By THE NATION
PHALANG Pracharat’s efforts to build a coalition government has reached a dead end amid wrangling over ministerial portfolios, two days after formal invitations were extended to potential key partners.
The government formation had appeared promising for the pro-junta camp after the election of the house speaker on the weekend. But the deal has hit a snag after Phalang Pracharat and Democrat parties could not see eye to eye on the post of agriculture minister.
Control of the ministry assumes significance in solving issues related to agricultural product prices, which impact a great number of voters.
“All deals or ministerial posts Phalang Pracharat has offered to its allies have been withdrawn. Now it is back to square one,” said a Democrat Party source yesterday.
The influential faction in the pro-junta bloc – Sam Mitr or Three Allies – was reportedly unyielding about giving up the agriculture minister position after having already sacrificed the house speaker’s post to Democrat patriarch Chuan Leekpai.
The bloc reportedly tried to bargain with the Democrats by offering the position of education minister but to no avail.
The Democrat Party postponed its meeting set for yesterday, which would have made a final decision on the coalition.
The conflict within the pro-junta bloc was accentuated after Phalang Pracharat’s No 1 party-list MP, Nattapol Teepsuwan, reportedly told the press that the bloc could still back junta chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha to be the PM, even without support from the Democrats.
As PM, Prayut would have the power to dissolve Parliament and call an election should the formation of a coalition be impossible, said Nattapol.
Though the Democrat Party only has 53 seats in the lower house against Phalang Pracharat’s 116, its move could trigger a domino effect and shut the doors on the formation of a pro-junta coalition government.
Bhumjaithai Party, which had accepted Phalang Pracharat’s invitation on Monday, may also review its stance.
Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul said yesterday the party could not work with Phalang Pracharat unless it had a simple majority to legitimately form a government.
Chartthaipattana Party, which had earlier said it would support the Phalang Pracharat-led coalition in Parliament, also appeared discontented and might change its stance over the allocation of Cabinet seats.
The party, which controls 10 MPs, reportedly has its eyes on the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry but Phalang Pracharat may allow its MP Santi Prompat, a former minister, to retain the portfolio.
Playing down the collapse in negotiations, Phalang Pracharat leader Uttama Savanayana insisted that talks were still ongoing, dismissing reports that the deals had been withdrawn.
Political scientist Stithorn Thananitichoti believed the real problem for the Democrat Party was one of political image.
The expert said he believed the imbroglio over ministerial portfolios was trivial. The Democrats were possibly more concerned about supporting General Prayut as PM, he said.
He believed the pro-junta bloc would be able to form a coalition, with the Democrats joining the government after the selection of PM.
Meanwhile, Pheu Thai Party’s secretary-general, Phumtham Wechayachai, yesterday blamed the Constitution as the root cause of this deadlock. He urged all affected parties to unite in the public interest and to amend the charter.
Parties could still change their mind today to find a solution for the country, Phumtham said, adding people would be watching which parties were keeping their promises.
Currently, the anti-junta camp holds 246 seats from seven parties in the lower house.
Phalang Pracharat has 116 MPs of its own and another 10 from minor parties. If it can seal a deal with the Democrat, Bhumjaithai, Chartthaipattana and Chart Pattana parties, it could form a multiparty coalition.