BANGKOK – Thailand's populist Pheu Thai party announced Monday that it plans to form a new government with an 11-party coalition that includes two pro-military parties affiliated with outgoing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Parliament is expected to confirm the country’s 30th prime minister on Tuesday after a three-month stalemate following elections in May. Pheu Thai leader Chonlanan Srikaew said the coalition partners have agreed to nominate real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin as the new leader.
Pheu Thai finished second in the elections but received a chance to form a government after members of the conservative unelected Senate repeatedly blocked the surprise winner, the progressive Move Forward Party. Both houses of Parliament vote together for the prime minister under the military-implemented constitution, in an arrangement designed to protect conservative military-backed rule.
Many Senate members, appointed by a Prayuth-led military government, opposed Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister because of his party’s call for reform of a law that makes it illegal to defame Thailand’s royal family. Critics say the law, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, has been abused as a political weapon. Senators, like the army, see themselves as guardians of traditional conservative royalist values.
Pheu Thai then excluded Move Forward from its coalition, saying the party's call for a reform of the royal defamation law made it impossible to gather enough support from other parties and the Senate to approve a new prime minister.
The Pheu Thai-led coalition holds 314 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives and needs some support from the Senate to achieve a majority in the combined parliamentary vote.
Move Forward has said it will not support any prime ministerial candidate from a coalition that includes parties from the outgoing military-backed government.
Pheu Thai announced Monday that its coalition includes two military-backed parties — Palang Pracharath with 40 seats, and United Thai Nation with 36 seats. Both are linked to Prayuth, who has remained in power since he led a 2014 military coup as army chief.
Pheu Thai is the latest in a string of parties affiliated with ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist who was ousted by a 2006 military coup. The coup triggered years of upheaval and division that pitted a mostly poor, rural majority in the north that supports Thaksin against royalists, the military and their urban backers.
Pheu Thai has been heavily criticized by some of its supporters for backtracking on a pre-election pledge not to join hands with pro-military parties.
Thaksin and his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra said he plans to return to Thailand on Tuesday before Parliament’s vote, ending years of self-imposed exile to escape prison terms in several criminal cases which he has decried as politically motivated.
Paetongtarn, a key Pheu Thai member, apologized on Sunday to people who were disappointed by Pheu Thai's decision to form a coalition with pro-military parties. She said it was necessary because Pheu Thai was unable to achieve a landslide victory in the May polls.
Chonlanan, the Pheu Thai leader, said Monday that the decision was made because the party and its coalition partners see a need to urgently solve the country's problems, including improving the economy and ending political divisions.
“Although there are parties from the outgoing government in the coalition, all parties will work with Pheu Thai with efficiency and serve the best interests of the public,” he said. “The coalition parties will use this chance as a beginning to build love, harmony and reconciliation of the people in the country, and will work together to create prosperity for the country and the people into the future.”
He said the coalition agreed to support Pheu Thai’s platform of boosting the economy, increasing the minimum wage and ending mandatory conscription. He also said they will support the continued legalization of medical marijuana and work to amend the constitution to make the country “become more democratic,” while not touching the royal defamation law.