It is reported that the vote on Thailand’s next Prime Minister will take place in the next week as the  existing government supporting parties look like they already may command a working majority in the House of Representatives as ‘cobras’ surprisingly emerge in Pheu Thai. The end of the military junta is now imminent as Thailand looks set to install its first democratically government under the 2017 Constitution. Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties look set to join the new government

The weekend in Thailand marked a historic watershed as Thailand’s new parliament commenced business. It looks like bad news for the opposition Pheu Thai and Future Forward coalition as a Saturday vote saw the probable next government achieve a majority in the lower house to elected a former prime minister and Democrat Party leader as President of the new National Assembly. The vote also exposed the fact that there are ‘cobras’ active in the Pheu Thai Party. The house had earlier heard a statement on the suspension of the Future Forward leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. This Sunday saw the sudden death of Thailand’s revered elder statesmen, President of the Privy Council and regent in 2016, Prem Tinsulanonda.

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On Friday, the Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn accompanied by his new consort, Queen Suthida, inaugurated the new Thai parliament at a ceremony at Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On Saturday, the new parliament met on the Chaeng Watthana Road in a temporary site until the new parliament building is ready this year at Dusit, Bangkok. Future Forward Party leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (Left) was suspended by Thailand’s Constitutional Court earlier in the week and a court order was read to the assembly. The vote for the President of the Assembly also saw bad news for the opposition Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties as a pro junta government block emerged to vote former Democrat Party leader and two time Prime Minister, Chuan Leekpai, in as Speaker and National Assembly President. The vote saw the future government bloc command a majority in the lower house of parliament. It also saw five Pheu Thai ‘cobras’ emerge. It is now thought certain that the Democrat Party and Bhumjaithai Party will join Palang Pracharat in a new governing coalition. This was not denied by Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul (right) over the weekend.

Just over four years since the 2014 coup, this weekend saw the curtain go up on a new era in Thailand’s history and politics. On Friday, the newly crowned Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn opened the new Thai parliament at a ceremony held at the Ministry of Foreign if Affairs in Bangkok.

Thai King opens parliament at special ceremony accompanied by the Queen Suthida and calls for MPs to work towards ‘national security’

The Thai King spoke from prepared notes and was accompanied by the new Thai Queen, Suthida who stood by his side. Wearing spectacles, the King addressed an audience of newly elected MPs wearing white Thai state uniforms as a well as assembled members of Thailand’s diplomatic corps and members of the Thai Privy Council.

The Thai King highlighted the duty of all serving MPs to work for the greater good and ‘national security’ and ‘well being’ of the country in their new roles.

The combined parliament and senate together comprises Thailand’s national assembly. On Friday, the Senate or upper house of Parliament convened to elect its speaker followed by the House of Representatives on Saturday.

New government and cabinet when sworn in, will replace the military junta of 2014

The outgoing military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order will cease to function once a new Thai cabinet is sworn in and a government policy statement issued. Both houses of parliament are expected to convene next week and to elect the current Premier and the 2014 coup leader, Prayut Chan ocha, as prime minister of a new democratic government, the first under the 2017 Constitution. This will be the first step in forming the new government to be followed by the appointment of cabinet ministers and the publication of a policy statement to complete the process.

Role of new National Assembly President elected on Saturday is a significant one

Many political observers were interested on Saturday to see how the new MPs voted on different issues surrounding the election of a speaker to the House of Representatives who will also be the president of the new parliament under the new constitution. This is constitutionally a very significant role. On Saturday, former prime minister and Democrat Party MP, Chuan Leekpai was elected to the post.

New house speaker from Trang has been Thai prime minister on two occasions in the 1990s

The new National Assembly President is a former prime minister who has held the position twice from 1992 to 1995 and 1997 to 2001. The new House Speaker is a former minister, with experience in a range of ministries as well as a former Democrat Party leader. Formerly a lawyer, Mr Leekpai was first elected as an MP for Trang in 1969 which is his native province.

Future Forward leader attends opening ceremony of Parliament in white state uniform

Included in the audience of men and women dressed in smart white state uniforms at Friday’s opening ceremony, was Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit who earlier in the week had been suspended as a functioning MP by the Thai Constitutional Court. The top court took up a case against him into his ownership of shares in a media company which may have seen the new political party leader breach a key provision of the electoral law when he ran for election this year.

