Analysis: Battle over top House post highlights coalition’s fragility

FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2023

Tension between the two largest parties in the coalition aiming to form the next government has risen to the point that their shared prime ministerial candidate – Pita Limjaroenrat – entered the fray on Friday in an attempt to diffuse the conflict.

Move Forward and Pheu Thai – the two largest parties in an eight-party coalition – have been sparring over which one should control the most powerful position in the legislative branch: Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Their escalating battle for the post this week is threatening their alliance, observers say.

Both parties should go back to the negotiation table to discuss who should get the House speaker’s position, Move Forward leader Pita said in a Facebook post on Friday.

He also reminded members of both parties that their mutual mission was to form the next coalition government in order to “return democracy to Thailand”.

Move Forward and Pheu Thai formed a coalition with six other parties after emerging as the two largest winners at the May 14 general election, with 151 and 141 MP seats, respectively.

Move Forward leads the coalition of 312 MPs. The six other allies have between one and nine MPs each.

Bickering between the two former opposition allies over which party should get the speaker’s post has come amidst calls from both sides for mutual trust and promises of “no backstabbing”.

The speaker of the House of Representatives also serves as president of the Parliament, comprising both the Senate and the Lower House.

The House speaker is also empowered to countersign the royal command appointing the prime minister, who will be selected by a joint meeting of both Houses of Parliament, according to the Constitution.

Key Move Forward figures have pressed for the House speaker’s post as well as the presidency.

They argue that they need to push many new laws and amendments through Parliament to implement the party’s campaign promises to dramatically reform Thailand.

Move Forward needs someone from its party to serve as the House speaker to facilitate the parliamentary process, senior members of the party say.

Move Forward deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakul said on Thursday that her party needs the speakership to push through its 45 draft bills relating to its campaign promises, as well as the party’s plan to push for constitutional amendments to restore democracy.

She said Move Forward would not resort to backstabbing its coalition partners and would deal with any differences between them directly and honestly.

Senior Pheu Thai members have publicly rebuked Move Forward’s argument that the political party that wins the most MP seats should get both the premiership and speakership.

Coalition partners earlier agreed to “fairly allocate the positions” between the two largest parties, Pheu Thai said on its Facebook page on Friday.

It also disputed Move Forward’s argument that after Pheu Thai won past elections, it always took selected the prime minister and House speaker without allowing the second-largest coalition party to get the speakership.

Pheu Thai took both posts because it won absolute majorities in the House of Representatives, it noted in the Facebook post.
Although Move Forward won the most seats in the Lower House, its total was far below a majority.

In the Facebook post, Pheu Thai also asked an unnamed coalition partner to “avoid employing supporters to pressure” for their demands to be met.

Move Forward supporters have campaigned heavily on social media for an MP from their party to be elected the next House speaker.

Pheu Thai also called for mutual trust among coalition partners to ensure that they would together “complete the mission given by voters for the maximum benefit of the country”.

Pheu Thai also disputed Move Forward’s plan to use its House speaker to push its agenda, saying the House speaker “shall be impartial in the performance of duties”, the post said, echoing the Constitution.

The spat over who controls the legislature’s most important position reflects the fragility of the newly formed coalition that says it aims to transform Thailand, analysts say.