Thailand’s Move Forward Party in talks with 5 other parties in attempt to form coalition government

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party on Wednesday held its first face-to-face discussions with five other parties in an attempt to form a coalition government, three days after scoring a stunning national election victory.

A new government will be formed in July when the House of Representatives and the appointed Senate select a new prime minister. Because of the joint vote, Sunday’s election victor is not assured of taking power.

Representatives of the five parties, mostly members of the opposition to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's conservative government, met for several hours Wednesday. Afterward they emerged smiling and posed for photos with hands linked in a sign of unity.

Chief among the potential partners is the Pheu Thai party, currently the biggest opposition group in the House, which had been favored to top the polls but ended up running a close second.

“It went quite smoothly,” said Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated businessman. He said details of the meeting would be announced Thursday.

Sunday's victory by the two main opposition parties, which together captured a majority of the House seats, was a major blow to the conservative establishment that has been in power since the army staged a coup in 2014.

Questions remain, however, about whether the Move Forward Party, which pledged sweeping reforms, will be able to form a government. It will need support from at least some members of the Senate to achieve the necessary 376 votes for a majority in Parliament in July. But all of the senators were appointed by the junta which Prayuth led after staging the 2014 coup and share the military’s conservative royalist bent.

Many behind-the-scenes negotiations are likely to take place before Parliament meets.

After Move Forward's victory was confirmed, several senators said they would not vote for Pita as prime minister because they could not accept the party’s proposed amendment of the country's lese majeste law, which mandates prison terms of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of insulting the monarchy.

The monarchy is one of the pillars of Thai national identity and is considered sacrosanct by conservatives. Many younger Thais would like to see it liberalized as part of a range of democratic reforms.