The election of Srettha Thavisin as Prime Minister on Tuesday confirms the prospect of a new government that crosses the old political divide. It is a step forward for stability in the short term but a side step from the May 14th General Election and the public’s call for reform in the longer term.
Thailand’s newly elected Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was endorsed by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Wednesday and finds himself leading what is, in practical terms, a reconciliation government. The 60-year-old former property tycoon now begins the task of forming his cabinet with expectations that the new government will be in power for some time following a historic day both inside and outside parliament when Mr Srettha’s nomination easily passed the threshold of 374 votes ending up with 482.
Former property tycoon Mr Srettha Thavisin became Thailand’s 30th Prime Minister on Tuesday afternoon in an eventful and historic day in the kingdom which saw the return of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was imprisoned by order of the Supreme Court just hours after touching down at Don Mueang Airport from Singapore on a private jet.
The vote, scheduled in Parliament on Tuesday by Parliamentary President Wan Muhamad Noor Matha was the third such meeting held since the May 14th General Election.
It resulted in a second prime ministerial vote when it came to the nomination of Mr Srettha as Prime Minister by the Thaksin-aligned Pheu Thai Party.
Joint session of Parliament on Tuesday saw curtailed debate over three hours after Mr Srettha’s nomination by Pheu Thai Party leader Dr Cholnan Srikaew
The meeting opened at 11 am with tight security surrounding the parliament on the left bank of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok’s Dusit district where a joint session of parliament convened of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
After preliminary discussions, the floor was opened to members at around midday.
This was followed by three hours of debate after Dr Cholnan Srikaew, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party, nominated Mr Srettha for the position saying that he was a candidate without any prohibitions under the constitutional requirements to become Prime Minister and was well qualified for the role.
Mr Srettha, up to his retirement from the huge and highly successful property development firm Sansiri Public Company in April, was considered one of Thailand’s top businessmen.
However, in recent weeks, Mr Srettha’s prospects of becoming Prime Minister were threatened by a series of revelations made by whistleblower and activist Chuwit Kamolvisit concerning several property deals in Bangkok in which Mr Chuwit alleged that Sansiri was linked with activities to reduce the amount of tax payable to the Revenue Department on behalf of the sellers of the properties.
Allegations against Mr Srerttha refuted strongly
Sansiri vehemently denied the allegations against it saying all its dealings were above board, within the law and open to public scrutiny while Mr Srettha issued defamation proceedings against Mr Chuwit for ฿500 million.
Senators, including Senator Jadet Insawang, predict that Srettha’s nomination faces a rocky passage in parliament, questions over tax and Article 112
On Tuesday, the President of the Parliament, Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, declared after 3 pm that there was a quorum of at least 705 out of 747 MPs and senators eligible to vote.
Voting opened at 3.11 pm and concluded at 5.40 pm with the threshold required breached by Mr Srettha at 4.49 pm confirming him as the 30th Prime Minister
Voting on the nomination of Mr Srettha opened at 3.11 pm and votes were taken in alphabetical order.
The vote did not finish until 5.40 pm when the results were tallied showing that Mr Srettha had received the support of 482 members of parliament with 165 MPs and Senators voting against his nomination and 81 abstentions.
In the course of the vote, at 4.49 pm approximately, Mr Srettha’s nomination exceeded 374 votes in favour, thus confirming that he would become Thailand’s next Prime Minister.
The result came exactly 100 days after the May 14th General Election and has produced a government which an opinion poll by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), over the weekend, showed most of the Thai public did not approve of.
Door to the top job opened for Mr Srettha on Tuesday unlike on July 12th when the nomination of the Move Forward Party’s Pita Limjaroenrat was defeated
It follows the defeat of the nomination of the election-winning Move Forward Party’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat in a vote taken in Parliament on July 12th which saw Mr Pita failing to achieve the 375 votes required due to a large abstention rate coming from the upper house and opposition from MPs associated with the outgoing government in the House of Representatives.
Of the 482 votes in favour of Mr Srettha on Tuesday, 330 came from MPs, mostly from among 11 parties that have formed a new coalition with the Pheu Thai Party while Mr Srettha’s nomination received 152 votes from senators.
The proposed new government being formed came about with the Pheu Thai Party reaching out to the parties of the establishment and those associated with the military in what is seen as a reconciliation process.
