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Thailand’s Pheu Thai forms coalition with former foes to end political deadlock

Thailand’s Pheu Thai Party, the main opposition force in the country, announced on Monday that it has formed a coalition with 11 other parties, including some that were previously aligned with the military-backed government, to end the political deadlock that has gripped the nation since the May 14 election.

The coalition, which claims to have 314 seats in the 500-member lower house of parliament, said it will nominate Srettha Thavisin, a billionaire property tycoon and a newcomer to politics, as the next prime minister in a parliamentary vote scheduled for Tuesday. Srettha will need at least 375 votes from both houses of parliament to be endorsed as the new leader and form the next government.

The coalition’s announcement came as a surprise, as it marked a dramatic shift in the political landscape that has been divided for decades between the supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and has been living in self-imposed exile since 2008. Thaksin is the founder and patron of Pheu Thai, which has won every election since 2001, but has also faced repeated coups and court rulings that removed its governments from power.

The coalition includes two parties that were created by generals who led the 2014 coup that toppled Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, from power: the United Thai Nation party of outgoing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and the Palang Pracharat party of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. Both Prayuth and Prawit have been accused of corruption and human rights violations during their seven-year rule, which was marred by protests, economic woes, and a mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pheu Thai’s deputy leader, Phumtham Wechayachai, said that the coalition was formed out of necessity and pragmatism, as it was the only way to break the impasse and prevent another military intervention. He said that the coalition would respect the will of the people who voted for change and democracy in the election, and would work to deliver on its promises of raising the minimum wage, fighting graft, providing digital currency handouts, and amending the constitution that was drafted by the junta to entrench its influence.

The coalition’s move came as Thaksin himself announced on Sunday that he would return to Thailand in October after 15 years abroad. He said that he had received a royal pardon from King Vajiralongkorn, who ascended to the throne in 2016 following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thaksin said that he hoped to contribute to the country’s development and reconciliation, and that he had no intention of returning to politics.

The coalition’s bid to form a government faces several challenges and uncertainties. It will need to secure support from some non-alliance members, especially from the 250-seat Senate that was appointed by the junta and is expected to back Prayuth. It will also need to overcome internal divisions and conflicts of interest among its diverse partners. Moreover, it will have to deal with the possibility of legal challenges and street protests from its opponents, who may not accept its legitimacy or agenda.

Thailand’s political crisis has been one of the longest-running and most turbulent in Southeast Asia, with implications for its economy, society, and regional role. The coalition’s attempt to form a government is seen as a critical test for its stability and democracy. Whether it can succeed or not remains to be seen.

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