Future Forward fans online cheered their new MPs and leaders dressed in white

The fiery young leader had earlier posed with party co founder and its Secretary General, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. Mr Saengkanokkul was previously a law professor at Thammasat University. He is also facing probes by the election commission as well as other authorities. The duo and other Future Forward Party MPs posed in their uniforms for the fans of the breakthrough political party which commanded 6 million votes in the election and garnered a remarkable 80 seats. Future Forward supporters online applauded their leader and MPs dressed in immaculate and fetching state uniforms on Friday despite the setbacks and challenges the party is now facing in the courts.

Legal actions against the party could see it dissolved

It is quite possible that, if found guilty, Thanathorn may be removed from parliament should the Constitutional Court find against him. There are also a number of criminal cases against the newcomer to politics and the party’s co founder. A range of potential legal actions and problems could plausibly see the political party dissolved altogether.

Thanathorn returned to parliament on Saturday

Thanathorn returned to the reconvened parliament on Saturday at its temporary location. This is when the court order to suspend him and issued mid week, was read to assembled members. It came after the swearing in ceremony of MPs and a pause for photographs.

Departing party leader addresses the assembly despite reticence of interim Chairman

The Future Forward Party leader and MP then moved to address the new parliament but the acting Chairman, 91 year old Chai Chidchob of the Bhumjaithai Party, indicated that this would not be appropriate. However, Thanathorn did speak simply to indicate his compliance with the court order and to seek permission from the acting speaker to depart the assembly. He then took his leave. He received applause and an ovation from MPs associated with the anti junta faction in the parliament, a coalition of 7 parties built around Pheu Thai and the Future Forward Party.

Over 27 different political parties and LGBT members in the new Thai parliament

The new Thai parliament now comprises of 27 different political parties including some LGBT MPs. One trans MP, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, is a renowned filmmaker in Thailand. Born a man, the new MP turned up for the opening parliament dressed smartly as a woman in a female white state uniform with a skirt V necked top and white short and black tie. Among the parties attending was the Thai Rak Tham Party with one seat in the new parliament and which campaigned on legalising sex toys and more liberal opening hours for adult entertainment venues.

Decision by election commission upheld by the court saw small parties gain seats in party list

The opposition parties had argued with the election commission, prior to the election results being confirmed, that inline with European countries using a similar election method and the Thai constituitional provisions alone, parties who failed to secure a minimum threshold should not have been allowed to compete in the party list allocation for MPs. The election commission ruled otherwise and this interpretation was subsequently upheld by the constitutional court. This formula, if rejected by the court in line with opposition party submissions, would have seen no parties as small as Thai Rak Tham. It would have, however, seen Future Forward Party with seven extra seats.

New parliament has more diversity of opinion

Some European democracies do not allow a party to participate in the party list count process without achieving a 5% vote threshold. The opposition parties in Thailand were arguing for a quota threshold which would have been 71,000 votes. Thai Rak Tham achieved 0.1% of the vote with 33,754 votes and was awarded one parliamentary seat. The Thai election commission argued strongly and indeed quite reasonably, that its formula was more effective at making sure every Thai vote in the election counted. It certainly has led to more diversity of opinion.

Modern new Thai parliament building in Dusit, Bangkok to be ready this year for use

Saturday’s business of the House of Representatives took place in a theatre, the TOT Plc center on Bangkok’s Chaeng Watthana Road. Thailand is currently in the process of finishing construction of a new parliament building which is unfinished. The new parliament building is expected to be ready this year and is situated in Dusit, Bangkok. It has taken six years to build and will be called the Sappaya-Sapasathan.

Vote on House Speaker saw potential government command a majority in the lower house

The vote on Saturday, which saw the election of Democratic Party candidate, Chuan Leekpai, spelled more bad news for the anti junta coalition of Pheu Thai, Future Forward and other parties. The vote indicated that there are also a number of ‘cobra’ MPs among the Pheu Thai ranks who voted for what is likely to be the government block during the vote. The vote of 258 to 235 shows, for the first time, that a government lead by Prayut Chan ocha, can possibly command a voting majority in the new House of Representatives.

Pheu Thai bloc won an earlier vote by two votes

There are currently only 498 sitting MPs as two MPs have yet to be confirmed by Thailand’s electoral commission. The active parliamentary number has now been reduced to 497 with the suspension of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Five Pheu Thai MPs, amazingly, voted with the government on Saturday and one MP abstained. Earlier, the Pheu Thai coalition of parties had a won a vote by 248 to 246 vote when Palang Pracharat, the pro junta party and the parliamentary nucleus of the probable new government, asked for a delay in the vote of house speaker.

