Thailand’s top vote-winning party ousted from coalition trying to form govt

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwej
Thailand’s top vote-winning party ousted from coalition trying to form govt Cholnan Srikaew (middle), a leader of the Pheu Thai Party, speaks to the reporters about the decision to abandon the election-winning Move Forward Party in an attempt to form a new government in Thailand, Aug. 2, 2023.
[Nava Sangthong/BenarNews]

Updated at 2:15 p.m. EDT on 2023-08-02

The progressive Move Forward Party has been pushed out of an alliance attempting to form Thailand’s next government despite winning the most seats in the May general election.

The split was announced Wednesday by Cholnan Srikaew, a leader of the Pheu Thai Party, which  commands the second highest number of seats in the lower house of Parliament.

“The Move Forward Party will not be part of the new coalition,” he said at a press conference following a “pleasant” meeting between the two parties.

Pheu Thai would nominate Srettha Thavisin as its candidate for prime minister, Cholnan added.

Despite winning the biggest share of votes at the polls on May 14, Move Forward’s efforts to form a coalition government hit major roadblocks, with its top prime ministerial nominee, Pita Limjaroenrat, twice blocked by Thailand’s bicameral Parliament.

Conservative and pro-royal lawmakers are vehemently opposed to Move Forward’s progressive policies, including its pledge to reform Thailand’s strict law against royal defamation.

After being unable to win enough support in Parliament, Pita stepped aside last month to give Pheu Thai a chance to lead coalition talks and nominate its own prime ministerial candidate. 

Pheu Thai quickly set about meeting with pro-royalist parties from the former ruling alliance with pro-military ties, including Bhumjaithai, United Thai Nation and the Chat Thai Pattana Party. 

Cholnan said Move Forward’s pledge to reform the royal insult law, known as Lèse-Majesté, was keeping other parties and Senators away from the coalition.

“We found the policy to amend Article 112 (Lèse-Majesté) remains the key conditional obstacle,” he said.

But Chaitawat Tulathon, Move Forward’s secretary-general, said the disagreement over the law was a “mere excuse” to end a post-election pact between opposition parties.

“Many old political elites simply don’t want Move Forward to be in government,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “They don’t want to join with Move Forward because of the different political ideologies and the way we work in politics.”

As of Wednesday evening, it was unclear which parties would be part of the new Pheu Thai-led alliance.

Pheu Thai’s secretary-general said it was up to each alliance member to “join with us at their discretion.”

“[W]hether the Move Forward Party will vote for us, that is their right,” Prasert Janruangtong said.

Move Forward and Pheu Thai had agreed to enter a coalition after together inflicting a resounding blow on the pro-military establishment at the polls.

Pheu Thai’s move to rid the alliance of Move Forward angered the latter’s supporters. Dozens of them gathered at the Pheu Thai headquarters shouting slogans to protest Move Forward’s ejection from the alliance. 

Local media reported that some also burned effigies and tried to break into the Pheu Thai headquarters building.

Younger voters in particular had pinned their hopes on Move Forward leading the country’s first pro-democracy government after nine years of army-backed rule.

Arnon Nampa, an activist who participated in the 2021 pro-democracy protests, told the Bangkok Post that Pheu Thai’s decision to throw out Move Forward from the alliance affected its supporters as well.

“I do think Pheu Thai’s decision may hurt its popularity,” he told the newspaper.

Supporters of the Move Forward Party protest in Bangkok after the party was dumped by the Pheu Thai Party from an alliance to form Thailand’s next government, Aug. 2, 2023. [Nava Sangthong/BenarNews]

But one analyst said Pheu Thai was aware of this and hopes that its decision will resonate with supporters after it forms the government.

The party is ready to face criticism from supporters in the interim, Thannapat Jarernpanit, a political science professor at Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University, told BenarNews.

“Pheu Thai is looking at the long-term prospects of being in government. … Because, in four years, it might be their last chance to emerge as the major party with the highest votes in the country,” Thannapat said.

And now, they have a good chance, she added.

“Securing a clear 375 votes is certain,” Thannapat said, referring to the number of parliamentarians who need to support a candidate for prime minister.

“It is highly possible [Pheu Thai] will collaborate with both Anutin and Prawit factions. If they manage to get these two, securing votes from the Senate won’t be challenging. Of course, political positions would have to be offered to the conservatives in return,” she added.

Anutin Charnvirakul leads Bhumjaithai, which won 70 seats. Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, a former army chief, leads the Palang Pracharat Party. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Prawit and Anupong Paochinda, three former army chiefs known as the “3Ps,” played a key role in the past two coups in 2006 and 2014.

Thailand has been stuck in a political limbo since the general election on May 14, with Prayuth serving as the caretaker prime minister until his successor is elected.

In next steps, the Constitutional Court is on Thursday scheduled to meet to deliberate on the merits of a petition challenging Parliament’s decision to block a second vote for Move Forward’s Pita to serve as prime minister.

Based on what happens Thursday, a parliamentary vote for PM may be held on Friday. Pheu Thai has already announced its nominee would be property tycoon and party advisor Srettha.

Meanwhile, Thailand is bracing for the return of billionaire businessman and populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced from office by a military coup in 2006. He is expected to return to Thailand on Aug. 10.

He fled Thailand in 2008 to escape a prison term for several different charges, including corruption and tax evasion.

Thaksin remains popular in Thailand and is still thought to hold considerable influence over domestic politics, particularly among rural voters in the north and the northeast – the stronghold of the Pheu Thai Party.


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