On March 24.2019 Thailand’s opposition Pheu Thai Party won the majority of seats in the country’s first election since a 2014 military coup, but the alliance with other pro-democracy parties to form a government is not possible because of questionable rules established by the military. None of the parties are holding the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, according to official results released, meaning selecting a prime minister could involve prolonged negotiations. But the head of the junta and leader of the 2014 coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is expected to retain his post as prime minister. But opposition parties have questioned the results, saying that rules were changed after the vote to give an advantage to smaller parties.
“This is what the election was designed for,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor of political science at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University. “The election was designed for the prolongation of military rule.” The military, which wrote the 2017 constitution that created the framework for the new government, appoints the 250-member Senate, giving it a built-in advantage before voting even began for the 500-member House of Representatives in March.
- The opposition Pheu Thai Party won 136 seats in the House of Representatives
- The pro-military party, Palang Pracharat, won 115 seats in the House of Representatives
- Another pro-democracy party - Future Forward - won 80 seats in the House of Representatives
Opposition parties said after early returns that they expected to win as many as 255 seats, but they ended up with 245, just short of a majority. The House and the Senate together choose the prime minister, and the pro-military delegates are closer to the 376 needed to win that vote. Uttama Savanayana, the leader of Palang Pracharat, said he was confident a coalition could be formed. “We will coordinate with other parties who share our ideology and are interested in forming a government together,” he said.
The results have taken six weeks to be released, with the tabulation marred by delays and irregularities. The allotment of 150 seats allocated by votes for particular parties - called party-list seats - was particularly contentious. The election commission seemed uncertain of how to apportion the votes, telling reporters at one news conference to work it out for themselves after releasing 208 pages of returns.
The election commission has yet to release full results on the number of votes cast for each party. But it confirmed that one party-list seat is allocated to every 30,000 votes, down from the 71,000 votes it previously said was the threshold. The election commission’s chief, Somchai Sawaengkan, said the previous quota turned out to be untenable because it would have resulted in too few party-list seats. He said Thailand’s constitutional court granted his office the authority to distribute seats under its own calculation.
Parties associated with Thaksin Shinawatra, who served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was prime minister from 2011 until 2014, the year the military took power, have long been a major force in Thailand, although both have been convicted in absentia of corruption-related offenses and live in exile.
Pheu Thai is the latest incarnation of the party founded by Mr. Thaksin, which has won every national election in Thailand since 2001. The new constitution checked the power of Pheu Thai by distributing seats to a larger number of small parties. Mr. Thaksin’s allies created new parties but one of those, Thai Raksa Chart, was banned after it attempted to field the elder sister of the king for prime minister.
This year another pro-democracy force emerged, the Future Forward Party, which attracted younger voters disenchanted with established political offerings. Last month, the authorities revived a four-year-old case against its billionaire leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who was accused of helping protesters flee arrest. Representatives of Future Forward said it lost seven seats under the election commission’s revised system of allotment. “The number of votes for Future Forward Party nationwide that got thrown into the drain is almost 600,000,” Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the party’s secretary-general, said Wednesday. “And when we gather the votes from all parties that have been thrown out by the party list, the number is at around 1,500,000 votes.”
In a report issued for Forsea, a Southeast Asian rights group, Mr. Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University detailed a long list of cases of electoral fraud and irregularities, including miscounts, government employees pressured to support pro-military parties, accusations of vote buying and identity theft. The apparent changes to the party-list seats to benefit the military stands out, though, he said. “The extent they were able to distort regulations and also influence the election commission to go out of its way in how to calculate, I find that a bit disturbing,” he said.