March 29, 2019 / 10:12 AM / 25 days ago

Pro-army party prioritises Thai king's coronation over forming government

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Talks to form Thailand’s next government will have to wait until after the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in May, a party linked to the ruling military junta said, as the outcome of last Sunday’s election remained inconclusive.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Palang Pracharath Party attend their last party campaign rally outside a stadium in central Bangkok, Thailand, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

The chaotic count and charges of vote-buying have marred Thailand’s first election since a military coup five years ago.

Amid mounting confusion, both the pro-army Palang Prachart and an opposition alliance have claimed to have come out on top.

Official results from Sunday’s vote won’t be released until May 9, just a few days after King Vajiralongkorn is scheduled to be crowned.

The elaborate ceremonies will take place between May-6, following a long period of mourning for the new king’s revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

With the unofficial results showing no clear winner, the pro-military Palang Pracharat party said it would not seek to negotiate with other parties to forge a coalition government because it wants to focus on the coronation.

“We’re waiting. Forming a government this time is entirely different from in the past,” said Sonthirat Sontijirawong, the party’s secretary-general, said on Friday.

“This time, we have a time frame: the coronation ceremony, the most important ceremony for all Thais ... We’re prioritising that first,” he said.

Thai culture is deeply linked to reverence for the constitutional monarch, and King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation will be a first for most Thais after his father’s 70-year reign.

Public preparations for the coronation, a mix of Buddhist religious ceremonies and Hindu Brahmin rituals, are due to begin on April 6 with monks gathering holy waters for the king to bathe in.

Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who led the coup and became prime minister of the military-led government, issued a message on Friday in which he said post-election coalition-building should involve “banding together to do good for the country and the people, and removing bad people or those who damage the country.”

Unofficial election results announced on Thursday showed Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat winning the popular vote.

A seven-party “democratic front” let by a party linked to ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has estimated its alliance won 255 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives and says it has the right to try to form a coalition government.

The Election Commission has so far only announced results for 350 directly elected seats in the 500-member House of Representatives.

It has said it will not announce the remaining 150 “party seats”, which are allocated according to a complex formula involving parties’ share of the popular vote, until the May 9 official results.

(The story corrects lead paragraph to remove erroneous reference to ballot count.)

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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