By Martin Petty

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s parliament will on Thursday start the process of voting on a new prime minister, with the outcome far from certain and set to test the unity of an eight-party alliance seeking to form the next government.


The newly elected 500-seat lower house and the appointed, 250-member Senate must vote jointly on a new premier. Once the session is convened, parties will be asked to nominate candidates, which require endorsement by 50 members.

The vote is an open ballot and each of the 750 legislators will be called out in alphabetical order to reveal their choice. To become prime minister, a candidate needs 376 votes – more than half of the legislature.

If no one reaches that threshold, another vote will be scheduled. The same candidates can be put forward again or new ones can be nominated and the process is repeated until one candidate gets 376 votes. There is no time limit.


In the lead-up to the May 14 election, parties were required to each submit potential prime ministerial candidates. Any party that won at least 25 of the 500 lower house seats can nominate one of those names to be put to a vote.

There are currently nine people eligible. From the alliance, those include Pita Limjaroenrat of election winners Move Forward, and from second-placed Pheu Thai, real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin and Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter and niece of former premiers Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra, who were overthrown in coups.

From opposing parties, those eligible include outgoing deputy premier and health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, and royalist former army chiefs and junta leaders Prawit Wongsuwan and Prayuth Chan-ocha, the incumbent premier. Prayuth announced his retirement from politics on Tuesday but remains eligible.

The constitution also has a provision for an outsider to be nominated for prime minister but rules stipulate that person needs two-thirds support, or 500 lawmakers.


The eight-party alliance is backing Move Forward’s Pita, a U.S.-educated former executive of ride and delivery app Grab.

Retired general Prawit, 77, has been tipped as a contender, but his army-backed Palang Pracharat confirmed it will not nominate a candidate on Thursday.

No others have so far expressed an intent to run, but that is likely to change if Pita fails in the first vote, where he is expected to run unopposed.


Pita’s alliance has 312 seats, so he needs 64 votes from among other parties or from senators. But that will not be easy.

Move Forward’s anti-establishment agenda, which includes reforms to institutions like the military and to a lese-majeste law that prohibits insults of the revered monarchy, might be too much for many conservative senators to stomach.

A few surprise developments on the eve of the vote might also have dented Pita’s image and his chances of getting the required votes. The Constitutional Court agreed on Wednesday to take on a complaint against Pita and Move Forward over their policy on the lese-majeste law, just hours after the election commission recommended Pita be disqualified as a lawmaker over a shareholding violation.

In another blow, the Democrat Party also confirmed its 25 lawmakers would not back Pita because of Move Forward’s position on the lese-majeste law.


Move Forward may have miscalculated before the election in naming Pita as their only potential prime ministerial candidate. Though he could be nominated again, alliance partner Pheu Thai, a political heavyweight, might seize the opportunity to nominate one of its candidates for premier, which could significantly alter the coalition dynamic.

Another possibility is that Pheu Thai backs a candidate from outside of the alliance in return for control of key ministries. In that scenario, the most likely premier would be retired general Prawit who was involved in the past two coups and has ironically been touting himself as a unifying figure able to bridge political divides.

A notorious dealmaker, Prawit has deep connections and influence in the establishment, Senate and among conservatives to could be enough to rally the support needed.

(Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Sharon Singleton)

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