PM 'sure' of UTN's chances
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PM 'sure' of UTN's chances

Says party won't be shut out of coalition

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has downplayed speculation that the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party will be excluded from the government coalition following the next general election, which is set to take place in May.

Asked by reporters about the possibility of the UTN getting shut out of a coalition government, Gen Prayut said, "I am not afraid of that. I only wish that the people will not abandon me."

Gen Prayut was responding to reports which said Deputy Prime Minister and Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) leader, Prawit Wongsuwon, and Deputy Prime Minister and Bhumjaithai leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, have reached a deal to form a coalition government if neither are able to form a government on their own.

When asked to comment on a report that said Gen Prawit discussed the formation of a government over lunch with Mr Anutin, Gen Prayut said, "The election has yet to be held... No one knows which party will win how many seats."

Observers have said that the UTN will have a tough time securing the 25 seats it needs to be able to nominate Gen Prayut, who is the party's chief strategist, as a prime minister candidate in parliament.

If the UTN wins fewer seats than the PPRP or Bhumjaithai, then Gen Prayut's chances of returning as prime minister will be next to none.

Sources said that Mr Anutin met with Gen Prayut on Wednesday to wish him a happy birthday and hand him a present as Gen Prayut turned 69 on Tuesday.

After the meeting, Mr Anutin and other Bhumjaithai key figures, such as secretary-general Saksayam Chidchob and deputy leader Chada Thaiset joined Gen Prawit for lunch at the Foundation for the Conservation of Forests in Five Adjoining Provinces in the compound of the 1st Infantry Regiment in Bangkok.

The sources said that the participants discussed how many seats they expected to win and which other parties, such as the Democrats, they would need to bring into a coalition.

The sources said that the attendees expected the PPRP and Bhumjaithai to win at least 70 House seats each for a combined total of about 140 seats.

If the Democrat Party and the Chartthaipattana Party are brought in, the attendees expected to secure a combined 203 seats, which would be enough to form a coalition government, the sources said.

Gen Prawit also told the attendees that the party that wins the most seats would get the prime minister post, the sources said.

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University, said it is now obvious that the PPRP and Bhumjaithai have formed an alliance.

"They released the pictures of key figures of both parties having lunch together to show they hold a great deal of bargaining power and are a force to be reckoned with," Mr Olarn said.

The PPRP and Bhumjaithai are expected to win at least a combined 120 House seats, he said. He pointed out that both the UTN and Pheu Thai are unlikely to secure a landslide on their own without the support of the PPRP and Bhumjaithai.

"The support of the PPRP and Bhumjaithai is crucial to forming a coalition government," Mr Olarn said.

Asked if Gen Prayut would be excluded from the coalition, Mr Olarn said it would depend on how many seats the UTN can secure.

"Gen Prayut can still return as PM if the UTN secures at least 100 House seats and join the PPRP-Bhumjaithai alliance," he said. "I don't believe Gen Prayut will be left out in the cold after the next poll. The PPRP and Bhumjaithai are only working together to boost their bargaining power."

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