Pro-Thaksin party says enough parties sign on to form ruling Thai coalition

The Thai political party allied to deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Monday that it has recruited enough other parties to form a coalition government, but the claim drew immediate skepticism from its top rival.
The pro-Thaksin People's Power Party won 228 seats in Sunday's general election, delivering a striking rebuke to the generals who ousted the billionaire populist Thaksin in a September 2006 coup d'etat.
To govern, it needs to join hands with at least one of the other six parties who won seats in order to have a majority in the 480-seat House of Representatives. But the second-place Democrat Party, with 166 seats, is also trying to woo smaller parties to the same end.
PPP Secretary-General Surapong Suebwonglee said at a news conference that enough parties had agreed to an alliance to form a coalition with more than half the house seats. The house is supposed to convene within one month of the election.
"After counting the number of parties that have responded and having more than half the seats, there is no problem in forming a government," he said, adding that they should be able to form a stable government with 280-300 seats.
Surapong said he will reveal the names of the would-be partners only after Jan. 3, when the state Election Commission is expected to certify the voting results.
Surapong's statement was greeted with skepticism by Democrat Secretary-General Suthep Thueksuban, who said the PPP's claim would be credible only when all the party leaders involved announced it publicly at a joint press conference.
Even if the PPP has concluded a deal, it could fall apart if enough of the party's candidates are disqualified for electoral violations such as vote-buying.
Election Commissioner Sodsri Sathayatham said at least 24 winners could be disqualified, while new voting might be necessary in a dozen cases.
The commission, which will meet Wednesday to begin investigations, was barraged by hundreds of complaints of vote-buying and other violations of electoral law. It did not specify which parties' candidates were involved.
The result of Sunday's polls appeared to be a recipe for political instability, just beginning with the wheeling and dealing to build a coalition.
The key party is the third-place Chart Thai, which captured 39 seats. It is led by veteran politician Banharn Silpa-archa, a former prime minister.
Earlier, PPP spokesman Kuthep Saikrajang said the PPP was eyeing Chart Thai and another smaller party as partners.
"I will certainly be the prime minister," PPP leader Samak Sundaravej said at a jubilant Sunday night news conference.
"If PPP cannot form a government, then it will be our turn," Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejajjiva said outside his party's headquarters Monday. "If it is clear that the PPP cannot put together a majority, obviously I am ready to lead a coalition."
The PPP got most of its support from the rural north and northeast, where Thaksin's programs, including universal health care and generous village development funds, won a hard-core following. The party is led by members of Thaksin's former Thai Rak Thai Party, dissolved by court order earlier this year for election law violations.
The Democrats ran strongest in Bangkok, where the 2006 movement to oust Thaksin was centered. Only seven of 39 competing parties won parliamentary seats. About 70 percent of 45 million eligible voters cast ballots for about 5,000 candidates.
If the PPP comes to power, said Nakarin Mektrairat, dean of Thammasat University's Faculty of Political Science, "there will be tension and conflicts," in part because of its lack of support from the capital's residents.
Thai politics has been in almost constant turmoil since early 2006, when protests mushroomed demanding that Thaksin step down for alleged corruption and abuse of power, despite his party's landslide victory a year earlier giving it an absolute parliamentary majority.
An April 2006 election was boycotted by the opposition and later declared invalid by the courts, leaving Thaksin's government in limbo until the September 19 coup last year. But the military-appointed interim government that succeeded it proved weak and indecisive, failing to restore public confidence.
Thaksin was abroad at the time of his ouster, and has since lived in exile. He is legally barred from office, his party has been dissolved by the courts, and he has been charged with a slew of corruption-related crimes.
Despite vowing he has retired from politics, he has burnished his image from afar, with moves such as the purchase of England's Manchester City soccer club to buy into the sport's popularity in Thailand.
Thaksin's PPP allies announced last week that he would return to Bangkok early next year, after a new government is installed. Thaksin has not yet commented publicly on the election results.
The forces that helped unseat Thaksin _ the military, Bangkok's educated middle class, and Thailand's elite, including elements associated with the monarchy _ have worked hard to erase Thaksin's political legacy.
They changed the constitution to limit the power of big parties and sought to demonize him as a corrupt destroyer of democracy. His return could undo their efforts and put their own positions in jeopardy.
Thailand's long-term prospects for political stability seem poor.
Samak, a veteran right-wing politician who has served in several Cabinets and as governor of Bangkok, has been a divisive figure for decades.
The tart-tongued 72-year-old Samak "doesn't have a conciliatory personality. He is aggressive and uncompromising," said Narong Phetprasert, an economist at Chulalongkorn University.
Critics say Abhisit, 43, British-born and educated at Eton and Oxford, may lack the toughness necessary to keep together a coalition of parties out to get the biggest share of power they can grab.

Updated : 2021-01-28 20:29 GMT+08:00