March 27, 2019 / 12:05 PM / 3 months ago

Why Thailand's election looks headed for deadlock

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A “democratic front” of seven parties said on Wednesday that it had the right to form Thailand’s next government because, together, the allies won a majority of lower house of parliament seats in last weekend’s inconclusive election.

Sudarat Keyuraphan, Pheu Thai Party's prime ministerial candidate, speaks with Phumtam Wechayachai, her party's secretary general, as Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party speaks, during a news conference to form a "democratic front" in Bangkok, Thailand, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Meanwhile, the pro-military Palang Pracharat party, which wants junta chief and leader of a 2014 coup Prayuth Chan-ocha to stay on as prime minister, has also claimed the right to form a government based on its early lead in the popular vote.

In truth, it’s not that simple for either side.

The fragmented parliament that voters handed them will - instead of the return to democracy that many had hoped the election would deliver - plunge the country into political gridlock and uncertainty.

Here is why both sides will struggle to form an effective government to take over after May 9, when final results are announced.

MAJORITY MAY NOT MEAN GOVERNMENT

The anti-junta alliance led by Pheu Thai, a party linked to self-exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, may well have cobbled together “at least 255 seats” in the 500-strong House of Representatives.

The figure is based on announced winners of 350 “constituency seats” directly elected on Sunday and each party’s projected “party list” seats drawn from partial results.

“Party list” seats are allocated under a complicated formula based on the total number of votes cast and each party’s share of the nationwide vote.

However, the 255 seats do not give the democratic front the right to elect the prime minister, who will appoint a cabinet of ministers and effectively the next government.

That is because of a new parliamentary rule included in a constitution drawn up by the junta three years ago. Critics say the rule was introduced by the military to prevent allies of Thaksin, its populist nemesis, from returning to power and ensure it retains a role in politics.

The constitution stipulates that the prime minister needs at least 376 votes - a majority of the House of Representatives’ 500 seats and the upper house Senate’s 250 seats combined.

Because the Senate is appointed entirely by the junta, this will prove difficult for the democratic front, which cannot count on many, if any, Senate votes.

To secure the premiership, the alliance needs to have 376 seats, all from the lower house. Without its own prime minister to make the coalition a government, the democratic front would instead become a strong, majority opposition.

Meanwhile, Prayuth’s party needs only about 126 House seats to vote with the 250 Senate members to make him prime minister and form a new government - albeit a minority one.

Palang Pracharat is likely to win around 120 lower house seats on its own. Only two other parties, with about 6 seats combined, have publicly taken its side.

Both sides are trying to recruit other unaligned parties, which have combined seats of more than 100.

LEGISLATIVE LOGJAMS

A Prayuth government may start as a minority, but it would likely to try to woo members from the opposition to switch sides. If it failed to tip the parliamentary scale, his government would struggle to pass any laws.

In weeks, it would have to pass the most significant law: the next fiscal year’s budget bill. A failure to pass this bill could cripple his government.

When the Palang Pracharat-led government proposes the bill to the House, the Pheu Thai-led opposition can, and will likely, effectively reject it. This will create a parliamentary deadlock that renders the government dysfunctional.

NO-CONFIDENCE

Ultimately, the opposition could table a motion of no-confidence, providing it had enough grounds to back it up. With more than half of the lower house’s members, the democratic front could vote to oust Prayuth and his cabinet.

The process would then come full circle.

Both sides would again try to win the prime ministerial contest and, assured of the Senate vote, the pro-military parties would get it again but still be hamstrung in the lower house.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by John Chalmers

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