Emergence of ‘cobras’ in Pheu Thai ranks leads to enquiry. Cobras are a tradition in Thai politics

The Pheu Thai Party is now investigating the emergence of cobras MPs on Saturday. Cobras are a tradition in Thai politics and refer to ‘snakes’ who move over to the other side once parliamentary politics commences after an election. Earlier this week, one of the Pheu Thai nominees for prime minister, Sudarat Keyuraphan, committed the party to fighting for the platform maintained during election even if this meant being in opposition. She warned other parties and MPs that they were betraying their pledge to Thai voters by now offering support for the continued premiership of Prayut Chan ocha.

Opposition wants to change the 2017 Constitution

Both Pheu Thai and Future Forward also oppose the 2017 Constitution. Both parties wish to see it either changed or replaced, a position strongly advanced by the Future Forward Party. The Future Forward Party has also stridently promised to take steps to prevent the possibility of future coups including prosecuting those involved in previous efforts by the military to take control of government in Thailand.

Now looks like Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties will form a coalition with a new Thai government

It is now widely predicted that both the Democratic and Bhumjaithai parties will be part of a coalition government supporting a government led by Prayut Chan ocha in parliament. This was not denied over the weekend by Bhumjaithai leader, Anutin Charnvirakul who said he had made up his mind but was committed to the party’s key legislative aim of liberalising the availability of cannabis or marijuana in Thailand. The party is tipped for both the Public Health ministry and the Transport ministry in any new government although this is still some days off. ‘We can work together with whoever accepts our policies,’ Mr Anutin told reporters after the parliamentary session on Saturday.

Vote for Prime Minister expected in the coming week

The vote for prime minister is expected sometime next week and after that, the newly elected prime minister will choose the cabinet. Once the new cabinet is sworn in, this will mark the end of the National Council for Peace and Order or the military junta which has overseen Thailand’s government since 2014.

Mixed view on junta but 27% very favorable – explains why its leader is the likely to be the next democratically elected PM

A survey last week conducted by NIDA has shown mixed feeling towards the outgoing ruling junta now nearing its end. Over 27% of Thai people were positively disposed to the governing entity while over 24% were glad to see the back of it. Among the 27%, half wanted to thank the junta while the other half would like to see it continue in office. Overall, this is an incredible achievement which helps to explain why the army general who led the 2014 coup is now likely to be democratically elected prime minister in the coming week with the growing possibility of a majority in both houses of the National Assembly although this is not required.

Nearly 10% of the Thai public in the new poll were worried about the return of political instability while 9% believed the Thai economy was improving and over 8% felt that the country was returning to democracy. Nearly 22% of the public felt they were better off since the junta came to power while nearly 34% said they were less well off.

Economy is the key issue going forward but stability remains critical for the Thai public

This leads to the critical challenge facing the new The government and administration which is the economy while also ensuring stability. Nearly 50% of the Thai public felt thankful to the junta for maintaining stability since 2014 and this, precisely, explains the unexpected success of the pro junta Palang Pracharat Party in the March 24th election.

However, in this week’s poll, nearly 40% of the Thai public cited the economy as a key reason to be unhappy about the junta including 10% who point to the higher costs of living. On the other side of the coin, 6% of the Thai public felt that the junta had played a role in keeping the cost of living low.

Death of Thailand’s leading elder statesmen and influential Prem marks the end of an era

As if to confirm the change in Thai politics, the news came early Sunday morning the the veteran ex prime minister, army officer and President of Thailand’s highly influential Privy Council had died. Well known to all people in Thailand and seen as trusted advisor to the last King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the current Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the 98 year old served for a short time as Thailand’s regent in 2016 before the current king accepted the throne.

Privy Council President had seen nearly all of Thailand’s modern history

The respected statesman had lived through nearly all of Thailand’s modern history being born in Songkhla in 1920. He served in World War II with the Thai army. The former army commander was noted for brokering a deal to end a Communist insurgency in the 1970s in Thailand after nearly two decades of conflict. After serving as Thai Prime Minister from 1980 to 1988 during a period of extraordinary transformation in Thailand, Prem Tinsulanonda was appointed to the Thai Privy Council which advises the Thai monarch in August 1988 and became president of that body in September 1998.

The elder statesman never married and was often reported as ‘married’ to the Thai army which he kept close links with.

Elder leader failed to wake at 5 am as was his habit

The highly respected statesman was seen as both a guiding and influential insider in Thailand’s affairs at the highest level. He went to bed on Saturday night but failed to rise as was his habit, at 5 am on Sunday morning. Rushed to  Phramongkutklao Hospital by aides after a suspected heart failure, he was pronounced dead at 9.09 am after efforts to revive him failed. His funeral ceremonies will begin on Monday overseen by Thailand’s princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

 

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