Pheu Thai pairs up with former rival in bid to form govt

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwej
Pheu Thai pairs up with former rival in bid to form govt Pheu Thai Party leader Cholnan Srikaew (right) and Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul (second from right) toast with other party leaders during their first meeting, July 22, 2023.
[Handout/Pheu Thai Party]

Pheu Thai said Monday it was joining forces with the royalist Bhumjaithai Party, a member of the outgoing government, as it tries to build a ruling coalition without the party that won the most seats in Thailand’s election.

The former rivals said the move was aimed at unlocking the political impasse over the outcome of the May 14 election.        

“Pheu Thai Party and Bhumjaithai Party will jointly form a government with support from other parties and their members and senators,” Cholnan Srikaew, Pheu Thai party leader, told reporters following a meeting at his party’s office.

“Chances are we are highly likely to be successful in forming a new government with the Bhumjaithai rather than with the Move Forward Party,” Cholnan said, noting he expects many senators to welcome the new alliance. The 250 senators were appointed by the junta prior to the last election and, under laws put in place at that time, participate in choosing the prime minister.

Cholnan abandoned his former ally after senators blocked Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s two attempts to become the country’s new prime minister. 

For many Thais, Move Forward embodied hope that Thailand would soon see its first government without military ties since the 2014 coup.

“Reconciliation, harmony is the best solution,” Cholnan said, defending the move.

Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai won a combined total of 212 seats in the 500-member house of representatives. They need at least 375 votes from the combined house and senate to seat a new prime minister. 

Speaking to reporters, Bhumjaithai’s leader said that Pheu Thai had accepted its major conditions. 

“We acknowledged that Pheu Thai agreed with the three conditions, that there be no amendment of Article 112 [the Lèse-Majesté law], we are not a minority government and no Move Forward Party,” Anutin Charnvirakul said.

“Pheu Thai can add 71 seats from Bhumjaithai to its existing tally of 141 in order to make it a precursor to talk to other parties,” Anutin said, adding that Pheu Thai would lead in forming a new government.  

The prime minister candidate will still be Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin, a former property tycoon, Cholnan said. 

No date has been set for the vote but it appears likely to occur after Aug. 16, when the Constitutional Court is expected to rule on a petition challenging parliament’s blocking of a second vote on Pita’s nomination to serve as prime minister.

In May 2014, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai government was ousted by a military junta led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha. He has served as prime minister since then and was elected to the office following the 2019 election.

Prayuth recently quit as a member of the United Thai Nation Party. 

The country has been polarized into pro-democracy and pro-military royalist camps.

“So, now is the time that the country needs the government. This country needs to move on. So we have to finish all those disputes,” Anutin said in response to a question about the popular votes. 

“And if possible, you don’t want to see the country in factions like this. If there is any chance that we can unite together and move on, we have to do it for the sake of our country and the people.”

An academic said Pheu Thai has formed the alliance in a bid to redeem its past glory.

“Pheu Thai may think this is the last chance to revitalize its popularity and their past success, but they will be attacked by some people. … There may be resistance and protests,” Thannapat Jarernpanit, a professor at Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University, told BenarNews. 

But if it succeeds, Pheu Thai “can bring Thaksin home and restore its popularity,” she said, referring to Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006. His daughter recently announced he would return to Thailand on Aug. 10 after 15 years in self-imposed exile.

But on Saturday, Thaksin declared that he would delay his return for a couple of weeks due to a medical appointment. Also on Saturday, Thaksin and Yingluck attended a birthday party in Phnom Penh for outgoing Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to media reports.


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