March 18, 2019
Sunday’s upcoming election will be the first poll Thailand has held since the military took over in 2014.
Next Sunday will be a crucial day for Thailand, as voters cast their ballot to decide on the country’s future.
But what happens after the ballot boxes are closed remains uncertain. Will this election end a decade-long political conflict, or will it just create a new round of battles?
With voting just a week away, observers and political scientists The Nation spoke to believe that the most likely scenario after the poll is that General Prayut Chan-o-cha will return as prime minister, thanks mainly to support from Phalang Pracharat Party and its allies.
Based on this scenario, Uttama Savanayana’s Phalang Pracharat along with its allies – Ruam Palang Prachachat Thai Party of Suthep Thaugsuban and the People Reform Party of Paiboon Nititawan, plus the 250 new senators – will most certainly vote for Prayut as prime minister.
With the advantage accorded by the current charter – which allows the new Senate, handpicked by the National Council of Peace and Order, to vote for the next PM – it will not be difficult for Prayut to secure the post, said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.
But for him to sail through, his camp must secure at least 126 seats in addition to the 250 senators to win the required 376 votes, Stithorn Thananithichot, a political scientist from King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said.
Prayut securing the PM’s position will also be key to attracting other parties to join them as coalition partners, he added.
The academics all agree that Prayut and his allies can easily win backing from the three medium-sized parties, namely Bhumjaithai, Chartthaipattana and Chart Pattana, as well as the Democrat Party.
In this scenario, Stithorn estimates this camp will have obtained about 270 seats or more than half of the 500 seats in Parliament, which is enough to form a secure government.
The number could vary, with 220 seats to Phalang Pracharat, its allies and the Democrats, plus 50 seats from the three medium parties.
However, this scenario will only materialise if Phalang Pracharat wins more seats than the Democrats, or becomes the second largest party after Pheu Thai, Stithorn said.
Yet they believe the likelihood is that the pro-junta party will win more seats than the Democrats due to certain factors such as the new electoral system.
Titipol said that according to his observation, Phalang Pracharat’s popularity is rising in the provinces because voters are satisfied with the welfare cards the government has given to low-income earners.
“Also, the party’s political discourse – ‘maintaining peace and order’ – is working well,” he added.
Though Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva reiterated last week that he would not support Prayut’s return as premier, many see this as just a political ploy to win younger voters.
The Democrats have in the past proved that they are willing to compromise with the military, so if the party were to be offered key ministerial posts now in exchange for backing Phalang Pracharat, why will they not do it? Titipol asked.
However, Stithorn said the Democrats may also want to be the second biggest winner, so they can have the legitimacy to become a core party to form the government in coalition with other medium parties, as well as Phalang Pracharat, Stithorn said.
For this scenario to materialise, the number of votes by which the Democrats win will have to be a fair bit higher than the votes won by Phalang Pracharat, he added.
Odds against Pheu Thais
Will Pheu Thai be able form a government?
Yes, say the observers, but they see this is as the least possible scenario.
For this formula to materialise, the Thaksin Shinawatra-backed party and allies namely – Future Forward, Seri Ruam Thai, Puea Chat and Prachachart – must secure at least 250 seats, Stithorn said.
However, Pheu Thai and its allies can only be expected to garner 220 to 230 seats at most, or 120 or 160 directly from Pheu Thai and 60 to 70 from allies. This, according to Stithorn, will not be enough to form a government.
For a party or coalition to form a government, it needs more than 270 seats in hand for the sake of stability, said Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
Like Stithorn, Yuthaporn believes Pheu Thai and its allies will get less than 200 seats, so they need to rely on the three medium parties – Bhumjaithai, Chartthaipattana and Chart Pattana – for support.
Hence, Yuthaporn said, these three parties – who are expected to win around 50 seats altogether – will play a vital role in deciding whether Phalang Pracharat or Pheu Thai form the next government.
However, all the academics agree that there is only a slim possibility of a government being jointly formed by Pheu Thai and the Democrats, as they will need at least 376 seats to fight against the 250 senators when it comes to voting for a PM.
Also, Yuthaporn said, there is no law setting a timeframe for the new government to take office. So, if the two camps fail to come to a decision on forming the new administration, Prayut can continue holding on to his job as premier under the current government, he said.
As they say, Thai politics is not one plus one equals two and any unexpect can happen.
There is also a clear possibility of a political deadlock if people do not accept the election results or if a new government cannot be formed.
“If that happens, then these elections will have failed to ease the conflicts and instead created a new, more complex conflict,” Yuthaporn warned.