Thaksin Says Thai Election ‘Rigged’ as Allies Challenge Army

Siraphob Thanthong-Knight and Natnicha Chuwiruch
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Thai Military Aims Crosshairs on Young Party Taking on Junta

(Bloomberg) -- Former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra called Sunday’s election “rigged” and warned the junta would seek to retain power no matter which coalition emerges.

Reeling off a litany of election irregularities, Thaksin said the military regime “clearly is afraid” and its proxy party Palang Pracharath would lead a “very unstable government” if it doesn’t have a majority in the lower house of parliament. Earlier, allies in Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party claimed victory and said it would seek to form a government.

“Whether or not the junta’s leaders now allow the pro-democracy parties to form a government, they will find a way to stay in charge,” Thaksin wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times. “They have no shame, and they want to be in power no matter what.”

The comments indicate a showdown is emerging to form a government between pro-democracy forces and Thailand’s royalist and military elites, who have repeatedly sought to prevent Thaksin and his allies from taking power over the past two decades. Previous confrontations have led to instability, gridlock, deadly street protests and coups.

Pheu Thai led with 137 of 350 constituency seats in an initial tally, followed by Palang Pracharath party with 97 seats, according to the Election Commission. The count, which didn’t include another 150 party-list seats, showed that both major parties would need to form a coalition to take power in the 500-member lower house of parliament.

“We’ll try to form a government coalition right away because that’s how people voted,” Sudarat Keyuraphan, Pheu Thai’s candidate for prime minister, told reporters on Monday, adding that the army-appointed Senate should follow the wishes of voters. “We stood by our position that we won’t support the continuation of the military regime.”

The military-backed Palang Pracharath has also said it would seek to form a government. It won 7.7 million votes with 94 percent counted with Pheu Thai second at 7.23 million votes, according to unofficial results posted on the Election Commission’s Facebook page.

The Election Commission announced the winners of 350 constituencies at 4 p.m., after several delays in giving seat totals. It said that initial vote counts were accurate even though its computers were attacked. Official results won’t be known until May 9, several days after the coronation ceremony for King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Investors initially appeared sanguine about the election results, with Thailand’s SET Index falling less than other Asian benchmarks amid a global sell-off triggered by economic growth concerns. The measure extended declines as trading resumed after the lunch break.

The results put junta chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha in position to stay in power, as Thailand’s election rules effectively tilt the playing field in favor of the military. The 250-member Senate appointed by the junta also gets a vote for prime minister, and it’s likely to back Prayuth.

Either way, any coalition is likely to be weak and unwieldy, making it difficult to pass legislation in the lower house. Both Pheu Thai and Prayuth would need to rely on a range of smaller regional parties to push through key policies.

While Sudarat didn’t mention any potential coalition partners, Pheu Thai would likely align with Future Forward, a new pro-democracy party that performed well in its first election. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the 40-year-old scion of a tycoon family who heads the party, questioned the credibility of the election and said the next administration is likely to be unstable.

“There might be another election, there might be another military intervention,” Thanathorn said. “Everything is still on the table.”

Sunday’s election followed one of the longest periods of military rule in Thailand, which has a history of elections followed by coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. Bloody street clashes between Thaksin’s supporters and critics have killed dozens over the past decade, deterring tourists and stifling economic growth during the worst of the unrest.

Thaksin’s opponents -- a loose faction of soldiers, bureaucrats and wealthy Bangkok families with royal connections -- have sought to keep him away from Thailand, in part because they view him as a threat to the monarchy. The army ousted Thaksin in 2006, and eight years later Prayuth deposed a government run by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

The next prime minister needs 376 votes in the bicameral National Assembly, which consists of the Senate and a 500-member House of Representatives. The Election Commission has until May 9 to submit official results, after which lawmakers will pick a prime minister.

The military-drafted constitution, Thailand’s 20th since absolute monarchy ended in 1932, empowers appointed soldiers and bureaucrats at the expense of elected politicians. The rules effectively make it easier for Prayuth to become prime minister: With support from the Senate, he would need another 126 votes in the lower house to stay in power.

The military’s party emulated Thaksin’s populist formula in a bid to win more votes, proposing lower taxes, a minimum wage increase of more than 30 percent, and guaranteed prices for rubber, rice, and sugar cane. Prayuth had already offered farmers funds for harvesting and provided low-income earners about $10 per month to purchase household staples.

(Updates with seat tallies in second paragraph.)

--With assistance from Suttinee Yuvejwattana.

To contact the reporters on this story: Siraphob Thanthong-Knight in Bangkok at rthanthongkn@bloomberg.net;Natnicha Chuwiruch in Bangkok at nchuwiruch@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net, Sunil Jagtiani

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