By Chayut Setboonsarng and Panu Wongcha-um
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s Pheu Thai party announced on Wednesday it had the support of six more parties in its attempt to form a government, still short of the required backing nearly three months after an election.
Thailand has been under a caretaker government for 142 days and faces prolonged uncertainty after election winner Move Forward was blocked from forming a government by conservative legislators allied with the royalist military.
Second-place Pheu Thai, a populist political heavyweight with a history of animosity with the military, is trying to form a government without Move Forward and faces the same struggle to win support from a parliament over which the army commands significant influence.
“Pheu Thai hopes to ease political factionalisation and gain support from all members of parliament,” leader Cholnan Srikaew told a news conference announcing the backing of six smaller parties.
But it was unclear whether Pheu Thai, founded by the billionaire Shinawatra family, could get support from members of the upper house Senate, who were appointed by generals involved in coups against its governments in 2006 and 2014.
Move Forward’s anti-establishment agenda, which included a plan to amend a law that insulates the monarchy from criticism, posed a threat to conservative, old money interests and ensured its bid to form a government was thwarted by the Senate. Pheu Thai and its businesses allies could face similar resistance.
Despite abandoning Move Forward, Pheu Thai is lobbying for the backing of its 150 lawmakers in a prime ministerial vote expected later this month.
“We listened to Move Forward’s concerns,” Pheu Thai’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra, whose father and aunt were prime ministers ousted by the military, said after a meeting on Wednesday.
“Our two parties aren’t fighting. We understand each other.”
Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat said no decision had been made on whether to vote for a Pheu Thai government.
Veerapat Pariyawong, a political commentator and legal scholar, said Move Forward’s support was crucial for Pheu Thai, which otherwise would have no choice but to form a government with parties controlled by their common enemy, the military.
“Move Forward support becomes essential to help stop military-backed parties and to nullify the Senate’s votes,” Veerapat said, adding Move Forward would otherwise have to answer to its voters for allowing the military to stay in government.
Other commentators, however, believe a deal with the military might be Pheu Thai’s hidden objective, to ensure the unhindered return of its figurehead, Thaksin Shinawatra, after 17 years in self-imposed exile. Pheu Thai has denied such a plan.
“Right now we are just seeing Pheu Thai going through the motions,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University.
“The path to government for Pheu Thai is now more about Thaksin than the people.”
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Chayut Setboonsarng and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)