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Insurmountable challenges ahead for a new Thai government

By Murray Hunter - posted Monday, 22 May 2023

One week after the May 14 election, the members of the Prayut-Chan-O-Cha government are carrying on business, as if nothing happened. The young Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat is trying to assemble a coalition and support from the senate that will give him the 376 votes necessary to elect him prime minister.

In Thailand, the PM is not the person who commands the majority of seats in the lower house. The vote for prime minister is undertaken from a bicameral vote of both the lower house and 250 member senate. Currently Pita has support from 314 MPs designate in the 500 member lower house. That means Pita will have to win over 66 senators from the military appointed senate to acquire enough votes to become Thailand's next prime minister.

The only other alternative is for Pita to gain the support of Anutin Charnvirakul's Bhumjaithai Party, and retain Anutin as a deputy prime minister. This is something MFP supporters and Pheu Thai wouldn't accept.


The probability of gaining the support of 66 senators would be an unprecedented shift in support away from the establishment and military towards the people. One might even include royalty. Any senator who voted for a prime ministerial candidate with the abolishment of Section 112 on the government platform, would face consequences.

Under such circumstances, the present government combining Bhumjaithai Party (70), Palang Pracharath Party (40), United Thai Nation Party (25), Democrat Party (25), and the Charttaipattana Party (10), have 181 seats and with the support of the senate, would have 431 votes for their prime ministerial candidate. There is a possibility that Anutin, who has very close ties with the royal family, military, and the elite business families in Thailand, may rise as a potential compromise candidate.

However, Anutin would have a minority government in the lower house, which would potentially be unstable and unable to govern.

That's the mathematics the general election and current constitutional framework provides for the selection of Thailand's next prime minister.

Pita and his MFP topped the opinion polls before the election. This was a shock to the establishment, where there was a general consensus, they would be dealing with Pheu Thai. However, Pheu Thai lost a lot of urban support to MFB, and became the second in the seat tally.

The pro-US, China suspicious stance of the MFB would mean a major shift in foreign policy for the Thai government. Not many within the establishment want to change the status quo on this issue.


The Thai establishment was caught off guard with the overwhelming support the radical young party obtained in the election and had expected the Thaksin supported Pheu Thai to finish on top. There are rumours the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in self-exile, after being ousted in the military coup in 2014, while he was out of the country at the United Nations in New York, had done a number of deals with Prayut, the military, and even the king. The offer of 'B' class ministries to Pheu Thai, which include commerce, transport, agriculture, digital economy and society, tourism, and industry, are not inspiring for the party leadership.

Pheu Thai also has a separate stance on the Section 112 amendment, declaring it would leave it intact. This is reassuring to the establishment. Thus, there are rumours of talks, where Pheu Thai may be trying to forge another coalition with the parties in the out-going government to form a coalition. This however, would be totally unacceptable to the remnants of the 'red shirts', who suffered so much during the crack downs, immediately following the 2014 coup. Many 'red shirts' also lost their lives in the Bangkok streets under the Democrat government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva in 2010. Including the Democrats would be a major barrier.

The biggest threat is yet to play out

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This article was first published in the Eurasia Review on May 21, 2023.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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