Elections in Thailand: stalemate and months of absence of a government


Thailand’s two main opposition parties, which won widely in Sunday’s election and defeated parties backed by the powerful military, are trying to put together a governing coalition with enough votes to install a pro-democracy Prime Minister.

Their battle can last for weeks or months and ultimately success is not guaranteed – assuming they stay together.

A vote in Parliament – combining the votes of the elected 500-seat House of Representatives and the 250-seat military-appointed Senate-is expected by August. To elect a prime minister, each coalition needs 376 votes.

These are some of the likely coalition scenarios that could emerge in the coming weeks.

The Progressive Party Move Forward has the most seats in the House of Representatives with 152 seats and its main ally Pheu Thai Party has 141 seats.

Along with several other smaller parties in what they call the pro-Democratic front, they say they have 310 votes in the 500-seat House of Commons.

To get the required 376 votes, Move Forward must attract more allies or persuade senators to give their support to what they believe is the clear will of the people.

That’s still possible, but according to some analysts, Move Forward’s progressive platform and its call in the campaign to amend a law punishing criticism of the Thai King with up to 15 years in prison make the party anathema to potential partners.

Pheu Thai openly advocates a government led by Move Forward. One of its top leaders said this week that it is not considering other coalition arrangements.

Yet analysts say Pheu Thai – which is very cautious in its coverage of the monarchy, one of Thailand’s culturally untouchable institutions-has options without a Move forward.

With its 141 seats, Pheu Thai can join the third-placed party Bhumjaithai (70 seats), the current ruling party Palang Pracharat (40 seats), and several other smaller parties.

That may seem strange, since the leader of Palang Pracharat, General Prawit Wongsuwon, was part of the military junta led by Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, which seized power in 2014.

But Prawit and Prayuth split up before the election and Prayuth’s own party fared poorly.

If Pheu Thai could strike a deal with Prawit, the Senate’s 250 votes would likely go to the general’s bloc, making the government perhaps the most stable.

But such a deal would likely be contingent on scrapping the largest voter, Future Forward, and that would be politically risky for Pheu Thai.

With the 250 votes of the Senate, the opponents of Move Forward and Pheu Thai, who lose the election, could technically get the votes to elect their own prime minister.

But such an option would in fact thwart the will of the people and make the risk of political unrest the greatest. It would likely put Future Forward’s largely youthful supporters on the streets, a possible repeat of 2020 when tens of thousands of student protests paralyzed the capital for months.

Neither Move Forward itself nor Pheu Thai were involved in the 2020 protests, but if both parties are expelled from the government, they would likely join forces in massive street demonstrations.

It would also lead to a legislative mess because Move Forward and Pheu Thai have a clear majority in the House of Commons – meaning they could block legislation and also unseat a pro-military prime minister in a motion of no confidence.

There is no constitutional deadline for the formation of a government, so if no compromise is reached, Thailand could be without a working government for months.