Thailand 2023 Election: Senate May Reject Move Forward Party's Majority Government, Despite Mandate
Updated: Jul 31
Yesterday's election results in Thailand took an unexpected turn. The Move Forward Party managed to secure 113 constituency MP seats and 39 party-list MP seats, bringing the total to 152 seats. This performance outstripped even its strongest allies and competitors, such as the Phue Thai Party, which could only garner 112 constituency MP seats and 29 party-list MP seats, totalling 141 seats. This information comes directly from the Thailand Election Commission (ECT), which has officially confirmed the results at a 99.44% completion rate.
Consequently, the Move Forward leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, took centre stage today to announce his plans for a coalition government. This coalition is expected to comprise five former opposition parties and one new party, bringing together a formidable force of 309 MPs with Limjaroenrat himself proposed as Prime Minister. He interprets this victory as a clear mandate from the Thai populace, positioning his party at the nucleus of the impending government formation.
The Move Forward Party has announced the formation of a government comprising former opposition members, totaling 309 seats. However, they need additional support to surpass the threshold of 376 approvals for the Prime Minister from both the lower house and the senate.
In response to the Move Forward Party's proposed mandate to form a new government, the Pheu Thai Party has conceded with an important caveat: the onus of securing the necessary parliamentary votes, both in the lower house and senate, to elect a new Prime Minister lies squarely on the shoulders of the Move Forward Party. The threshold to cross stands at a daunting 376 votes.
The Move Forward Party has yet to articulate a coherent strategy for securing the requisite 376 votes needed for prime ministerial approval. With the senate, a formidable block of 250 votes, unofficially acting as an approval agency for the incoming prime minister during this transitional period, the stakes are high. This influential body, which was granted special rights by the military government following the 2014 coup, is set to remain in place for a 5-year term, expiring only next year.
Rumours are circulating that the youthful backers of the Move Forward Party may resort to staging protests outside the residences of individual senators, should the Senate show any reluctance in approving Pitha as the new Prime Minister. This social pressure, however, may only exert modest influence over the senators, potentially hardening their resolve not to cast their vote in Pitha's favour. Such a scenario could precipitate a prolonged stalemate in the appointment of a new Prime Minister, thereby extending the caretaker tenure of the incumbent, Prayuth Chan-o-Cha.
This anxiety is reflected in the Thai Stock Exchange (SET), which recorded a decline of 19.97 points, a fall of 1.28%, settling at 1,541.38.
However, we do not anticipate that the Phue Thai Party will desert the government formation attempt spearheaded by the Move Forward Party to establish its own. The Phue Thai Party would only consider such a move if the constitutional court were to nullify Pitha's qualifications as the prime ministerial candidate proposed by the Move Forward Party. This scenario would echo the fate of Thanathorn Juengroongruengkit, the former leader of the Future Forward Party. A lawsuit against Pitha is already in progress, challenging his media equity holdings, which are prohibited under the current constitution.
Should this scenario transpire, it is likely that the Phue Thai Party could confidently form a new government, possibly spearheaded by either Paethongtarn Shinawatra or Srettha Thavisin. Previously, the Phue Thai Party, guided by a more pragmatic strategy, has been hesitant to enter a coalition with the Palangpracharat Party, led by General Pravit Wongsuwan. Under pressure from "democratic supporters", the party's leader, Dr. Chonlanan Srikaew, finally pledged not to join forces with Pravit. However, if necessity dictates, the Phue Thai Party could potentially override Dr. Chonlanan's public pledge by invoking the authority of the party committee.
It is worth noting that this kind of tactical manoeuvre has been utilised before when political parties needed to adjust to emerging realities that contradicted their previous public commitments. A case in point is the Democrat Party, whose former leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, had pledged not to align with a government led by General Prayuth Chan-o-Cha. However, when circumstances dictated a change of course, he resigned, and the party committee endorsed a new alignment with the incumbent coalition. This shift was sweetened by the acquisition of key cabinet portfolios, including the Ministries of Commerce and Agriculture.
However, the Democrat Party's disappointing election results, which saw them secure only 25 seats - a significant decrease from their previous tally, have prompted party leader Jurin Laksanawisit to resign. It is widely speculated that this may pave the way for a dramatic return of former head, Abhisit Vejjajiva. Yet, if Abhisit were to reclaim party leadership, it seems clear he would resist aligning the Democrats with a government coalition led by the Phue Thai Party.
Similarly, the Move Forward Party has pledged publicly not to join a coalition led by the Phue Thai Party, preferring instead to support the Palang Pracharat Party in the government, potentially securing the necessary backing to surpass the 376-vote threshold. While the Move Forward Party may vote for a Prime Ministerial candidate from the Phue Thai Party, it is unlikely to join the government.
This would result in the peculiar opposition configuration we previously predicted, comprising the Move Forward Party, the Democrat Party, and the Ruam Thai Srang Chart Party.