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Thailand's pro-army party seeks allies to cement power

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Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul (C) leads his fellows to attend the opening ceremony ahead of the first assembly of Parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, 24 May 2019. "It's time we go to work for the country," party leader Charnvirakul told reporters on Monday.

[BANGKOK] Two Thai political parties have been invited to join a new government led by military junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister, a pro-army party said on Monday, more than two months after a disputed election.

A deal with the unaligned Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties would likely sink the opposition Democratic Front coalition's bid to keep junta members from retaining dominance over the government five years after the army seized power in a coup.

"We invited two parties, but did not expect a conclusion today," Uttama Savanayana, leader of Palang Pracharat, the pro-military party formed last year by members of the junta's Cabinet, said after Monday's meeting.

"We understand there are internal processes, but it was a very good starting point," he told reporters.

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The two parties would give the pro-army coalition a slim majority in the House of Representatives.

Bhumjaithai said it accepted the invitation and its executive committee would deliberate on policies with a view to forming a government soon.

"Leaders will connect and quickly resolve any issues...so Palang Pracharat will not have any headaches. It's time we go to work for the country," party leader Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters.

Democrat Party secretary-general Chalermchai Sri-on said the party would announce its decision soon. Party leaders were meeting on Monday evening.

Puttipong Punnakanta, a Palang Pracharat board member and a member of parliament, told Reuters on Sunday the party - which gained the second-largest number of seats in the March 24 election - said he was confident of making a deal.

"It's certain that we will be forming a coalition government, with at least 251 seats and more," he said.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party, which was ousted in 2014, won the most seats in the 500-member House of Representatives but its Democratic Front coalition did not gain a majority when final results were announced.

The seven-party Democratic Front has complained that the Election Commission changed a complex formula of seat allocation after the vote, giving seats to 11 small parties at the expense of a projected opposition majority under the old formula.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the anti-junta Future Forward Party, urged the Democrats not to form a government with Palang Pracharat, saying it was the equivalent of supporting the 2014 coup.

"The doors have not closed for the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties to come back," he told reporters.

REUTERS