|Thailand Analytical Update | May 15, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew
|THAILAND ANALYTICAL UPDATE|
On May 7 and 8, Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) released the official results of the March 24 general election, Thailand’s first election in eight years. The EC announced constituency MPs on May 7 and party list seats on May 8, just days shy of the Constitutionally-mandated, 90-day deadline from the polls, which was May 9. In addition, on May 14, the Royal Gazette published a the final list of 250 senators, whom were pre-selected by the current administration. This decree also stated that the first session of Parliament would take place on May 22. The final election results allocate 498 Lower House seats to candidates from 27 parties and do not give an overall majority to any single party in the Lower House, where 250 seats are needed. Nor does any single party have enough seats across the Lower House and Senate to nominate a prime ministerial candidate without having to form a coalition. As of May 14, two major coalitions have formed:
With the current state of coalitions, the pro-Prayut coalition now has enough seats to have a majority across the House and Senate (131 House seats + 250 Senate Seats = 381 out of 750 seats) to nominate a Prime Minister. However, the anti-Prayut coalition has the overall majority in the House, which has the primary policy-making power, and can block any policies that a Prime Minister and their Government would propose. Some reports state that the pro-Prayut coalition may now have 20 parties aligned with it (garnering the coalition 255 seats), which may reveal that the undecided parties have chosen to align with the pro-Prayut coalition, and would give the ultimate Lower House majority to the pro-Prayut coalition. However, it also appears that members of the anti-Prayut coalition are working to convince the undecided parties align with them, particularly by promising (on May 13) the coalition’s support for Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul to become Prime Minister. However, the anti-Prayut coalition would still fall short of an overall majority, even with the loyalty of the “third group” (they would have 367 seats out of 750). Still, it appears they believe this majority could give them enough clout to secure the Premiership in their favor. According to the Bangkok Post, Bhumjaithai Party will not make a decision regarding its alliance until a meeting next Monday (May 20). On Wednesday, May 15 the Democrats elected Jurin Laksanavisit as its new leader (following the resignation of its former leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva), but the party is still deciding which coalition to align with.
While it remains unclear which way the unaffiliated parties will swing, and who will ultimately be Prime Minister (though chances leans heavily in the pro-Prayut coalition's favor) it is evident that Thailand’s Parliament is clearly split, and may lead to a hung Parliament that could have little progress on initiatives if one coalition blocks the work of the other. Particularly given that Parliament is meant to open in about one week, it seems unlikely that the two deeply divided coalitions could come together. This lack of unity appears evident even to the monarchy, as the newly crowned Rama X made timely remarks about the “good” of unity during the royal coronation last week. Political unity is also critical while Thailand continues to serve as the 2019 ASEAN Chair, particularly as its theme encourages partnership to advance technological innovation and sustainability.
While the positions and policies of the rival coalitions are quite aligned in relation to wanting to advance Thailand’s economic growth, particularly by attracting greater foreign investment and improving Thailand’s infrastructure and business climate, none of the current coalitions may be able to advance this shared agenda due to the political rivalry and deadlock. This opens up the possibility for another election, potentially as soon as within the next 12 months. Accordingly, as reported by the Nikkei Asian Review, there is potential for a well-known technocrat and loyalist to the new King, Ampon Kittiampon, to emerge as a contender for Prime Minister who could be well-positioned to lead a “caretaker government” that shepherds the country towards the next elections. Mr. Kittiampon has served in various roles for seven different Prime Ministers and is reportedly well-trusted by the new King, and could ensure the unity and stability Rama X called for in his public audience, as the country prepares for new elections. On the whole, these developments should not impact the overall investment climate in Thailand, though decisions on key initiatives and legislation could be delayed.
The full election results for each party, and which coalition each party is aligned with, are as follows (reporting 498 seats, source: Election Commission and Bangkok Post):