12 June 2024

This Thursday (July 13) will see a crucial vote in Thailand’s Parliament when 500 MPs and 250 senators convene to select the country’s 30th prime minister.

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat is the main candidate for the top job as he is backed by a coalition of eight political parties with a combined 312 MPs.

Led by Move Forward, which won the May 14 election with 151 seats, the coalition commands a majority in the House of Representatives that would be enough to elect Pita as PM if only MPs could vote.

However, a provisional clause in the Constitution allows the Senate to join the Lower House in electing the prime minister. Anyone nominated for the PM seat requires majority support from both Houses, or at least 376 votes.

That means Pita needs at least 64 more votes to achieve the required majority. And it won’t be easy for him and Move Forward to achieve that goal, analysts say. Some point to a high possibility of Pita failing to win the PM’s seat.

What are the possible scenarios?

One of several possible scenarios may play out in the selection of a new prime minister.

The first scenario is that Pita gets enough support from senators and/or MPs outside his coalition thanks to Move Forward’s legitimacy in winning the election, said Olarn Thinbangtieo, a lecturer at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law.

He pointed to signs that many senators will “heed the people’s voice” and vote for Pita in line with the democratic principle. However, he cautioned that many senators are likely to base their decisions on the elite’s interests and refuse to support Pita.

If he fails to get enough votes in the first round, Pita will likely be given more chances. But for Olarn, three rounds of voting should be enough to clear any doubt about parliamentary support for Pita.

The second and third rounds are scheduled for July 19 and 20.

In Olarn’s second scenario, after Pita fails to gain enough votes in three rounds, the legitimacy to form a new government will pass to the coalition’s second-largest party, Pheu Thai.

Pheu Thai will nominate its PM candidate for the parliamentary vote. This could be either Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of the party’s patriarch, Thaksin, or real estate tycoon-turned-politician Srettha Thavisin, he said.

However, there is a possibility that the Pheu Thai candidate will fail to get enough votes if the party remains allied with Move Forward, Olarn added.

If that is the case, the eight coalition parties may need to discuss breaking their alliance as it becomes clear that their coalition is unlikely to get sufficient support from the rest of Parliament.

BMA prepares for Pita’s “Judgement Day” on Thursday

Excluding Move Forward

In this third scenario, some partners in the eight-party coalition – particularly Pheu Thai, which has 141 MPs – will join forces with parties in the outgoing government, including Bhumjaithai and Palang Pracharath, in a bid to form the next coalition administration.

Move Forward would be unlikely to join this new coalition as the party made it clear in the run-up to the election that it will not work with parties in the outgoing government.

Olarn noted that Pheu Thai and the smaller partners in the eight-party coalition are facing public pressure to help the popular Move Forward form the next government. So they have to show that they are working as hard as possible to achieve that outcome even though they may not succeed.

“I think people will understand. They will know that efforts were made but to no avail,” he said.

A less likely scenario is that parties in the outgoing coalition government, which have about 180 MPs between them, will nominate a joint PM candidate and receive support from almost all 250 senators.

That would give them a majority in Parliament, but the resulting minority government would lack stability and be vulnerable to collapse via a no-confidence vote.

“[A minority government] is lawful but it lacks political legitimacy,” Olarn said.

This option is less likely now that acting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s United Thai Nation Party has decided not to support any attempt to form a minority government. Both its leader, Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, and secretary-general Akanat Promphan have publicly rejected the idea.

The analyst also raised the possibility of a fifth scenario: someone outside of the current list of PM candidates being nominated for a parliamentary vote. But this option would require an extra vote from both Houses. Support from at least two-thirds of parliamentarians, or 500 out of 750, is required to get an outsider nominated for the PM post.

Thaksin in the equation

For Olarn, the most likely scenario is that Bhumjaithai, the third-largest party with 71 MPs, forms the next government with other parties from the outgoing coalition and a number of “supporters” from Pheu Thai.

The analyst said it is possible that Pheu Thai will allow a large portion of its MPs – particularly those from provincial political dynasties which command loyal voter support through patronage – a free hand to vote for a rival coalition led by Bhumjaithai.

Their new coalition government would command a razor-thin majority in the Lower House with the backing of 251-260 MPs, but it would get strong support from the Senate, whose members were appointed by the post-coup junta led by General Prayut. Also, most senators will be looking to vote for conservative parties.

In this scenario, Pheu Thai could achieve its aim of political power by cooperating with the conservatives while remaining in the opposition camp with Move Forward.

Pheu Thai really needs “protection” from those in power to ensure a smooth homecoming for Thaksin, who has vowed to return to Thailand later this month after living in self-exile overseas since 2008.

The former premier is facing 10 years in prison after being found guilty of malfeasance and corruption in three criminal cases stemming from his time in power. The court verdicts were issued in absentia. Thaksin is due to start serving prison time on his return, but having his proxy party share political power may help him gain favourable treatment while behind bars.

Olarn reckoned that Pheu Thai may have to choose whether to lead a new coalition itself or allow Bhumjaithai to do so. This decision would be crucial as this could be Thaksin’s last chance to return home.

“If both Move Forward and Pheu Thai fail to get the PM’s seat, Bhumjaithai could make Thaksin more comfortable,” the analyst said.

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Where Pita can get support

Pita can be assured of 311 votes from the eight-party coalition – all but one of its combined 312 MPs, as House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha (from the third-largest coalition party, Prachachat) is unlikely to vote because he needs to show his neutrality.

The PM hopeful thus needs at least 65 votes to gain the required simple majority of 376. There are two possible sources of those votes: the non-coalition political parties with a total of 188 MPs in the Lower House and the 250-member Senate.

Move Forward heavyweights recently called on parties outside of their coalition to “heed the people’s voice” and vote for Pita. But parties in the outgoing coalition appear to have retained their unity and are unlikely to support Pita’s bid for the PM’s seat.

Leaders of these parties announced that they would not back Pita because his party plans to amend Article 112 of the Penal Code, or the lese majeste law. Many senators have voiced the same concern, insisting any amendment risks weakening the monarchy and destabilizing the country.

Despite claims by key Move Forward Party figures of strong senatorial support for Pita, many analysts estimate that he will receive only 10 to 20 votes from the Senate. Some senators have said they expect fewer than 10 of their colleagues to vote for Pita.

Senior Move Forward figures, including deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakun, claimed last week to have secured sufficient Senate votes for Pita to become the next prime minister. Sirikanya voiced confidence that her party leader would get enough support in the first round of voting.

Meanwhile, Senator Somchai Swangkarn, an outspoken critic of Pita and Move Forward, claimed on Monday that there had been attempts to bribe, blackmail or harass several senators for their votes.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk