Thailand’s Move Forward Party says negotiations for coalition government are on track

Move Forward Party deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakun said tensions can be expected when negotiations take place among multiple parties, but she believes they can be resolved easily.

Tan Tam Mei

Tan Tam Mei

The Straits Times


Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat (centre) holding hands with coalition party leaders following a meeting with coalition partners in Bangkok on May 18. PHOTO: REUTERS

May 26, 2023

BANGKOK – Negotiations over Thailand’s potential government coalition are progressing and could be confirmed in two weeks, said Move Forward Party (MFP) deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakun, even as tensions over key roles have arisen among the bloc.

“We have to discuss with the other coalition partners who will control which ministries. Regarding the policies, we have agreed on some, and have our differences on others,” Ms Sirikanya, 42, told a media conference on Thursday.

She said tensions can be expected when negotiations take place among multiple parties, but she believes they can be resolved easily.

“I believe it can end fairly, in a situation where everyone is satisfied,” she said.

The MFP led by Mr Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, is in the process of establishing a coalition with seven other political parties in a bid to form the next government.

The bloc, which signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Monday, will have the majority in Parliament’s 500-member Lower House with 312 MPs, according to revised results from Thailand’s Election Commission.

The latest tally out on Thursday revises MFP’s total seats to 151, down from the 152 reported last week, but the party keeps its position as winner of the May 14 election.

Runner-up Pheu Thai, which is linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, bagged 141 seats, and the other six allied parties have a combined 20 seats.

The planned coalition has also agreed to back Mr Pita as prime minister.

But even as the eight parties iron out their differences and try to align their goals to establish the next government, a tussle over the role of House Speaker has emerged between the MFP and Pheu Thai.

The Speaker, who presides over Parliament, has the power to oversee and steer the agenda of House meetings, and leaders from both parties are insisting that their party should take up the role.

On Wednesday, veteran politician and Pheu Thai MP-elect Adisorn Piangket said his party had people more suited to be House Speaker.

“Since Move Forward will already have its young, capable leader as PM, it should not have the post of House Speaker at the same time,” he said.

Mr Adisorn also said that if MFP does not concede the role, there is the possibility that Pheu Thai may “choose to walk away from the coalition”.

But Ms Sirikanya is confident that the planned coalition will go ahead and that Pheu Thai will remain in the bloc even if it does not get the House Speaker’s position.

“The probability of a party leaving the coalition is very low, close to zero. We still fully trust that we can form the coalition government,” she said.

With a host of progressive campaign promises, including its controversial pledge to amend Thailand’s lese majeste law that prohibits insults against the monarchy, the MFP won the most number of seats and the largest proportion of votes in the election.

However, the pledge to amend the lese majeste law is not included in the MOU. Mr Pita said the MFP will pursue this campaign policy independently.

The MFP’s unexpected win and its position as the leader of the possible coalition government has rattled some industries, including private sector players. They are wary about some of the party’s election promises, such as the pledge to raise the daily minimum wage to 450 baht (S$17.50) and to reclassify marijuana as a controlled substance and curb its current free-for-all use.

Earlier this week, Mr Pita had met the Federation of Thai Industries to clarify the MFP’s labour and economic policies.

Other goals outlined by the coalition bloc in the MOU document include reform of the military, police and civil service, as well as rewriting the Constitution and the recognition of same-sex marriage.

Still, even with the prospective coalition’s support, securing the top job is not a sure-win for Mr Pita as a military-installed political system means that a 250-seat Senate, appointed by the latest coup leaders, will join the 500 elected MPs in a parliamentary vote for the next PM.

This means that the MFP’s 312-seat coalition bloc must gather support from over half – or at least 376 – of the 750 parliamentary votes for Mr Pita to become premier. Already, some senators have voiced their opposition against Mr Pita as PM, citing the party’s stance on the lese majeste issue.

But on Thursday, Ms Sirikanya said the party currently has the backing of 19 senators and will continue to engage more senators on this issue.

The Election Commission still has to certify the results. After it does, Parliament will convene and choose the House Speaker before it votes for the PM.

Meanwhile, Mr Pita faces a potential investigation regarding his ownership of shares in a defunct media company, which could result in his retroactive disqualification from the election.

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