The defection of nine MPs from the newly dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP) to the Bhumjaithai Party boosts the latter's bargaining power in the coalition government and also its leader's chances of becoming the next prime minister, an academic said on Tuesday.
A source in parliament said that Bhumjaithai MP and party registrar Supachai Jaisamut has written to inform House Speaker Chuan Leekpai that nine MPs from the disbanded FFP have applied to join Bhumjaithai.
This brings the number of Bhumjaithai MPs to 61, surpassing the Democrats to make it the second-largest party in the coalition, the source said.
Bhumjaithai has also become the country's third-largest party after Pheu Thai and the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), the source added.
The FFP was dissolved last Friday by the Constitutional Court over a 191.2-million-baht loan it took from former party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Its 16 executives were slapped with a 10-year ban from politics while its MPs now have to join new parties within 30 days or lose their MP status.
Somjai Phagaphasvivat, an independent academic, told the Bangkok Post that the defections of the nine MPs will boost Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul's political clout within the coalition government.
Even though Bhumjaithai will play second fiddle to the PPRP, which has Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on its side, Mr Anutin still stands the best chance of becoming the next prime minister if there is an early change of government leadership, Mr Somjai said.
He said Mr Anutin's personality allows him to work with either Pheu Thai or the Democrat Party as Bhumjaithai has a policy of never alienating other political parties.
"Mr Anutin has invited as many MPs from other parties [into Bhumjaithai] as possible, in a move to increase his clout in the future. And he may no longer be in the shadow of Gen Prayut," Mr Somjai said.
With the addition of the nine FFP "new-generation politicians", Bhumjaithai will also attract backing from young voters which will help expand the party's support base, he added.
Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Mr Anutin, who serves as deputy prime minister and public health minister, said the party was glad to welcome the nine MPs.
Bhumjaithai was willing to work with anyone who shares the same stance, to help the country, he said, adding the nine MPs would be officially unveiled as Bhumjaithai members soon. However, he denied talk that the party would bargain for more cabinet seats in the wake of the defections.
"We are happy with the seven cabinet positions we occupy now. If there is a cabinet reshuffle in the future, we will stick to our seven seats. Don't reduce them and we will not ask for more," Mr Anutin told reporters at parliament ahead of a censure debate session on Tuesday.
Mr Anutin also brushed aside a sound clip released by the FFP which purportedly featured its MPs being offered money and positions in return for joining coalition parties after the party was dissolved.
"Bhumjaithai is good enough to attract other MPs without the need to resort to such methods," Mr Anutin said.
Wirat Phanthumapol, one of the nine defecting MPs, said Mr Anutin had approached him to join Bhumjaithai several months ago.
He said he decided to join Bhumjaithai without hesitation because he has been on good terms with Mr Anutin for 20 years.
Mr Wirat said that he did not tell former FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and former secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul about his decision.
He said he had the right to join a new political party after the FFP was disbanded.