Property tycoon Srettha Thavisin will be Thailand’s next prime minister after winning a parliamentary vote on Tuesday due to an alliance between Pheu Thai, the party that he will lead, and parties linked to the former junta.
Srettha’s win means Thailand will finally have a new government, more than three months after elections. But it has sparked accusations that Pheu Thai is seeking power at any cost by now being in a coalition with former governing parties linked to the military.
Srettha will be formally appointed premier after an expected royal endorsement.
The vote, which saw him exceed the simple majority of 374, came the same day his Pheu Thai party patron Thaksin Shinawatra returned to the kingdom after 15 years in self-imposed exile.
Experts say the political developments bear all the hallmarks of a backroom deal between the conservative Thai establishment and its one-time arch enemy Pheu Thai, the party of the powerful Shinawatra political dynasty whose figurehead is Thaksin.
Thaksin, a former prime minister deposed in a 2006 coup, arrived in Thailand earlier on Tuesday and was taken to Bangkok Remand Prison on an eight-year sentence for abuse of power convictions while he lived overseas. He is expected to seek a royal pardon.
Srettha founded the Sansiri real estate empire — one of Thailand’s biggest. The 61-year-old is a renowned soccer fan and well known in Thai business circles, although he is entering politics for the first time as leader of the country.
Srettha’s run for office has come at a cost: Pheu Thai broke away from its initial coalition partner, the Move Forward Party, or MFP, and allied itself with conservative parties linked to the former junta, which seized power in 2014 under army Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Chaitawat Tulathon, the MFP secretary, decried the state of Thai democracy.
“You give people an election no more than a symbolic gesture, but you will never give the power to the people,” he said. “Now we’re living in a country where democracy means that people are nothing but a decorative house plant as opposed to those who should have the most power.”
The progressive MFP, which won the most seats in a May election and the most votes, has been frozen out of government, meaning it will carry Thailand’s pro-democracy cause into the opposition.
As soon as Srettha’s victory was assured, anger spread across social media with the hashtag NotMyPM trending.
Pita Limjaroenrat, the MFP’s star politician, was blocked by the Senate from becoming prime minister in July.
Pheu Thai, the vehicle of the Shinawatra family, will be the largest party in government.
Pheu Thai, however, will need to find Cabinet posts for members from Bhumjaithai and Phalang Pracharath, conservative parties in the last unpopular government, as well as space for members of United Thai Nation, the party of outgoing premier Prayut — although the ex-general himself says he is leaving politics.
Prayut carried out the 2014 coup and then rebranded himself as a civilian leader, albeit under a constitution written specifically to favor military parties.