Thai Election Runners-up Agree Coalition with Govt-aligned Party

Pheu Thai Party leader Chonlanan Srikaew (3/R) and Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul (3/L) hold hands following a press conference at the Pheu Thai Party's headquarters in Bangkok on August 7, 2023. Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP

Bangkok, Thailand -- Thailand's election runners-up announced a fresh coalition with a government-aligned party on Monday as lawmakers attempt to overcome resistance from military and pro-royalist senators to break a political deadlock.

The kingdom has been unable to form a government after the reformist Move Forward Party (MFP) fell short of a majority, despite winning the most seats in May's polls, and was later excluded from a progressive coalition.

MFP rode a wave of support from young and urban Thais weary of almost a decade of army-backed rule but spooked Thailand's powerful conservative establishment with pledges to break up business monopolies and amend strict royal defamation laws.

The party's closest rival, Pheu Thai, announced the new partnership on Monday with another party, Bhumjaithai, bringing together a total of 212 seats in the Thai parliament's lower house.

A previous eight-party coalition headed by MFP failed to get leader Pita Limjaroenrat elected prime minister after he was blocked by junta-appointed senators opposed to his determination over the lese-majeste laws.

Pheu Thai announced last week the progressive party had been excluded from the coalition, saying support for Pita's bid had stumbled over MFP's stance on lese-majeste reform.

Leader Chonlanan Srikaew announced Monday a coalition agreement between his party and Bhumjaithai -- a member of the army-backed coalition government elected in controversial 2019 polls.

"We would like to thank Bhumjaithai for accepting the invitation so that we can step over this political deadlock," he told a news conference.

Chonlanan said Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai would seek support from other parties in forming a government.

"We want all parties to support the candidate from Pheu Thai," he said.

Bhumjaithai party, best known for delivering on a 2019 campaign promise to legalise cannabis in Thailand, had previously insisted it would not be part of any coalition containing MFP.

Leader Anutin Charnvirakul said his party had partnered with Pheu Thai on three conditions, including dropping the lese-majeste amendment and not forming a minority government.

"Third, if Pheu Thai leads the government, for Bhumjaithai, the Move Forward Party cannot be part of the government," he said.

The news sparked a small protest outside Pheu Thai's headquarters. Protesters threw paper fliers with pictures of the Pheu Thai leader emblazoned with: "WANTED: Chonlanan what time will you resign?"

- Businessman backed -

Pheu Thai is seen as a vehicle for the Shinawatra political clan, whose members include two former prime ministers ousted by military coups in 2006 and 2014.

Last week Pheu Thai nominated businessman Srettha Thavisin as the bloc's candidate for prime minister and Chonlanan confirmed on Monday that was still the case.

To become prime minister, a candidate must be approved by a majority of both houses of parliament -- the 500 elected MPs and the 250 senators appointed under the last junta.

Pita managed 324 votes across the two houses in the first vote in parliament, with only 13 senators supporting him.

He was blocked from running in a second ballot and suspended as an MP by the Constitutional Court over his ownership of media shares, which is prohibited for lawmakers under Thai law.

The Constitutional Court last week delayed hearing a petition challenging parliament's decision to deny Pita a second ballot to become prime minister.

Parliament postponed a scheduled vote shortly afterwards.

MFP has agreed to go into opposition, insisting it can still effect change despite not holding power.

© Agence France-Presse

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