By THE NATION
THOUGH THE Pheu Thai Party won the highest number of seats in yesterday’s general election, its chances of forming a government are far from certain, political analysts say.
That verdict came after observers said that any coalition able to gather majority support in the House of Representatives had the right to form the next government.
With 83 per cent of votes counted, Pheu Thai had won 142 out of 500 House seats while the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party trailed close behind with 135 seats.
Future Forward were in third place with 71 seats, followed by Bhumjaithai (62) and the Democrat Party (33).
Supporters of the Pheu Thai party react at the party's headquarters in Bangkok on March 24, 2019 after polls closed in Thailand's general election. // AFP PHOTO
Yet many observers said Phalang Pracharat candidate General Prayut Chan-o-cha, thanks to the 250 senators to be appointed by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), was still favourite to retain his post when the two Houses vote to select the next prime minister.
The next Senate will, for the first time in Thai history, join in selecting the head of government for the first five years after the first Parliament under this Constitution is installed.
Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Political Science Faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, said yesterday that the 250 junta-appointed senators would favour Phalang Pracharat’s PM candidate over Pheu Thai’s.
He said it was unlikely Pheu Thai could gather a majority of support in Parliament needed for its candidate to become prime minister.
“However, it’ll be difficult for Prayut to govern because Pheu Thai will be a big opposition party and will prevent Prayut from gaining an absolute majority,” Titipol said.
The academic did not foresee any chaos if Pheu Thai fails to form a government despite winning the most seats.
Political observer Ekachai Chainuvati said yesterday that though the law does not stipulate the coalition leader must be the election winner, tradition dictates that the winner gets to lead the government.
This would suggest that Pheu Thai reserves the right to form the new government. But Ekachai admitted this did not mean the prime minister would be from Pheu Thai, since the junta-appointed Senate would also have a say in the selection.
“So we’ll have to say after the Parliament is opened, if there are ‘snakes’, then maybe the election winner doesn’t get their PM elected,” he said.
Ekachai added that elected MPs must figure out who the public wanted as PM before making their decision to vote.
“We have to acknowledge that some voters also support Phalang Pracharat,” he said, implying that General Prayut has popular support. “So the MPs must try to work out what the people want and group with other parties accordingly.”
Kiatanantha Lounkaew, director of Public Communication at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Economics, said winning a majority in the House of Representatives did not mean the winner would lead the next government.
The academic predicted a period of horse-trading among parties following yesterday’s national vote.
“Parties will be busy negotiating for the best deals. It is logical that they all want to be part of the new government. But siding with the winner does not assure long-term benefits. In the coming months, the winner’s position will be very fragile.”
Those parties would first have to deal their “pre-election karma”, he added. Major parties exploited an “us and them” strategy to gain popularity. Now, those who side with “them” risk alienating their supporters, who may start to pressure the parties they voted for to honour their campaign positions and pledges.
Second, discontented voters whose parties lost out in the election may not accept the result. If that discontent coalesces into a political movement which gains momentum, it could undermine the legitimacy of the newly formed government.
Lastly, the leading party in government will have to balance the demands from coalition parties very carefully. Those demands will continue to grow and there may come a point when satisfying the demands may exceed the benefits of being in office. That scenario may lead to dissolution. And the whole election cycle will start again.
Anusorn Tamajai, dean of Rangsit University’s Faculty of Economics, said yesterday he expected Pheu Thai to form the next government as polls indicated it would win most seats. However, if the appointed senators decline to support Pheu Thai and its mandate from voters then political instability could ensue. That political instability would adversely affect the economy, he added.
Overall, however, he was optimistic that the economy would be boosted by the election of a new government, which would be able to make free trade agreements with other countries that refused to do so while Thailand was under junta-backed rule, he said.
Stanley Kang, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, said that while he was not sure which parties would form the coalition government, their policies were in any case similar.
However, he believed that the new government would implement policies that complement globalisation and the Thai economy’s part in it.
Kang voted for the first time in yesterday’s election after receiving Thai citizenship 10 years ago.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said yesterday that the law did not say that the party with the most House seats had the right to form the next government.
“You need to look at many factors,” he said, adding that political parties would try to form a coalition after they knew the election results.
Last Thursday, Uttama Savanayana, leader of the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party, said any party able to gather the majority in the Lower House should have the right to form the next government.
“You need to listen to the voice of voters. Any coalition able to gather the majority should have the right to form the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Democrat Party yesterday admitted “a huge loss” after unofficial election results showed the country’s oldest political party was beaten into fifth place.
Democrat key figure Ongart Klampaiboon said the party had suffered badly at the hands of Phalang Pracharat.
Ongart said his party’s traditional supporters seemed to have shifted over to Phalang Pracharat and “Uncle Tu”, Prayut’s nickname, especially in Bangkok and southern provinces.
In previous elections, the Democrats won 22 seats in Bangkok, but voting results this time show that they may have lost their footing in the capital completely.
“The overall result shows voters want them [Phalang Pracharat] to govern the country,” said Ongart.