BANGKOK -- Thailand's pro-junta coalition on Tuesday secured a narrow majority in the lower house of parliament, avoiding a political deadlock by persuading two mid-size parties to join it.
The Democrat Party said it will join the pro-junta camp led by the Palang Pracharat Party, a move that paves the way for a vote in parliament on Wednesday that would keep Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in office and allow him to form a government. The Democrats won 53 out of 500 seats in the lower house, including one additional party-list seat that was awarded by the Election Commission of Thailand on May 28.
The pro- and anti-junta groups scrambled to cobble together a lower house majority after the general election on March 24, with both sides nearing their target by late May. The election, the first since the 2014 coup that brought the junta to power, was closely watched around the world as Thailand sought to demonstrate that it had returned to democracy.
The Democrats' move followed a decision on May 27 by the Bhumjaithai Party, another medium-size party, to throw in its lot with the pro-junta group. The Bhumjaithai Party won 51 lower house seats
The Democrats' decision has given the pro-junta coalition its majority. Palang Pracharat took 116 seats. With the help of the two midsized parties and 16 smaller ones, the coalition has reached 254 seats -- above the minimum needed to control the lower house.
The anti-junta coalition led by the Pheu Thai Party -- which supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- and the reformist Future Forward Party took 246 seats in total. Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit risks losing his seat, as the Constitutional Court decided on May 23 to hear a case on his media holdings that may lead to his disqualification and removal from parliament.
Although the pro-junta camp had the deck stacked in its favor in choosing the next prime minister, it needs a lower house majority to smoothly pass laws and budgets to govern the nation.
The revised Thai constitution states that the next prime minister will be chosen by a combined majority vote in the 500-member lower house and the 250-member upper house. Since virtually all upper house members were hand-picked by the junta, the pro-junta group only needed 126 seats in the lower house to select the next prime minister.
However, some political experts suggested that a lower house majority was key to Prayuth's return, as he might have been reluctant to head a minority government in which he would have a weaker hand than before. Even with a majority, Prayuth will need patience to negotiate within the coalition if he wants to stay on as prime minister. The new coalition is not as monolithic as the outgoing junta.
Although the Democrat Party has opted to join the coalition, it is likely to keep playing hard to get. Thailand's oldest party, founded in 1946, suffered a big setback in the March election. It is eager to show voters that it is still relevant.
The Democrats, with the help of other pro-junta forces, appointed former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai as House Speaker on May 25. The speaker will set the date of the vote for the next prime minister and oversees parliamentary deliberations.