07 August 2023

“Bhumjaithai will follow Pheu Thai's proposal...”

Anutin Charnvirakul / Cholnan Srikaew

The leaders of Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai held a joint press conference this afternoon, to announce that they had formed a coalition, following Pheu Thai’s withdrawal from the previous eight-party bloc led by the election winners, Move Forward. Bhumjaithai’s seventy-one MPs, added to Pheu Thai’s 141, give the new alliance only 212 seats—100 fewer than the Move Forward coalition, and less than the 251 required for a parliamentary majority. At the press conference, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul pledged to support Pheu Thai’s candidate when parliament next votes to appoint the new PM: “Bhumjaithai will follow Pheu Thai’s proposal and present a candidate who can be approved by the members of parliament, as confirmed by Pheu Thai”.

The announcement was originally scheduled for 3rd August, but was postponed at the last minute following the news that the Constitutional Court was investigating parliament’s rejection of Move Forward’s second attempt to nominate Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister. After Pita was suspended, pending another Constitutional Court investigation (into his ownership of shares in iTV), Pheu Thai failed to secure enough support for its own PM candidate, Srettha Thavisin, as senators and government MPs refused to endorse any member of the Move Forward coalition. But, a week after Pheu Thai abandoned Move Forward, only one other party (Bhumjaithai) has so far been confirmed as a coalition partner, suggesting that negotiations are not going smoothly.

The marriage of convenience between Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai highlights how Move Forward, jilted at the altar, is one of the few principled parties in parliament. Pheu Thai and Bhumjaithai’s rivalry dates back to 2008, when the Constitutional Court dissolved the People Power Party. Newin Chidchob, who controlled an influential PPP faction, defected to Bhumjaithai and joined a coalition with the Democrats. Famously, Newin telephoned Thaksin Shinawatra, the PPP’s de facto leader, telling him: “It’s over, boss.” The remaining PPP members were reconstituted as Pheu Thai, and relegated to the opposition. Pheu Thai suffered a similar fate in 2019, when they were blocked from forming a government despite winning the most seats. Now, Move Forward is in the same position, thanks to Pheu Thai jumping ship.

Pheu Thai’s motivation, beyond simply seeking power at all costs, will only become clear once all its coalition partners are revealed. Over the past week, there have been contradictory leaks to the press from anonymous Pheu Thai sources, suggesting that Palang Pracharath either will or won’t join the coalition. Thaksin Shinawatra announced that he would return from self-imposed exile on 10th August, though this plan was cancelled, presumably because he no longer felt confident of a potential royal pardon for his corruption conviction. It’s conceivable that Pheu Thai’s jettisoning of Move Forward was part of a deal with the military to facilitate Thaksin’s return, and Pheu Thai may also be expected to bring Palang Pracharath into the fold for the same reason.

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