May 24, 2019 / 9:22 AM / 4 months ago

Thai king opens first parliament since 2014 coup

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Friday opened the country’s first parliament since the military seized power from an elected government in a 2014 coup.

FILE PHOTO: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn attends the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Parliament will choose a new prime minister, who will form a cabinet likely next month, but its exact makeup is not yet known after a March 24 election produced no clear winner.

However, a military-linked party aiming to keep current junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in power is expected to have the edge in cementing power under rules written by the military government.

“May the members of parliament be aware of the importance and responsibility of their duties,” King Vajiralongkorn, accompanied by his new Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana, said.

“Because every action of each member will directly impact the security of the nation and the happiness of the people.”

The Thai parliament combines a 500-member House of Representatives elected in the March 24 polls and 250 senators, who were entirely appointed by the junta.

Ambassadors, junta members, and members of the king’s Privy Council were also present at the convention, which came a day after an anti-junta party leader was suspended as a member of parliament over his alleged illegal holding of shares in a media company after registering as a candidate for the election.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the youth-oriented Future Forward Party, would be suspended from taking his seat until a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which could see him permanently disqualified.

Thanathorn has denied the charge and said he had already transferred his shares before he officially registered.

The March 24 election pitted supporters of the junta, who seek to keep Prayuth in power, against the Democratic Front of seven parties that wants to keep the military out of politics.

With 245 seats, the Democratic Front now led by Thanathorn is trying to form a government and block a 15-party coalition of pro-junta Palang Pracharat and its allies, which together holds 134 seats so far.

Some other 100 elected members of parliament from other parties have not officially aligned with either side.

The lower house will convene again on Saturday to choose its chairman.

Under the new junta-written constitution, the House of Representatives will vote along with the junta-appointed Senate to choose the prime minister, which is expected later this month.

Prayuth appears set to stay in power, providing that the majority of the Senate votes in line to get him over the line of 375 votes, or half of the combined houses.

The next government is expected to take shape early next month.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kay Johnson and Nick Macfie

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