Pro-army party in Thailand to cement deal to keep junta leader as PM: Lawmaker

Palang Pracharat contested the March 24 election on a platform of electing retired General Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister, five years after he seized power as army chief in 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - A pro-army party in Thailand hopes to make a deal on Monday (May 27) to gain enough parliamentary seats to keep the leader of the military junta in power as elected prime minister, a lawmaker who is a board member of the party told Reuters.

The deal would spell an end to opposition hopes of keeping the military out of politics five years after the then army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power from an elected government.

The Palang Pracharat party had contested the March 24 election on a platform of keeping Prayut as prime minister.

Puttipong Punnakanta, one of Palang Pracharat's board members and a member of parliament, told Reuters the party - which gained the second-largest number of seats in the election - would formally invite two other parties, the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, to join in a coalition government.

"We will invite the two parties tomorrow. It's certain that we will be forming a coalition government, with at least 251 seats and more," he said. "We will see Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister next month."

The opposition Pheu Thai party, which was ousted from power in 2014, won the most seats in the 500-member House of Representatives in the March election, but its Democratic Front coalition did not gain a majority when final results were announced.

The Democratic Front has complained that the Election Commission changed a complex formula of seat allocation after the vote, giving seats to 11 small parties at the expense of a projected opposition majority under the old formula.

Palang Pracharat leader Uttama Saovanayana said in a Facebook post on Sunday night that the party is to make a formal invitation to the Democrats and Bhumjaithai on Monday.

The two parties' seats would give the pro-army coalition a slim majority in the House.

The Democrat's deputy leader, Nipit Intarasombat, told Reuters the party would meet to discuss the invitation and had not yet made a decision.

"However, we have previously engaged in discussions with Palang Pracharat at times, which is a good sign pointing to the likelihood that we will join the coalition," Nipit said.

Asked on Saturday whether his party will join Palang Pracharat, Bhumjaithai party leader Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters he had decided but did not elaborate.

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