11 small Thai parties support army-backed candidate for PM

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BANGKOK (AP) — Eleven small political parties in Thailand announced Monday they will support the military-backed candidate to form the next government, seven weeks after the country's first general election in five years of army rule.

Their announcement came after no single party won an absolute majority in the March 24 polls. The military-backed Palang Pracharath party won 115 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, while its rival, the Pheu Thai party associated with self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won 136.

Palang Pracharath is seen as a proxy for the military, which seized power in a 2014 coup. Coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has been prime minister in the military government, and is Palang Pracharath's candidate to remain in office as head of an elected government.

The 11 small parties hold one seat apiece under a controversial "party list" formula applied by the state Election Commission, whose critics accuse it of favoring the military's side. The third-place Future Forward party with 80 seats supports Pheu Thai. Neither the Democrat nor the Bhumjaithai party, with 52 and 51 seats respectively, has declared whom they will support, but are widely seen as holding the balance of power.

Prayuth should easily be able to return to office regardless of the vote in the lower house, because the prime minister will be selected by a joint vote with the appointed Senate, which represents conservative interests and essentially will be chosen by the junta. However, if his rivals control the lower house, Prayuth will have a hard time passing laws and getting a budget approved.

The explanation of the party list formula released by the Election Commission before the election, as generally understood, would have denied seats to many of the smaller parties awarded them last Wednesday. The formula that was actually applied benefited them, at the apparent expense of parties allied with Pheu Thai.

The election was already controversial before it was held because the military junta had changed the constitution and other laws to create an electoral system that disadvantaged Pheu Thai, which won the last free election in 2011.

The elected candidates officially registered Monday as members of Parliament. However, the Election Commission has repeatedly warned that the seat allocations may change anytime in the year after the vote, if winners or their parties are disqualified and new polls must be held.

The Future Forward party is seen as being particularly at risk because of its anti-military orientation. The party and its leaders already face several criminal complaints and protests to election authorities that could lead to disqualification.

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