Thailand's oldest party will join coup leader's coalition

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BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's prime minister, who took power in a military coup five years ago, appears set to win a parliamentary vote scheduled for Wednesday that would give him a second term in office.

The Democrat Party, the country's oldest, announced Tuesday that it will vote to join a coalition government led by Prayuth Chan-ocha, candidate of the military-backed Palang Pracharath party.

Prayuth's election as prime minister was virtually assured even before the Democrats' decision, because the position requires a simple majority of a joint vote by the 500-seat House of Representatives and the 250-seat Senate, whose members were appointed by the junta headed by Prayuth.

Palang Pracharath has enough allies to make Prayuth the prime minister. The Democrats' support makes it likely they will also have a majority in the lower house, which is necessary to pass legislation and approve budgets.

There has been some uncertainty over who might control the lower house because of the previous lack of a public commitment on the part of the Democrats and the Bhumjai Thai party, the election's fourth- and fifth-place finishers who together hold just over 100 house seats. Both parties had been reported to be bargaining with Palang Pracharath over what Cabinet positions they would occupy.

The pro-military coalition is opposed by the self-named "Democratic Front," which comprises anti-military parties led by the Pheu Thai Party, which won the most lower house seats in the March general election. The election was run according to laws passed under Prayuth's government that were intended to handicap Pheu Thai, which headed the government ousted by the 2014 coup.

Pheu Thai is associated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 coup and lives in exile to avoid serving a prison term on a conflict of interest conviction he decries as politically motivated.

The alliance of seven anti-military parties announced Tuesday that it would nominate the firebrand leader of the Future Forward Party as its candidate for prime minister.

"All seven parties have decided to nominate Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to become the prime ministerial candidate to oppose the inheritance of power by the junta," Future Forward party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich told reporters.

The newly established party, whose platform included strong opposition to military interference in politics, finished a strong third in the March election.

Its unexpected performance has drawn it a raft of legal challenges from the military's supporters, and Thanathorn himself has been suspended from parliament until the Constitutional Court decides whether be violated election law by allegedly holding shares in a media company.

"The system of coups would be impossible if politicians and every member of the House of Representatives worked together and firmly stood by each other's side," Thanathorn said at a Tuesday news conference.

He alleged the military was able to cling to power "because there are politicians, there are political parties, there are members of the House of Representatives, who submit to the junta's inheritance of power. They allow themselves to become tools for the junta and disregard what's good for the country. They look to their own benefits and the benefits of their party first and foremost."

Thanathorn's supporters say the various legal challenges against him are politically motivated. The Election Commission was appointed by the ruling junta's allies, while the Constitutional Court has a long history of ruling in favor of the conservative establishment, which despises Thaksin, a billionaire populist politician.

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