Oldest Thai Party Backs Pro-Military Bloc as Premier Vote Looms

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s oldest political party backed a coalition led by former officials of the outgoing junta, bolstering the military establishment’s push to keep a grip on power after March’s disputed election.

The Democrat Party’s decision puts the pro-military coalition on about 254 seats in the 500-strong elected lower house -- on course to form a government but one with only a thin majority. The bloc is led by Palang Pracharath, a proxy for the junta that seized power in a coup five years ago.

"The party members agreed to join the coalition and support its prime ministerial candidate," Democrat leader Jurin Laksanavisit said in a late Tuesday briefing in Bangkok. He added that one of the conditions for its backing is to rewrite parts of the military-backed constitution.

An anti-junta coalition controls almost half the house, but its path to government appears blocked by an appointed Senate that votes Wednesday along with the elected chamber on who becomes prime minister. The Senate features allies of the military establishment, making coup leader and pro-military party candidate Prayuth Chan-Ocha the favorite to return as premier.

"The government is likely going to look similar to what the country has had over the past five years," said Kevin Hewison, an expert on Thai politics and an emeritus professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But with a slim majority, it’ll likely be a short-term government."

The lower chamber has primary responsibility for day-to-day legislation, sparking concern Thailand faces policy gridlock and instability as the two feuding coalitions jab at each other.

Official Results

Party

Lower House Seats

Pheu Thai136
Palang Pracharath116
Future Forward81
Democrat Party53
Bhum Jai Thai51

"It’s any government’s job to maintain its majority," said Jurin. "If we can’t maintain that, the government will have to be dissolved."

The political challenges are coming just as the export-reliant economy slows amid the U.S.-China trade war.

Controversy

Another key swing party, Bhum Jai Thai, previously said it will join the pro-military coalition and added that the bloc will be stable.

The run up to and aftermath of the March general election have been mired in controversy. Critics say the process was unfair and designed to allow the military elite to maintain control under an army-backed constitution. The junta says it followed the law.

Pheu Thai, a party linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, won the most seats in the poll and is the largest part of the anti-junta bloc. The military establishment repeatedly ousted governments led by Thaksin or his allies. Prayuth deposed a Pheu Thai-led administration in 2014 after a period of unrest.

The anti-junta alliance’s prime ministerial candidate is Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a tycoon-turned-politician and fierce critic of the military administration. His meteoric rise at the helm of his young, reform-minded Future Forward party has unsettled conservative power brokers.

Thanathorn has warned that protesters could again take to the streets if curbs on the opposition intensify. He faces a number of legal cases, including a sedition charge, and is suspended from parliamentary duties. Thanathorn has rejected the allegations and says they are politically motivated.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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