2019/41, 9 May 2019
The Phalang Pracharat Party’s bandwagon to reinstall 2014 coup leader and incumbent Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha as Thailand’s premier is gaining momentum.
On 7 May, 15 ministers in the Prayut Cabinet resigned in an apparent preparation for their appointment to the Senate.
Similarly, about 60 members of the National Assembly, including National Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, will soon follow suit so that that they, too, can enter the Senate. Pornpetch has headed the legislature since August 2014. He is one of the front-runners to be president of the Senate.
General Prayut, in his capacity as the head of the junta National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta will submit a list of 250 proposed Senate appointees to King Vajiralongkorn by 11 May.
Most, if not all, of the members of the new Senate are expected to toe the junta’s line and to vote for General Prayut during the upcoming joint parliamentary session of the 500 elected members of the House of Representatives and the 250 senators that will choose Thailand’s next prime minister. A simple majority of 376 votes is needed to win the premiership.
Phalang Pracharat, the party led by four former members of General Prayut’s cabinet members, will have 115 seats in the House. It will need to secure only 11 more votes in the House to win the premiership for General Prayut with the support of the votes of all 250 senators.
As things stand now, Phalang Pracharat will be able to find more than enough votes to accomplish this crucial mission.
Bhumjai Thai, the fifth largest party with 51 House seats, looks certain to support General Prayut’s candidacy for the premiership.
Chart Thai Pattana with 10, the Action Coalition for Thailand with five, Chart Pattana with three, Thai Local Power with three, Thai Forest Conservation with two and most of the thirteen small parties that won one House seat each through party-list apportionment are all expected to jump on the Phalang Pracharat bandwagon.
However, the Democrat Party, the fourth largest party with 52 House seats, will wait until 15 May for the outcome of its leadership election before deciding which course to follow. Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned as party leader in the evening of election day, 24 March, after his party’s shockingly poor showing. Thailand’s oldest political party had been expected to come in second, after the Phuea Thai Party.
Even without Democrat Party support, Phalang Pracharat looks set to secure more than 200 votes in the House to support its nomination of General Prayut for the premiership.
With 52 votes from Democrat Party, the Phalang Pracharat-led coalition will have the simple majority needed to win the election of its candidate for House Speaker. This is an important post, with powers to set the House’s agenda, its schedule of meetings and procedural details.
The inauguration of the new Parliament by King Vajiralongkorn will take place by 23 May. The House and the Senate will then convene in separate inaugural meetings to elect the House Speaker and the Senate President, and their deputies respectively.
The ninety-one-year-old Mr Chai Chidchob — the most senior member of the House and the chief advisor to the Bhumjai Thai Party — will preside over the inaugural meeting of the House. He will thus be in the position to decide whether the election of the House Speaker will be by secret ballot or not. The former process would open an opportunity for many members of the House to cross party lines with impunity. The outcome of the election of the House Speaker election will be a good indication of how many House members will vote to return General Prayut to the premiership.
It is anticipated that King Vajiralongkorn will appoint the House Speaker and the Senate President by the last week of May. We can expect the joint parliamentary session to select a new prime minister to follow.
General Prayut looks certain to be the man to retain the premiership. But how successfully he will manage a coalition government of 20 parties is in doubt.
Dr Termsak Chalermpalanupap is Lead Researcher for Political and Security Affairs in the ASEAN Studies Centre and a member of the Thailand Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.