It is also a move which is perceived as destroying the party’s support base going forward as it reneged on a key election promise not to treat with the parties associated with the former 2014 coup d’état leaders, the Palang Pracharat Party of General Prawit Wongsuwan and the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party of General Prayut Chan ocha, both of which are part of Tuesday’s coalition that elected Mr Srettha.
Resignations expected among Pheu Thai’s leadership
Senior members of the Pheu Thai Party including Dr Cholnan, the leader, have indicated in recent days a firm intention to resign because of this turn of events, including former cabinet minister and Redshirt leader Nattawut Saikuar having already done so.
The political developments, on Tuesday, the same day which saw the return to Thailand of Thaksin Shinawatra who entered the judicial process and was imprisoned, appeared to have been choreographed and meant to be symbolic.
In Parliament on Tuesday, the Move Forward Party formed the bulk of the opposition to Mr Srettha’s nomination with 149 votes from among 152 MPs who opposed the nomination and 12 senators.
The 81 abstentions consisted of 13 MPs and 68 Senators.
Tuesday’s vote is expected to be the last to involve the Senate in the process under section 272 of the Constitution with this power expiring on May 11th, 2024.
Prime Minister Srettha received Royal endorsement as he gets to work finalising the new cabinet lineup of 35 members with 16 Pheu Thai ministers
The new government, outlined in recent days, will see the Bhumjaithai Party having 8 ministers including 4 senior and 4 junior seats in the cabinet while Mr Srettha, already endorsed by the King, will now embark on finalising his cabinet in line with these negotiations.
Pheu Thai Party is expected to occupy 16 positions in the new government.
This is expected to be announced shortly.
In Parliament, on Tuesday, there was praise for Mr Srettha’s success in business as well as his patience in dealing with the torturous process that has resulted since the May 14th General Election, while those speaking in opposition to his nomination, including members of the Senate, spoke of being asked to vote for a prime minister that they knew particularly little about, except that he built and sold houses.
One speaker compared it to buying a product off the shelf.
Debate was robust but not nearly as raucous and hostile as the controversial six-hour debate which was unprecedented in its fierceness on July 12th last
The debate on the nomination was a lively affair but not as raucous and hostile as the six-hour marathon on July 12th which saw strong exchanges of words between the Move Forward Party and parties aligned with the former government.
Many of these parties will now remain in government under Mr Srettha’s leadership with the notable exception of Thailand’s oldest and significantly reduced Democrat Party with 25 MPs
In the aftermath of his election as Prime Minister, Mr Srettha held a press conference in which he outlined his key priority as tackling the country’s economy and improving the living conditions for the Thai people.
He was speaking at the headquarters of the Pheu Thai Party at 6.40 pm.
‘I am truly honoured to be voted 30th Prime Minister. I would like to thank all the Thai people, coalition parties and all the representatives and senators who voted today. I will do my best, forget the tiredness of the past and improve the living conditions of all Thai people.’
Move Forward Party accepts its opposition role
Immediately after the historic vote in Parliament, the Move Forward Party, through Secretary General Chaitawat Tulathon, confirmed that it was looking forward to creating a ‘proactive’ opposition to the government in the months and years ahead.
The Move Forward Party will be joined in opposition by the Democrat Party which performed disastrously in the May 14th General Election.
It is also currently facing an internal crisis as it has failed to elect a new leader following the resignation of Mr Jurin Laksanawisit within hours of the May 14th election.
The turn of events since the polls have often appeared to be outside the control of the public and somewhat opaque leading up to today’s outcome.
Step forward for Thailand in the short term but a side step from the May 14th General Election result
Tuesday’s resolution with the return of Mr Thaksin Shinawatra and the election of a Pheu Thai Party government supported by Mr Thaksin’s youngest daughter, Ung-Ing, or Paetongtarn Shinawatra is a step forward for the country in the short-term given that it resolves an immediate crisis but this accommodation sidesteps the obvious call in the May 14th General Election for reform in Thailand.
Many political commentators believe that the Move Forward Party is now well-positioned to storm to power in the next election.
It has to be conceded that the Thai public is happy, at this point, to have a stable government, with some prospect that the divisions in the country, which plagued former administrations over the last two decades, have a chance of healing.