The Move Forward Party has backtracked on its plan to include the Chartpattanakla Party in its coalition government, following furious opposition from party supporters.
The decision to drop the two-member Chartpattanakla was followed quickly by the exit of the one-member New Party just hours after it had applied to join. As a result, the coalition is now back to eight parties with 313 members.
That should still be sufficient to form a stable majority government in the 500-seat House in accordance with international democratic principles, party secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon said on Saturday.
The drama over the planned inclusion of Chartpattanakla played out on social media on Friday night, and it took just hours for Move Forward leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat to back down.
“I would like to apologise,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will keep reminding myself that the party is bigger than any individual. The people are bigger than any party.”
The party also posted a message on its Facebook page on Friday night, acknowledging that it had heard the voices of the people. On Saturday it said its key people would not be giving any in-person media briefings for the day and advised journalists to follow its social media channels for any updates.
Members of the public, party staff, provincial-level executives and members all made their feelings known online that they could not accept the inclusion of Chartpattanakla. A meeting of prospective Move Forward MPs expressed the same view.
Their opposition stemmed from the involvement of its leader Korn Chatikavanij in the seven-month-long Bangkok Shutdown protests that led to the military coup that toppled the Yingluck Shinawatra government in May 2014. Mr Korn, a former deputy leader of the Democrat Party, also voted in favour of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the coup leader at the time, as prime minister.
Move Forward issued a statement on its official @MFPThailand account, saying it accepted the criticism and apologised for disappointing the public. It emphasised that the formation of the government would be based on its political stance and the policies on which it had earlier campaigned.
The party also apologised to Chartpattanakla for discontinuing the talks. Veteran politician Suwat Liptapanlop, the Chartpattanakla chairman, said he accepted the apology and had no hard feelings about the incident. (Story continues below).
Former Democrat Party member Korn Chatikavanij, front right, joins a demonstration in Bangkok against the Pheu Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra on Nov 29, 2013. (File photo: Apichit Jinakul)
The exit of Chartpattanakla was followed by that of the New Party, after the appearance on social media of a video featuring a party executive suggesting punishments under the lese-majeste law were not strong enough.
That runs counter to the views and policies of Move Forward, which is pushing to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code on royal defamation. The hashtag #Don’twanttheNewParty suddenly started trending on Twitter.
Kritdithat Saengthayothin, the leader of the New Party, said he decided to withdraw from the alliance as the video had made him uncomfortable. He stressed that the opinion expressed was the personal view of the executive and the party had not agreed with him. In any case, he decided it would be better for the coalition if his party bowed out.
The New Party had earlier posted on its Facebook page that its executives had resolved to join the alliance to form a new government unconditionally. Mr Kritdithat said he had held talks with a deputy MFP leader, apparently referring to Phicharn Chaowapatanawong.
Mr Phicharn was also the person who first announced the agreement of Chartpattanakla to join the coalition.
Barring any other changes, the now eight-party coalition is scheduled to gather on Monday to sign a memorandum of understanding on the formation of the new government.
The 313-member alliance will still need the support of 63 senators to secure the 376 votes necessary to endorse Mr Pita when the House and the 250-member Senate meet.
Mr Chaithawat on Saturday expressed optimism that support could be found in the Upper House, whose members were all appointed by Gen Prayut.
He said his party would continue holding talks with senators to create a better understanding in a bid to bring the country onto the democratic path, and not into a deadlock. Some senators, he said, were concerned about the party’s foreign policy and did not want the next government to create more political conflicts.
After talks and explaining the party’s stance and guidelines, the senators understood, he said.
“On May 23, the Senate will call an extraordinary meeting. After this, there may be an informal meeting of senators to discuss the voting of a prime minister,” said Mr Chaithawat.
“I do believe that when senators see the MoU to form the next government on May 22, they will have a better understanding of us and this will lead to a positive decision to push the country ahead.”
- Note: This story was updated at 16.47 to reflect the exit of the New Party and other details