BANGKOK – The progressive political party that won the most seats in Thailand's general election has been excluded from a coalition to form the next government, its former ally said Wednesday. Conservative lawmakers strongly oppose the party over its proposed reform of a law banning criticism of the country’s monarchy.
Thailand has struggled for nearly three months to form a government and select a new leader since its election in May. Move Forward Party, the surprise winner, pulled together an eight-party coalition with 312 seats in the 500-member House. However, under the military-enacted constitution, confirming a new prime minister requires a majority vote by both the elected House and the 250-member Senate, which was appointed by a previous military government.
An initial bid last month by Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat fell short by more than 50 votes, largely because only 13 senators backed him. His second attempt the following week was blocked by a procedural vote in Parliament, which said his name could not be nominated again.
Parliament plans to convene on Friday for its third attempt to select a successor to Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander seized power in a 2014 coup and was returned as prime minister after a 2019 election, despite a pending court decision that could delay the vote again.
The Constitutional Court is to meet on Thursday to decide whether to accept a petition from the state ombudsman seeking a ruling on whether Parliament’s rejection of Pita’s renomination was unconstitutional. If accepted, the court could order the vote to be postponed until it issues a ruling.
After its two failed attempts, Move Forward handed over the lead in forming a new government to the populist second-biggest party in the coalition, Pheu Thai. Chonlanan Srikaew, Pheu Thai's leader, said at a news conference Wednesday that after talking with other parties and senators, it was clear that Move Forward’s stance on the monarchy, which he called “the important institution of our country,” was a major obstacle for the coalition in rallying enough votes in Parliament to confirm a new prime minister.
Move Forward, whose agenda appealed greatly to younger voters, also seeks to reduce the influence of the military, which has staged more than a dozen coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and big business monopolies.
Chonlanan said Pheu Thai will attempt to form a coalition government without Move Forward and would nominate real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin for prime minister. The party will announce its new coalition partners on Thursday, he said.
“The Pheu Thai party would like to express its sincerity to our friends in all political parties and the Senate, including the people, that this is the way we can preserve the important institution of the country as the cornerstone of all people in the nation, and at the same time push forward the demands of the people under these restrictions,” Chonlanan read from a party statement.
Chaithawat Tulathon, Move Forward’s secretary general, said Pheu Thai did not ask it to back down from its monarchy reform policy, but that all parties it had spoken to did not want Move Forward in the government.
Move Forward has filed a petition in Parliament seeking to amend the constitution to eliminate the unelected Senate’s ability to veto prime ministerial candidates, which also will be debated on Friday.
The Senate sees itself as the guardian of conservative royalist values. Many senators said they would not vote for Pita because of his party’s call for reform of the law prohibiting defamation of the royal family. Critics say the law, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, has been widely abused as a political weapon.
Public frustration has grown over Parliament’s failure to name a new leader. Supporters of the Move Forward Party have staged several protests calling for senators to stop blocking the candidate from the eight-party coalition.
Dozens of protesters rallied on Wednesday to demand the eight-party coalition remain together. They arrived at the Pheu Thai headquarters as the news conference was being held. Reacting to the news that Move Forward was ousted from the coalition, they laid effigies at the front gate and set them on fire.
Pheu Thai is the latest in a string of parties affiliated with ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist who was ousted in a 2006 military coup. His daughter has announced that he plans to return on Aug. 10 following years of self-imposed exile to escape a prison term in several criminal cases which he has decried as politically motivated.