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Seven Thai Parties Form Coalition, Vow to Stop Junta from Retaining Power

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2019-03-27
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Pheu Thai party leaders Phumtham Wechayachai (second from left), Sudarat Keyuraphan (center) and Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (right) attend a news conference in Bangkok, March 27, 2019.
Pheu Thai party leaders Phumtham Wechayachai (second from left), Sudarat Keyuraphan (center) and Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (right) attend a news conference in Bangkok, March 27, 2019.
AFP

A group of Thai opposition parties formed a pro-democracy alliance Wednesday, claiming they had won a majority of the seats in Sunday’s parliamentary elections and had the right to replace the ruling military junta with a civilian government.

But new parliamentary rules are in effect to favor the pro-junta party Palang Pracharat, even though it won fewer elected seats in Thailand’s first elections since a 2014 coup, analysts say.

Sudarat Keyuraphan, leader of Pheu Thai, the party affiliated with deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and leaders of six other parties told a news conference they believed they had won a combined 255 out of the 500 lower house seats up for grabs.

“Today we have no less than 255 seats from seven parties. We will move forward together ... We take it that we are the majority,” Sudarat said.

“We want to stop the regime from hanging onto power,” she said. “Parties in the democratic front gained the most trust from the people.”

The new democratic front now includes the Future Forward, Pheu Chart, Prachachart, Seri Ruam Thai, Thai People Power and New Economy parties, Phumtham Wechayachai, secretary-general of Pheu Thai, told reporters.

The junta-appointed Election Commission said Wednesday that the final preliminary results on the balloting would be released Friday.

Incomplete and preliminary results so far show the military-backed Palang Pracharat appearing to have won the popular vote with 7.6 million ballots, while Pheu Thai won the most seats. Both parties claim the results indicate that they have mandates to form a new government.

Bhumjaithai Party, another key vote-getter, has not yet aligned with either side.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, said he was joining forces with Pheu Thai and other parties “to put an end to the junta’s prolonging of power.”

“The prime minister must come from the party with the most seats in the elections,” he said. “[We] support Sudarat as prime minister.”

Sudarat, 57, warned that a “minority government” by using the Senate “will likely cause public turbulence.”

“Any parties who want to form a minority coalition would lead the society to an impasse,” she said.

Sudarat was referring to the junta’s earlier moves to use its absolute power by rewriting laws and commissioning a new constitution and electoral system. The charter, which was passed through a referendum in August 2016, stipulates that an unelected 250-member Senate appointed by the junta will join the 500 elected members of the lower house in choosing the prime minister.

Prime Minister and junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former general who led the 2014 coup that deposed Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck, is the prime ministerial candidate of Palang Pracharat.

Despite the seven-party block’s claim that it had captured a majority of the lower house seats, those numbers are still not confirmed. Observers said the alliance would face difficulty electing a premier as new rules require that 376 of all 750 seats in the combined lower and upper houses will be needed. Under the new rules, of the 500 House seats, 350 were elected on Sunday and another 150 so-called “party-list seats” were to be assigned based on overall results.

Uttama Savanayana, leader of Palang Pracharat, told a separate news conference that his party would support Prayuth for prime minister and the party would find “ideological allies” in the lower house to form a government.

“Today the results are not final,” he said. “Whoever is talking about this issue must bear in mind that the results are not official.”

“We don’t want to disclose now whom we’ve approached, but we’ve talked to many parties,” he said.

Getting things under control

Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, told BenarNews that if Palang Pracharat successfully established a government, the middle-class Thais might welcome Prayuth and the military “could get things under control.”

“If Pheu Thai can set up a government and everyone accepts it, it will be all right,” he said. “But there is a tendency that some groups will not accept them.”

He warned that if Pheu Thai Party and other members of the alliance decided to undertake moves to reform the military, officials in uniform could launch another coup. Since Thailand’s constitutional monarchy was created in 1932, the kingdom has experienced 18 military coups, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

On Tuesday, the Asian Network for Free Elections, which is known by its acronym ANFREL, slammed the tabulation and consolidation of ballots in Sunday’s vote as “deeply flawed,” although it said it didn’t believe the issues affected overall polling results.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said robust media coverage of the election and open debate of its merits represented “positive signs for a return to a democratic government that reflects the will of the people.”

“We stand with the Thai people in calling for the expeditious announcement of voting results and a fair and transparent investigation of any reported irregularities,” the statement said.

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