This morning, another Thai political party announced that it would join the alliance led by the Pheu Thai Party (PTP), which is hoping to end a political deadlock that has persisted since the country’s general election in May. During a press conference this morning Varawut Silpa-archa, the leader of the Chart Thai Pattana Party, which holds 10 seats in the House of Representatives, announced that his party would join the putative governing coalition.
The coalition was formed last week when Pheu Thai, the party associated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which came in second in the election, winning 141 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives, came together with the third-placed Bhumjaithai Party (71 seats). The two parties said that they would attempt to gain the support of smaller parties in order to form a government under the leadership of Srettha Thavisin, a real estate developer and political neophyte whom Pheu Thai has nominated as its prime ministerial candidate.
The Pheu Thai-Bhumjaithai alliance came about after the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) dropped out of the coalition. Despite coming in first at the election, in which it won 150 seats, the MFP was twice prevented from having its leader Pita Limjaroenrat confirmed as prime minister in Parliament, due to the opposition of the military-appointed Senate. Conservative parties subsequently told Pheu Thai that they would not support any coalition that included Move Forward.
The seven new recruits have pushed up the new coalition’s total seat share to 238, still shy of the 251 that it needs for a House majority. (While a minority government would be possible with the support of the Senate, one of Bhumjaithai’s conditions for joining the PTP-led coalition was that it attain a clear majority.)
Where the final 13 seats come from remains to be seen. Of the remaining parties outside the alliance, the two largest are the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) (40 seats) and the United Thai Nation Party (UTNP) (36 seats), both of which are affiliated with the military. Joining with either would pose political difficulties for Pheu Thai, which has pledged not to ally with the “uncles” – PPRP leader Prawit Wongsuwan and the UTNP’s Prayut Chan-o-cha – who took part in the 2014 coup against the Pheu Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.
Of the remaining six parties, five hold a total of just 10 seats, leaving the Democrats – Thailand’s oldest political party – as the only other viable partner. While widely viewed as a rudderless and declining force, the Democrats currently hold 25 seats, enough to give the coalition the majority that it needs.
This, too, would be an awkward alliance. Pheu Thai and the Democrats spent years on either side of Thailand’s “red”-“yellow” divide in the late 2000s and early 2010s. It was an under a Democrat government that security forces opened fire on pro-Thaksin “red shirt” protestors in 2010, killing at least 98 people, including “unarmed protesters, medics, reporters, and bystanders,” according to Human Rights Watch. Democrat politicians also cheer-led the royalist “yellow shirt” protests that preceded the coup against Yingluck’s government in 2014.
Should Pheu Thai permit the Democrats to join its coalition, it could prompt a revolt of the party’s rank and file, many of whom spent years protesting the machinations of the Democrats and their conservative “yellow shirt” allies. Supporters of the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, which led the “red shirt” protests in the 2000s and 2010s, is already split over the party’s desire to form an alliance with Bhumjaithai. According to the Bangkok Post, one faction of the UDD plans to burn its red shirts in a symbolic protest against the PTP’s abandonment of the MFP.
With an alliance with either the “uncles” or the Democrats likely to pose difficulties for the PTP – and the party’s avowed goal of achieving a majority of at least 280 seats would likely involve the support of both camps – the fluidity of the Thai political landscape could be Pheu Thai’s savior. One workaround could be to welcome individual parliamentarians who would resign from their parties before joining the coalition.
For the coalition to take government, however, Pheu Thai’s coalition will then need to secure enough votes from the military-appointed Senate to confirm Srettha as prime minister and form a government. No date has been set for the next vote, but it will not occur until at least August 16, when the Constitutional Court is expected to rule on a petition challenging the constitutionality of Parliament’s blocking of MFP leader from renominating himself for prime minister, after his initial failed attempt on July 13.
This parliamentary vote shapes as a test of the extent to which Pheu Thai, which the conservative establishment spent years opposing, has been truly rehabilitated in the interests of combating the more pressing threat posed by the MFP. Lurking behind this is the specter of Thaksin, who has pledged to return to the country later this month after 15 years in exile – something that he has promised several times over the years, but due to changing political circumstances may now actually happen.
Absent support from the Senate, Pheu Thai is attempting to convince the MFP to support Srettha’s candidacy from opposition, in the interests of preventing more reactionary elements from forming the next government. Should it be unable to convince the MFP to support it, PTP’s Chonlanan Srikaew said today that the party would pursue unspecified alternative plans. While a new Pheu Thai-led government under Srettha remains the most likely outcome, Thailand’s post-election drama could still have several turns in store.