Thai Coalition Clinches House Majority Ahead of Premier Vote

(Bloomberg) -- A coalition of Thai political parties led by Pheu Thai, backed by the influential Shinawatra clan, clinched a majority in the lower house with a pro-royalist party joining the bloc’s bid to form a government and end a monthslong political stalemate.

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The addition of United Thai Nation Party, which previously backed outgoing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s attempt to stay in power in the May election, now brings the strength of the alliance to 274 lawmakers in the 500-member House of Representatives.

United Thai Nation’s 36 lawmakers will support property tycoon Srettha Thavisin in his bid to become prime minister in a parliamentary vote scheduled for Aug. 22, party spokesman Akradech Wongpituchroj said late Thursday.

But the 10-party coalition is still short of the votes needed to ensure its candidate’s outright win. Srettha, 60, will need the support of the majority of 750 lawmakers in the joint National Assembly, which combines the lower house and the 250-member Senate that’s stacked with allies of the pro-military royalist establishment.

Pheu Thai, which has been expanding its coalition after it broke away from a previous pro-democracy bloc led by reformist Move Forward Party, is also in talks with Palang Pracharath, another pro-establishment party in the outgoing government, which may help it win over the backing of the Senate. Pheu Thai said earlier this week it aimed to form a new government by early next month.

It’s a volte-face for Pheu Thai, which had vowed ahead of the election to not join hands with parties backed by a military junta that was responsible for the ouster of a government it previously led. Prayuth, who seized power in a coup in 2014, resigned from United Thai Nation last month.

Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, United Thai Nation’s leader, said the two parties agreed that it was time for reconciliation. Pheu Thai has promised to not take any actions that will hurt the nation, religion and monarchy, the key pillars of Thai society, he said.

Investors are betting that the realignment of political parties with Pheu Thai at the helm will help install a new government more than three months after the general election. With the gridlock sending Thai stocks more than 8% lower this year, there’s growing pressure for the new administration to support the economy’s fragile recovery, curb high household debt and keep costs of living in check.

United Thai Nation is among the conservative parties that opposed Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s bid to lead the next government. The Pheu Thai coalition also includes Bhumjaithai Party, which placed third in the election, and some members of the previous Pita-helmed bloc.

Pita was twice blocked from taking the prime minister’s office by pro-establishment senators and lawmakers, who opposed his party’s pledge to amend the law barring criticism of the royal family and other reformist agendas seen as hurting the pro-military and business elites.

--With assistance from Pathom Sangwongwanich.

(Recasts lead, adds details throughout.)

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