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Thai election

Thailand's next legislature at risk of political deadlock

Lower house's anti-junta majority can stymie pro-junta government

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, right, is close to returning to power, but as things stand now an anti-junta coalition will have the power to stymie his legislative priorities. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

BANGKOK -- The risk of a dysfunctional parliament in Thailand has grown starker now that the full vote count from the election on March 24 shows an anti-junta coalition with a good chance of claiming a lower house majority.

Of the 500 lower house seats, a seven-party, anti-junta coalition appears to have won 253. The number includes single-constituency winners as announced by the Election Commission of Thailand as well as candidates that will be seated based on the proportion of votes their parties won across the nation.

The chamber is divided into 350 single-constituency members and 150 party-list seats. Local media outlets have calculated how these seats will be distributed.

Pheu Thai, which consists of supporters of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won 137 seats. Future Forward, created by 40-year-old billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, made its political debut by winning 87 seats. Five smaller parties combined for 29 seats.

This coalition, however, will not assume governing powers. According to Thailand's constitution, which took effect through a national referendum in 2017, the prime minister must be chosen by a majority of both houses.

Thailand's upper house has 250 members who will be hand-picked by the current junta, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is the Palang Pracharat Party's candidate to be the next prime minister. The system gives a clear advantage to the pro-junta bloc, which needs 126 of the legislators selected on March 24 to form the next government.

The anti-junta camp would need 376 lower house members to govern effectively.

Thai media has suggested that the pro-junta side is likely to go over the 126-seat mark. Palang Pracharat has 118 seats. Although Secretary-General Sonthirat Sonthijirawong said "the party will not rush to form a coalition," it is likely to be joined by the smaller Action Coalition of Thailand, Palang Thongtin Thai and Rak Puen Pa.

These three parties are expected to finish with a combined eight seats, just enough for the bloc to bring back Prayuth as prime minister.

If a lower house majority sits on the opposite side of lawmakers aligned with the prime minister, a perpetual deadlock could result.

While the pro-junta side can form the next government, its budgets and other important pieces of legislation could easily be voted down by the majority of lower house members aligned against it.

If this kind of legislative paralysis takes shape, it would frustrate politicians and voters alike -- and bring the country closer to another round of political unrest.

In the meantime, the election commission has said it will investigate electoral irregularities. "I expect tens of disqualifications from this election because of complicated regulations," political analyst Siliphan Nogsuan Sawasdee told the Nikkei Asian Review ahead of the election. By-elections would be held to fill the seats of disqualified candidates, and these could shift Thailand's political landscape.

As such, it will be crucial for both sides to bring aboard winners from other parties. Members of two medium-size parties are likely to be wooed -- the 55 estimated winners from the Democrat Party and the 52 from Bhumjaithai.

Both parties have remained mum about whether they will come down on one side of the fence or the other. Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul on Facebook said the party will only make decisions after the Election Commission endorses the official election results.

Any by-elections are to be held on April 28, and final election results are expected to be made official on May 9.

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