BANGKOK: The pro-military Palang Pracharat party has claimed the right to form the next Thai government, based on its early lead in the popular vote.
Its leader, Uttama Savanayana, said Palang Pracharat was taking its time to form a coalition as there are six weeks until official results are published on May 9.
"We've started talking to other parties, but there's still time yet," Uttama told reporters on Wednesday (Mar 27). "We'll try to get as many seats as possible. We're confident we can form a government."
Earlier, Thailand's opposition "democratic front" of seven parties said it had won a majority in the lower house of parliament after Sunday's election, and had the right to try to form a government after five years of military rule.
Sudarat Keyuraphan, the main prime ministerial candidate of the Pheu Thai party ousted in the 2014 army coup, said the seven parties in the opposition alliance would take at least 255 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives.
"We declare that the democratic front which opposes military rule commands the majority in the House," Sudarat told reporters.
The largest alliance in the lower house should be given the right to try to form a government, she added.
"Parties in the democratic front gained the most trust from the people," Sudarat said, adding that the alliance would start courting more parties on Wednesday.
The democratic front now includes the Future Forward, Pheu Chart, Prachachart, Seri Ruam Thai, Thai People Power and New Economy parties.
Palang Pracharat secretary-general Sontirat Sontijirawong dismissed the claim by the democratic front.
"Stop claiming to be on the side of democracy," Sontirat said. "This election was democratic. Are the 7.9 million who voted for Palang Pracharat not democratic?"
With 255 seats, the opposition alliance would still be unable to elect a prime minister, as parliamentary rules, written by the ruling military government, require backing from a majority of upper and lower houses combined.
Parliament's upper house, entirely appointed by the government, is expected to endorse the pro-military party.
A fuller picture of the lower house make-up could emerge on Friday, when the election commission releases vote tallies for each constituency, used to determine the allocation of the other 150 party seats under a complex formula.
The partial count suggests Palang Pracharat could win enough elected lower house seats, combined with votes from the government-appointed Senate, for Prayut to stay on as prime minister.
However, Prayut could face parliamentary deadlock if the opposition controls the lower house, and would be vulnerable to a confidence vote.
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The post-election standoff could raise tension just as the Southeast Asian country prepares for the elaborate coronation of its new king in May.
Missing was the Bhumjaithai Party, another key vote getter that has not yet aligned with either side.
Responding to speculation that Pheu Thai would offer the top post to Bhumjaithai's leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, to win him over, Phumtham said: "We haven't made him that offer."
He added: "Premiership is something we will discuss later ... It's not a pre-condition for us."