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Thai junta-backed party is just 11 votes shy of a majority after election count

Bangkok

THAILAND'S army-backed party needs only a small number of allies to get enough votes to allow coup leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha to cling to power, according to final election results released late Wednesday that were immediately challenged by anti-junta rivals.

The junta-linked Palang Pracharat party now has 115 seats in the lower house, only 11 votes shy of a majority in the combined Parliament, thanks to 250 military-appointed senators. The results were announced more than a month after the March 24 vote, the first election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup.

It was held under new rules crafted by the generals, including the creation of appointed senators who can vote for the prime minister. Despite the booked-in advantage, the lower house results leave Palang Pracharat needing a little help from coalition partners.

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The most obvious candidates are Bhumjaitai and the Democrat Party, which both have more than 50 lower house seats. Officials from both parties said on Wednesday they have yet to reach a decision. "The party is split," long-time Democrat official Sirichok Sopha told AFP. A number of smaller parties are also up for grabs.

Palang Pracharat could not immediately be reached for comment. The election was widely seen as a choice between junta-backed rule and those aligned with billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra. A whopping 27 parties will have seats when Parliament convenes within 15 days.

Wednesday's results are likely to set off horsetrading, negotiations and challenges. The Shinawatra-linked Pheu Thai party won the most lower house seats with 136 - posing a legitimacy crisis for the gruff junta leader Mr Prayut should he become prime minister.

Pheu Thai threatened to take legal action over the formula used to calculate seats, calling the Election Commission's action "an intentional abuse of the law and against the constitution".

The party is also part of a lower house coalition with six parties, including upstart newcomer Future Forward headed by telegenic billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, whose party surged to third place in the popular vote and now has 80 seats. But Mr Thanathorn has been hounded by legal complaints that the rising star has blasted as "political sabotage".

He said on Wednesday in a press conference that Future Forward was ready to talk to any party "that does not support Prayut as a prime minister in order for our democracy to move forward".

The Election Commission has come under fire for wildly inaccurate initial counts, 2.1 million invalidated ballots, and the staggered released of full results. It has been flooded with complaints since the election, and recounts and new voting sessions were held in a handful of polling stations.

Even if Prayut clinches the prime minister's post, Palang Pracharat may not cobble together enough lower house seats to ram through legislation. AFP