Thailand’s pro-junta bloc has secured a majority in the lower house of parliament after the Democrat Party joined Tuesday, making it highly likely junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-Cha will return as prime minister and the military will remain entrenched in politics.
The party’s move comes as parliament prepares to vote Wednesday for prime minister, after five years of junta rule. The choice appears to be Prayuth or Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, after the opposition bloc announced Tuesday it would nominate him for the post.
On Tuesday night, the Democrat Party put the pro-junta alliance, which now consists of 19 parties, over the top in securing a simple majority in the 500-seat lower house by announcing it was coming on board.
“We agree to join Palang Pracharat,” Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit told a press conference, referring to the anchor party in the pro-junta bloc, adding that his party would join in nominating Prayuth as prime minister. His party holds 53 seats.
“The party’s decision is for the benefit of the country, beyond its own,” Jurin said. He listed several reasons for the move, including getting the country “out of uncertainty.”
With 254 seats in hand, the alliance controls a slender majority in the lower house, compared with 246 seats held by the pro-democracy opposition bloc, made up of seven parties.
Under new voting rules put in place during junta rule, a coalition must secure at least 376 seats in the lower and upper houses to form a government. However, the junta appointed all 250 members of the senate, the upper house, who are widely expected to vote for Prayuth on Wednesday.
Jurin noted that the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) – the formal name of the junta – would be dissolved as soon as a new government was sworn in.
Moreover, Democrats agreed to join Palang Pracharat “on condition that the new government amends the constitution, making it more democratic,” he added, without elaborating how.
Thanathorn: ‘Ready to be prime minister’
The choice for PM comes down to former army chief Prayuth, 65, who seized power in a May 2014 coup, and Thanathorn, the 40-year-old leader of the Future Forward Party, who comes from a wealthy family that made its fortune from a chain of auto-parts stores.
Thailand’s Constitutional Court recently suspended Thanathorn from his parliamentary seat over an alleged breach of Thai electoral rules during campaigning for the March 24 general election.
On Tuesday, Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich announced on behalf of the opposition coalition that they would nominate Thanathorn for prime minister during Wednesday’s session.
“Although the Constitutional Court ordered Thanathorn to stop his role as a member of parliament, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said clearly it is possible for all prime-minister candidates to deliver their visions [on the parliamentary floor] because no laws prevent it,” Pannika told reporters.
Thanathorn addressed a separate news conference in the evening.
“I’m ready to be prime minister,” Thanathorn said. “Today, the most important thing for the country is to steer it back to democracy. The first step to achieve this is to stop the NCPO, stop Mr. Prayuth from becoming a prime minister another time.”
Many lawmakers are demanding that the two contending candidates address the legislature and present their visions for leading Thailand prior to Wednesday’s vote. But Prayuth appears to be reluctant to do so.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told reporters in Bangkok that no regulations require Prayuth to attend Wednesday’s parliamentary deliberations, according to Khaosod, a Thai news website.
In case Prayuth was a no-show on Wednesday, House Speaker Chuan has promised to give MPs enough time to debate about the qualifications of PM candidates before undertaking a vote, Khaosod reported.
“Everyone wants the government to be formed quickly. Those who are working to form the cabinet must find a way to create a stable government,” Prayuth said, according to Reuters.
“This will not be a government of just any one party. There must be a way and the people are hopeful about the government,” he added.