Thailand’s two main opposition parties have reportedly reached an agreement on how to allocate cabinet seats, including the house speaker role, in the country’s next government, following several weeks of fraught negotiations.
The progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) prevailed in the May 14 election, winning 151 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives, just ahead of the opposition Pheu Thai Party (PTP), which clinched 141 seats.
For several weeks, the MFP and PTP have been deadlocked over the question of which party should get the important position of house speaker, which will be chosen when parliament holds its first joint session on July 4. The PTP initially demanded the position for itself, while the MFP held firm and insisted that as the party that won a plurality of seats, it should have the right to the post, which is important if it is to shepherd ambitious progressive policy agenda through parliament.
According to a daily news briefing published today by the Thai Enquirer, the PTP has agreed to support the MFP’s candidate for house speaker and will in turn be able to appoint its officials to the two deputy house speaker positions. Pheu Thai, which is associated with the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, will also hold 15 cabinet positions, compared to 14 for the MFP, which will of course seek to nominate its leader Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister. The decisions were reportedly made after a meeting of the two parties’ working groups yesterday.
While Pita is in the box seat to form Thailand’s next government, it remains unclear whether he has the support necessary to prevail when parliament convenes a joint session to choose the prime minister next month. The MFP’s eight-party coalition holds 312 seats in parliament, 64 seats short of the 376 that it needs to overcome the likely opposition of the 250-member Senate, which was appointed by the military junta that ruled in 2014-2019.
For his own part, Pita is confident that he will command the necessary parliamentary support. According to a report by Reuters, he was asked on Tuesday how much Senate support he had secured, and responded, “enough for me to become prime minister.”
Most crucially, the Thai Enquirer reported, both parties have pledged to remain aligned even in the event that Pita falls short. The two parties have agreed that if Pita fails to attract the necessary votes to be selected prime minister, Pheu Thai “will take the lead in forming the government, and the Move Forward Party will assist in its formation all the way through.”
Pheu Thai leader Chonlanan Srikaew said yesterday that this proposal is not yet set in stone, and that the two parties will conclude their negotiations at a meeting on July 2, ahead of the scheduled vote for house speaker on July 4. But he, too, played down suggestions that if Pita fails to secure the necessary votes to become PM that the PTP could form its own coalition with more conservative parties.
“We are bound by the will of 25 million people that tie us with Move Forward. Even though we may want to leave to do whatever we want, we cannot do so because it is not fair for the people,” Chonlanan reportedly said.
It is hard to know whether this represents a genuine and binding pact between the MFP and PTP, or simply a means of playing down the recent media speculation about the growing rift between them. Whatever is true, political allegiances will remain fluid and a handshake agreement will count for little if there is a sudden change in the political winds.