Popcorn time as race to form Thailand’s next government devolves into clusterfrack

Because the pounding stallions of an actual horse race seemed to generous.
Because the pounding stallions of an actual horse race seemed to generous.

The drawn-out scramble to form Thailand’s next government is still anyone’s game as a coalition-of-the-junta-willing has stalled out due to bickering over who gets which jobs.

Ten weeks after the election was held, neither the pro-military nor pro-democratic faction have been able to cement the support needed to decisively grasp the reins of power. In one corner, the parties of Pheu Thai, Future Forward and friends who altogether commanded the most votes and a combined 217 seats. In the other, the proxy for ongoing military power, Palang Pracharath (116 seats), its many teeny fellow travelers (1+1+1+1+1+1…) and two possible mid-ranked parties.

Coming into this week, it all seemed stitched up for Palang Pracharath, as it seemed to have secured the support of Thailand’s oldest party, the Democrats (53 seats), who were reduced to also-ran status by voters as it convulses, Gollum-like, with a values identity crisis.

Palang Pracharath, which seeks another term in power for the general who led the 2014 coup, was also counting on the support of the Bhumjaitai Party and its 51 seats.

Bhumjaithai may be pro-weed, but history has shown that it’s pro-power above all else. Ideology was always secondary to the party made political kingmaker by former head Newin Chidchob, who leaped from coalition to coalition to taken on an outsized role in the national power structure and deliver all the goodies to his home turf in Buriram.

But now dem Dems are balking at the deal over control of the cabinet portfolio, a fissure fueled by some voices of dissent within the party. Former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and his mini-me, Parit “I-tim” Wacharasindhu, who wrote an impassioned plea Monday for the party to stay true to its name and not support Palang Pracharath.

As the drama keeps unspooling, junta leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha yesterday stunned watchers by suggesting, completely free of irony, that Thais should read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, according to public broadcaster Thai PBS. Is the ultimate fate of the prophetic Englishman to be co-opted in service of authoritarianism?

Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit responded to Prayuth’s baffling Orwell endorsement by tweeting: “‘Every living animal is equal but some animals have more equality than others,'” the pig says in Animal Farm, the book Prayuth suggested Thai people read. Let’s help create a society where all humans are equal without anyone having ‘more equality than others.’ #TimeIsUpfForThePigInPower

The election was March 24, and something usually sorted out within days has now dragged on for 10 weeks. But that comes as little surprise when the arbiters of fairness, the nominally independent Election Commission, has been making up rules as it goes along with the perceptible effect of putting its thumb on the scale in favor of military rule rather than people’s power.

This was on display in the north this week where it put a few more numbers in the pro-junta column through its wholly novel take on arithmetic. Despite a pro-democracy party’s totally rocking the ballot box, the do-over election held for a Chiang Mai seat somehow ended up increasing the power of the pro-junta side.

Future Forward Party candidate Srinual Boonlue blew away the competition with a 75,819-vote landslide win. Palang Pracharath’s Nares Thamrongtipayakhun was a distant second with 27,781 votes while Chitpas Kridakon, a whistle-blowing Democrat-cum-nationalist darling exiled from her own brew-empire clan, scored a paltry 1,738 votes.

So who did the commission award the “party-list” seats to? Certainly, Future Forward for its domination of the ballot box, you say?

Nope, it instead took some kind of last-past-the-post approach to give one to Palang Pracharath, one to the Democrats and none to Future Forward, like some kind of affirmative action program for authoritarians.

Meanwhile Pheu Thai has made its last-ditch appeal for support, and we should expect the deadlock to be broken at any moment. Maybe.

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