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Thailand’s parliament votes in pro-army house speaker

BANGKOK — A military-aligned candidate won majority support to become Thailand’s house speaker on Saturday in the first working session of the country’s new House of Representatives, signalling further army dominance in the next government.

Former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, 80, was named speaker after the session voted 258-235 in favour of his nomination. Chuan came up against another candidate who was backed by more liberal parties.

Backroom politicking appeared to be behind a motion by the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party to postpone the vote to select a house speaker. The motion failed narrowly and the votes faced complications because the session was held in a temporary site without automated facilities.

The military-backed Palang Pracharath party is tipped to lead a government expected to be formed in the next few weeks and headed by the junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who staged a coup five years ago and has served as prime minister since then.

Chuan’s nomination as speaker came from a member of Palang Pracharath, and his successful appointment further cements Prayuth’s chances to again become prime minister.

The vote for prime minister is jointly taken by both the 500-member lower house, which is now led by Chuan, and Prayuth already has the solid support of the Senate, whose 250 members he helped appoint.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the anti-military Future Forward Party, was earlier ordered out of the Saturday session, in line with a court suspension for allegedly breaking election rules.

He spoke briefly to acknowledge his expulsion but his attempt to address the assembly drew loud and vehement protests from pro-military lawmakers.

Thanathorn pressed on before leaving to a sustained standing ovation from his party members. The applause continued, despite the acting speaker telling them to stop.

“Enough,” said acting house speaker Chai Chidchob, “this isn’t a theatre. Stop.”

The suspension of Thanathorn was widely seen as a further move to weaken anti-military opposition. The newly formed Future Forward party came from nowhere to become the third largest in the lower house. Its progressive agenda, which includes ending conscription and curbing the military’s role in politics, has rattled Thailand’s traditional ruling elite.

In the coming weeks, the country’s constitutional Court is expected to decide whether to turn Thanathorn’s suspension into a disqualification. The court, like the army, is widely seen as being close to the country’s conservative power brokers.

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