16 June 2024

Ongoing efforts to form a new government after the May 14 general election have hit a roadblock – an impasse that may pave the way for the return of the outgoing coalition, analysts say.

The eight-party coalition has failed to gather enough parliamentary votes for its prime ministerial candidate even after the election-winning Move Forward with 151 MPs stepped aside to allow runner-up Pheu Thai (141 MPs) to take the lead. Parties outside the coalition have refused to work with Move Forward due to ideological differences.

Pheu Thai leaders met with counterparts from five parties in the outgoing coalition government over the past weekend to “seek their advice on a way out for the country”. But leaders of Bhumjaithai (71 MPs), Palang Pracharath (40), United Thai Nation (36), and Chartthaipattana (10) stated after their separate meetings with Pheu Thai that they would not join a government coalition that included Move Forward as they opposed its policy for reform of Article 112 of the Penal Code or the lese majeste law. Chart Pattana Kla (two MPs) said it would work with Move Forward on condition that Article 112 was left unchanged.

Meanwhile, Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew unexpectedly suggested on Monday that the election’s third-placed party Bhumjaithai should be allowed to try forming a new government. “Now that Pheu Thai has failed and run out of options, the baton should be passed to the third largest party,” he said.

Cholnan noted that Bhumjaithai’s rival 10-party alliance commands 188 MPs, more than either Move Forward or Pheu Thai alone.

Political stalemate

Observers say that while Pheu Thai seems to be hinting that Move Forward is the problem and should leave, the latter has opted to insist on its place in the eight-party coalition. This stalemate may leave Pheu Thai with no choice but to leave the alliance and form a new government with the 188 MPs from the outgoing coalition, they add.

The analysts reckon that in this scenario, Palang Pracharath leader General Prawit Wongsuwan or Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul has a strong chance of becoming the next prime minister.

Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (STOU), said the 312-MP eight-party coalition ran into trouble when it failed to win votes for its PM candidate from the 188-MP group and most of the 250 senators.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat secured 324 votes and only 13 from senators, meaning he fell well short of the 376 majority required in the parliamentary vote by 500 MPs and 250 senators.

“In this situation, either Prawit or Anutin could become prime minister,” Yuthaporn said.

He pointed out that Prawit could count on support from senators and the 188 MPs in the outgoing coalition, with additional backing from many Pheu Thai MPs and other dissidents in the Move Forward-led alliance.

Yuthaporn believes Pheu Thai’s commitment to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the eight parties post-election was voided after Pita failed to a secure majority vote in Parliament and handed over the right to form the next government to Pheu Thai.

“Pheu Thai should now have the right to select partners [for a new coalition],” the analyst said.

With Move Forward unbending, 8-party alliance hangs in the balance

Lack of courage

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a lecturer at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law, agreed that the leaders of Bhumjaithai and Palang Pracharath have a good chance of forming the next government.

But he is convinced that despite its meetings with five parties over the weekend, Pheu Thai won’t dare tear up its MoU with the Move Forward coalition for fear of the backlash from voters that this would trigger.

However, if Pheu Thai nominates any of its three PM candidates for a parliamentary vote, they would fail to secure majority support as long as Move Forward remains in its coalition, the analyst added.

The ball would then likely be passed to the third-largest party Bhumjaithai and fourth-largest Palang Pracharath.

“This deal would benefit the elites most,” Olarn said, referring to the military-royalist-business establishment. “It paves the way for Prawit and Pheu Thai to gain political power together.”

He expects that between 70 and 80 Pheu Thai MPs, mainly from political family fiefdoms, would vote for the 188-MP coalition and give it a simple majority in the 500-MP House of Representatives whenever required.

The analyst said that dissident Pheu Thai MPs – most of whom defected from Palang Pracharath before the last election – might end up being expelled from Pheu Thai and rejoining Palang Pracharath. The rest of Pheu Thai would likely join the opposition with Move Forward.

“The ball is still in Pheu Thai’s court. What they can do is kick it about among the eight coalition parties. They have no chance of getting the PM seat because they do not dare to tear up the MoU,” said the analyst.

Yuthaporn sees Pheu Thai’s position as difficult ahead of the next parliamentary vote to select a new prime minister. He said the party currently has four big headaches – explaining its position to other parties in the current coalition, dealing with the 188-MP alliance, seeking support from senators, and tackling party infighting among factions who want to stick to the current coalition or betray them to work with the rival alliance.

Olarn suggested that Move Forward could willingly retreat into opposition on condition that the next government pledges to seek constitutional amendments, particularly on issues viewed as undemocratic.

House dissolution an option

Yuthaporn believes the House could be dissolved and a fresh election held if the political deadlock continues until year-end. He pointed out that caretaker Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha still has the power to dissolve the House.

The analyst also noted that waiting another 10 months until the Senate completes its term would not guarantee the parliamentary selection of a prime minister acceptable to all sides. He cited the fact that senators would still take a caretaker role until their successors assume office.

Meanwhile, a new development may have provided respite for both Pheu Thai and Move Forward.

The next meeting and PM vote, scheduled for Thursday (July 27), has been cancelled by Parliament President Wan Muhamad Noor Matha after the Ombudsman’s Office petitioned the Constitutional Court to review last week’s decision in Parliament to block Pita’s renomination. One of Pheu Thai’s three PMcandidates was expected to be nominated for the parliamentary vote at the cancelled meeting.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk