23 May 2024

For many Thais, the proposed new coalition government of parties from the opposition camp represents a “dream team” of liberal democrats.

The six-party coalition, led by election-winner Move Forward, would have 310 MPs and an absolute majority in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

However, to make this dream come true, the coalition would need majority support in both houses of Parliament, comprising 500 MPs and 250 senators. Backing from at least 376 parliamentarians is required for the coalition’s PM candidate to get the country’s top job.

The release of the unofficial results of Sunday’s election saw Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat announce that he was ready to serve as the country’s 30th prime minister. However, in order to do this, he will first have to gain support from another 66 parliamentarians outside the coalition. This will undoubtedly require serious political maneuvering and negotiation skills.

According to the unverified vote count, Move Forward has bagged 152 House seats, followed by Pheu Thai with 141, Bhumjaithai (70), Palang Pracharath (41), and United Thai Nation Party (36).

Pheu Thai, which Pita has invited to join a coalition, said in a statement on Monday that the party backed Move Forward’s efforts to form a new government and vowed it would not seek to form a rival alliance.

In its statement, Pheu Thai said it was Move Forward’s job to frame issues to negotiate and take all necessary steps required to set up a government.

However, some observers reckon this means Pheu Thai has not ruled out forming its own alliance if Move Forward’s efforts fail.

Pita announced on Monday that for the sake of transparency, the planned coalition would draft its own memorandum of understanding on its campaign promises.

Political analysts predict the path ahead for Move Forward will be far from smooth, considering its reformist stance on the country’s political, economic and social structures. And Move Forward has ruled out an alliance with Palang Pracharath, United Thai Nation, and Bhumjaithai.

Pita’s party – which was set up after its previous incarnation Future Forward was dissolved by court in February 2020 – has alienated many in the military, royalist and business establishments who oppose its so-called proposed radical changes for the country.

Experts point out that a democratic mandate must contend with other sources of power in Thailand.

“In Thai politics, you can’t use simple maths. It’s not one plus one makes two. Anything can happen in Thai politics,” said Olarn Thinbangtieo, a lecturer at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law.

Two possible scenarios

Olarn forecasts that senators will play a key role in the vote to select the next prime minister. And he is convinced that the majority, who were handpicked by the previous junta regime, will not vote for the Move Forward leader.

A transitional clause in the 2017 Constitution permits the 250 senators to vote with the 500 MPs to select a prime minister until May 2024.

For Olarn, there are two possibilities for the formation of the next coalition: an incoming government led either by Move Forward or by Pheu Thai.

The first scenario involves a coalition with majority control in the Lower House but a lack of support in the Senate when selecting the new PM.

The analyst believes Pita is mobilizing public pressure for senators and parties outside his proposed coalition to vote for him. But Olarn says Pita is aware this ploy will not work and that his party may very well end up in opposition again.

“Pita just wants to underline the shortcomings of the 2017 Constitution, especially in relation to the Senate’s power to select a prime minister,” Olarn said.

The analyst believes that Move Forward’s role as the next opposition leader in Parliament would earn it even more faith and support from the public, which could boost its chance of forming a government with an absolute majority after the next election.

He said Move Forward’s election win was beyond even the party’s own expectations. However, its sweeping victory has sparked deep animosity.

Some senators have already voiced their stance on the selection of the next PM. Senator Kittisak Rattanawaraha said he believes most senators will vote for someone who is loyal to the country’s “three pillars” – nation, religion and monarchy. He said that senators will avoid selecting someone who could cause conflict and trigger more street protests.

Pheu Thai’s ‘Thaksin factor’

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of Innovation for Democracy under the King Prajadhipok Institute, agrees that a “dream government” led by Move Forward looks uncertain now. He pointed to Pheu Thai’s slow move in taking a public stance regarding a Move Forward-led coalition.

Pheu Thai issued its statement supporting Move Forward’s effort on Monday afternoon, instead of on Sunday night, Stithorn noted.

This signals that Pheu Thai believed it would emerge from the election with the highest number of House seats, he said. Obviously, Move Forward’s unexpected win caught Pheu Thai off-guard, he said.

Pheu Thai clearly wants to dictate the path to a coalition government, he said, even though it came second.

“Pheu Thai still wants to set the rules of the game. And they may push Move Forward into the opposition camp along with [outgoing PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s United Thai Nation Party],” Stithorn said.

The analyst added that a coalition led by Pheu Thai would also include key partners from the outgoing government, namely Bhumjaithai and Palang Pracharath. He expects the Senate would support the PM candidate of this coalition.

In this case, Move Forward would be left in the opposition camp along with the Democrat Party and United Thai Nation.

How Bangkok set stage for Move Forward’s shock election victory

A difficult decision

Stithorn reckons Pheu Thai wants to lead a new coalition government because its priority is to bring former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra back home. Pheu Thai may be weighing which coalition partners would help ease Thaksin’s return.

Thaksin faces at least 10 years in prison if he returns to Thailand under current laws and conditions. A Pheu Thai-led government could ensure favourable terms for Thaksin. After being ousted by the 2006 coup, he fled the country in 2008, before being found guilty of power abuse and malfeasance and sentenced in absentia.

Thaksin has said he will “return home” before his birthday on July 26 this year to face the legal process. Stithorn said he may have made the vow on the assumption that Pheu Thai would win a landslide election victory to secure single-party rule.

Olarn said Pheu Thai would have to consider whether working with Move Forward was a good choice to pave the way for Thaksin’s return. But he doubts Pheu Thai will opt to ally with Move Forward and risk a collision with the elites.

“I don’t think Thaksin will favor this option. It’s his last war [aged 73] and he has to make an all-out gamble. Does he want to collide with the elites?” Olarn asked.

Stithorn believes this will be a difficult decision for Pheu Thai to make. He said choosing Move Forward to form a “pro-democracy” coalition would be a better choice for Pheu Thai. Opting to lead a coalition of conservative parties would be a “dangerous game” for Pheu Thai, he added.

But the Thaksin factor could overshadow all calculations.

“When Thaksin is involved in the equation, anything could happen. Pheu Thai may be ready to make some sacrifices for Thaksin,” the analyst said.

Elites shocked by Move Forward win

Olarn said in his view a Move Forward-led coalition was an ideal choice, but a Pheu Thai-led coalition was more likely.

He expects Pheu Thai’s executive board to step down out of responsibility for the party’s failure to achieve its targeted landslide win. This would pave the way for a new executive board to form a new coalition with parties from the outgoing government.

“I believe Pheu Thai will opt for this formula. They can’t afford to stay out of power any longer. They have a lot of things to do [as a government],” the analyst said.

Olarn reckons it could also include Palang Pracharath in its coalition so that its leader General Prawit Wongsuwan could use his Senate connections to win support for Pheu Thai’s PM candidate.

A Pheu Thai-led coalition could even include United Thai Nation if Prayut, its chief strategist and PM candidate, leaves the party, Olarn said.

He said Move Forward’s win had shocked and worried the Thai elite and they need politicians to help them retain their influence.

“They don’t trust Pheu Thai but they trust Move Forward even less. This is because Move Forward has taken a clear stance on making structural changes,” the analyst said.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk