Thailand's opposition parties meet for coalition talks

Thailand general election

BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand's opposition parties, which defeated their military-allied rivals in this week's election, met for coalition talks on Wednesday as the liberal Move Forward Party, which won the most votes, looked to form a government.

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat was seen greeting senior officials from five other parties at a Bangkok restaurant before ushering them upstairs for closed-door talks.

Sunday's vote saw Move Forward come in first ahead of another opposition party, the political heavyweight Pheu Thai, in a major blow to the establishment's pro-military parties led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Pita earlier this week said that together with five other opposition parties, his coalition will be able control about 310 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives.

The parties Pita has approached are Pheu Thai, Thai Sang Thai, Prachachart, Seri Ruam Thai and Fair parties.

Pheu Thai, which won the last five general elections but got pushed out of power each time, secured 141 seats, according to the latest projections, only 10 fewer than Move Forward.

However, a military-drafted constitution requires more than half of votes in a joint sitting of a bicameral legislature for him to become prime minister. He would need votes either from government parties or an unelected 250-member Senate who have a record of supporting Prayuth and conservative forces.

Analysts expect weeks to months of talks and deal-making as parties jostle to form a government.

On Wednesday, some Thais questioned the senate's role in electing a prime minister, asking 'why do we need a senate' on social media like Twitter.

Senior officials from Pheu Thai have urged other hold outs to support a Pita premiership.

But late on Wednesday, one key voting bloc - the third-place finisher in the election, Bhumjaithai Party with a projected 70 seats in the House - said it would not support any prime minister who supports amending or abolishing a law against insulting Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

That effectively rules out Bhumjaithai, led by current health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, from joining any Move Forward-led coalition because the first-place party campaigned on amending - though not abolishing - the law to prevent it from being misused for political purposes.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Christina Fincher)