By Political Desk
A day after the election, two rival parties – the Shinawatra-backed Pheu Thai and the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat – were locked in a close battle to form the next government with little difference between the two in terms of strength in Parliament.
While the Phalang Pracharat Party claims it has secured the “popular vote” from people nationwide, Pheu Thai argued that it has won the most number of MP seats and therefore should be invited first to form the government.
With 94 per cent of votes counted yesterday, the pro-junta party grossed 7,939,937 votes nationwide while the Shinawatra-backed Pheu Thai was second with 7,423,361 votes.
In this election, the total number of votes for each party – irrespective of whether its constituency candidates win or not – are combined to determine how many MPs each party gets in total.
The Election Commission (EC) yesterday announced unofficial results of constituency winners. Pheu Thai Party became the single-largest party with 137 seats from all 350 constituencies. Phalang Pracharat, meanwhile, came second, winning 97 seats.
According to current media calculations, the total number of seats from constituency and party-list, Pheu Thai will get the most number at 137 while Phalang Pracharat will have 119. The EC has not calculated the number of party-list seats.
Though both parties can make equally strong claims to form the government, analysts believe it will not be easy for them to sail through Parliament.
Neither camp seems to be in a position to gather 250 seats and that could lead to a deadlock. Moreover, the number between the two camps is too close.
According to the latest figures, the pro-junta camp can gain around 242 seats with support from parties who are clearly opposed to Pheu Thai.
The Pheu Thai camp can also muster 241 seats with support from anti-junta parties like Future Forward, Seri Ruam Thai and Prachachart.
Pheu Thai yesterday claimed victory in the election after the EC announced the results, saying it had emerged as the number one party with 137 winning constituency candidates.
“Only the winning party should lead the coalition,” its de facto leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan said at a press conference yesterday.
“And we will certainly only work with those who oppose the junta’s attempt to retain power.”
She said Pheu Thai had prioritised the public interest over everything else. The party insisted on responding to the people’s demand and restoring democracy, she said, though hinting it would be willing to compromise on the PM candidate.
Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said that the party was seeking collaboration with other pro-democracy parties and would discuss the PM candidate to find the best option for the country.
Pheu Thai leaders have also started putting pressure on the junta-appointed Senate, stressing that senators must be free of any influence and respect the people’s voices as reflected in the election.
Later yesterday, Phalang Pracharat Party leader Uttama Savanayana claimed his party had won the right to form the next government as more than 7.9 million people nationwide had voted for them. He also said he was confident his party could successfully form the next government.
“Every vote is counted and has meaning. We have legitimacy, as we have gained the most trusted votes. Our winning results [with the most votes nationwide] show that voters have given us the mandate to govern the country,” he said at a press conference after the EC announced the unofficial results.
“We will ensure that we will do everything according to the mandate of the voters who want us to move the country forward peacefully,” he said.
However, he said his party’s principle is that any party who can gather the most seats in the bloc can form the government.
Uttama said he had begun talking with other parties who have common policies to form a coalition government, but declined to disclose the party names.
A Phalang Pracharat source said negotiations were on with Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul, Chartthai Pattana leader Kanchana Silpa-archa, Suthep Thaugsuban of Action Coalition for Thailand and Suwat Liptapanlop of Chartpattana. The Democrat Party is also negotiating.
Anutin yesterday did not commit to joining any side, saying he would do whatever was in the people’s interests.
“There is still time [to consider]. But I insist I won’t support a PM with a minority government as I think the government after the election should have stability and be able to work for the people,” he added.
He said he had not yet been contacted by anyone or any party.
If Phalang Pracharat can close a deal with those parties, its coalition government would have 242 seats but that would still fall short of ensuring stability for the new government led by Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (centre L) speaks during a press conference in Bangkok on March 25, 2019 after Thailand's general election. // AFP PHOTO
Meanwhile, the Future Forward Party celebrated victories in 30 constituencies in its electoral debut. But its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, said he had no intentions of bidding for the top job.
“The prime minister must be nominated from the party with the most MPs,” Thanathorn said firmly at a press conference yesterday. “I’m ready to be the PM. But we want to uphold democratic traditions and we won’t bring in any conditions that would lead the country to another deadlock.”
The party’s secretary-general, Piyabutr Sangkanokkul, however, set three conditions for Future Forward to join any coalition – write a new constitution, overturn the junta’s legacy, and reform the Army to prevent coups.
Analysts see Phalang Pracharat, who have nominated Prayut as the next PM, as most likely to form the next government.
“It is the only formula I can see now, judging from the number of MP seats each party has got,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.
Although the two blocs are very close in terms of numerical strength, Titipol thinks Phalang Pracharat is at an advantage as it has the support of 250 senators in the vote for PM, so, it would not be difficult to attract other small parties in addition to its allies.
In exchange for securing a stable government and Prayut as prime minister, the party would be willing to compromise or sacrifice some important Cabinet positions to those parties invited to join its bloc, Titipol said.
The party could also attract other parties by offering provincial budgets for politicians as well.
However, with the close race between the two blocs, Titipol thinks that with 52 seats, Bhumjaitai’s Anutin could play hard to get for both camps and will have an upper hand in the negotiations.
The New Economics Party of Mingkwan Sangsuwan, who won six seats, could also join either camp, he added.
Titipol still sees some hope for Thai politics even if Pheu Thai becomes an opposition party.
“It will benefit the country if they can play a strong opposition role to scrutinise Prayut’s next government and force Phalang Pracharat to learn what true democracy is,” he added.