its orders into permanent laws even after a new government takes over. Future Forward also calls for reforms to the military to make it democratic.

Sudarat expressed a similar willingness to work with leaders of other parties.

“We will stick to the same stance to not side with parties that favor prolonging the junta’s power. There have been some parties who have made that clear,” she said.

The Democrat Party's top official, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, announced his resignation from the leadership post on Sunday as results showed that the nation’s oldest political party did worse than expected. The party has said it could support the junta government, but not Prayuth.

In 2014, then-Gen. Prayuth led the coup that overthrew the government of Yingluck, who was elected in 2011. Having taken over as prime minister, Prayuth is seeking to be elected to the post.

Election results questioned

In his New York Times column, Thaksin challenged Prayuth’s efforts to remain in power.

“The junta appointed the election commission and has interfered with the work of what are supposed to be independent agencies and institutions. It wrote a new, very tricky and self-serving constitution,” he wrote. “Thailand can’t seem to change its outdated criminal laws or even car-registration regulations, but it rewrites its constitution often.

“More than anything, Thailand should have a government that reflects the will of the people, not the will of the junta.”

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative in Thailand also questioned the validity of the election.

“From the start, this election gave very little hope to be considered as something credible, free and fair because fundamental freedoms that are required for the conduct of free and fair vote was not there,” HRW senior researcher Sunai Phasuk said. “The junta maintained their restrictions on fundamental freedoms particularly the freedom of expression and freedom of the media.”

“Sadly there is no public confidence in Thailand at this point with the Election Commission,” he said. “They were appointed through junta selected lawmakers so the status of impartiality has been questioned from the beginning.”

A day after votes were cast as the nation’s political leaders were discussing efforts to take control of the government, a university student said he wanted to see Thailand improve.

“I’m not hopeless. I believe one day the good political ideologies will change the country for the better,” student Panawat Nuthawej said.

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