By THE NATION
THE DEMOCRAT and Bhumjaithai parties yesterday were formally approached by the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party to form a coalition government after Parliament opened on the weekend and elected the house speakers.
Sources said a deal on portfolio allocation had yet to be sealed.
The election of the house speaker over the weekend pointed to a strong possibility that the two medium-sized parties with a combined 103 seats in the lower house would be a part of the military-backed government. But the Democrat Party remained non-committal, saying more talks were needed.
Bhumjaithai, however, officially accepted the Phalang Pracharat offer, citing the coalition leader’s acceptance of its four conditions.
It is reported that Phalang Pracharat has offered six ministerial seats in total to Democrat and Bhumjaithai. Key positions such as prime minister, defence and interior ministers are reserved for junta leaders General Prayut Chan-o-cha, General Prawit Wongsuwan and General Anupong Paochinda respectively.
The move for government formation comes after the House of Representatives opened over the weekend and saw the election of house speaker and deputy speakers.
Once the positions are endorsed by the King, a house meeting should be called to set up the government and select the head of government.
The Democrat Party, which now has 53 MPs, yesterday welcomed Phalang Pracharat at its headquarters but appeared undecided.
Democrat secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on said after the meeting that there were positive signs and both parties shared a similar policy direction, including on amendments to the Constitution.
“But we should talk again because today we only talked about the principles,” the politician said. “Before we can give Phalang Pracharat an answer, some steps have to be taken. The same goes for Phalang Pracharat. We cannot rush but it should not take too long.”
The hesitation is seen as stemming from the hiccups in the election of house speaker on Saturday, which exposed internal conflicts in the pro-junta bloc. But Chalermchai dismissed the reports, saying the Democrat Party was not concerned about the matter.
Phalang Pracharat leader Uttama Savanayana, who represented the party in extending the invitation yesterday, also said his party had no problem with the issue. The election ended well and the bloc had already shown its support to Democrat candidate Chuan Leekpai.
Uttama said yesterday’s discussion had gone well, allowing both parties to work together.
Later in the afternoon yesterday, Uttama also represented his party in inviting Bhumjaithai to join the coalition.
Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul told media after the meeting that he would discuss the issue within the party again. If all parties agreed to join the coalition, Anutin said they would hold more talks to discuss the direction of the work.
Bhumjaithai’s decision was based on its determination to solve bread-and-butter issues, Anutin stressed.
Though the Phalang Pracharat-led coalition is expected to be unstable because of its lack of a clear majority, Anutin said the house meetings on the weekend had gone smoothly and should be considered stable.
Asked if it were still possible that Bhumjaithai would join the Pheu Thai-led coalition, Anutin said the party had not been approached by any party other than Phalang Pracharat.
Uttama yesterday declined to say anything about Cabinet seat allocation. Reports said the coalition was offering the Democrats and Bhumjaithai at least six ministerial positions in total, including A-list ministries such as Commerce and Transport.
Other parties intending to join the pro-military coalition are Chartthaipattana, Chart Pattana and 11 minor parties with one seat each.
Chartthaipattana MP Nikorn Chamnong said his party had not been invited by Phalang Pracharat to join the government and it would make a decision when its executive board meets.