Thai opposition says 'not too late' for parties to change minds as pro-junta talks stall after election

Pheu Thai party leader Sudarat Keyuraphan (right) speaks as secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai looks on during a press conference in Bangkok on March 27, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand's main opposition Pheu Thai party on Wednesday (May 29) urged other parties that contested a March election to reject a coalition offer by a pro-army party seeking to keep the ruling junta chief as prime minister.

The appeal came as pro-junta Palang Pracharath's bid to cement a coalition government faltered when at least two of its presumed allies - the pro-establishment Democrat Party and Chart Thai Pattana - expressed new reservations and conditions.

Negotiations are going on two months after the election, held nearly five years after the then army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power from a Pheu Thai government in 2014, the second military coup in a decade.

Pheu Thai, which leads the seven-party Democratic Front alliance that has accused the junta of manipulating the election, seized on the two parties' reluctance and urged unity against military dominance of government.

"It is not too late for any party to change their mind," said Pheu Thai's secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai.

No one party won a majority in the House of Representatives in the election, but Palang Pracharath has an advantage under junta-written electoral rules that require the 250-seat Upper House Senate, appointed by the junta, to vote along with the 500-seat Lower House for prime minister.

That effectively gives Palang Pracharath a 250-seat advantage in the race to the 376 votes - a majority of members of both houses of Parliament - it needs for its bid to ensure Mr Prayut stays on as prime minister.

But in order to govern, a majority in the House of Representatives would be necessary.

Palang Pracharath would need to ally with almost all the non-aligned parties to get the 251 seats it needs in the Lower House.

The Democrats - bitter opponents of Pheu Thai in the past - have said that amending the post-coup Constitution would be a condition for joining any Palang Pracharath government, Democrat spokesman Rames Rattanachaweng said late on Tuesday.

And Chart Thai Pattana member Varawut Silpa-archa also said that Palang Pracharath has not yet agreed to his party's unspecified conditions.

"What we proposed has not been answered," Mr Varawut said, adding, "If we are unable to join the Palang Pracharath coalition, then we are ready to perform our legislative duty in Parliament."

Palang Pracharath's leader Uttama Savanayana told reporters on Wednesday that his party was willing to wait for agreement.

"We are confident that we can still form a government, but at this time we are talking about policies with other political parties as well as how to best use our personnel. At the end, I believe a deal can be reached."

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