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Thai king opens 1st session of elected assembly since coup

In this photo released by Thailand's Parliament, Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn addresses to open parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 24, 2019. (Thailand's Parliament via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Thailand's king on Friday addressed the first session of an elected parliament since the military staged a coup in 2014, advising lawmakers to take their responsibilities seriously because their actions will affect national security and the people's well-being.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn wished the ceremonial joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate success as he declared the parliamentary session officially open after a general election in March. Its first major business will be to select the body's speakers and then a prime minister to lead a new government.

The government's formation has been complicated by the failure of any single party to win an absolute majority in the 500-seat House of Representatives. The military-backed candidate, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is virtually certain to become prime minister because the vote is jointly taken by both chambers and he has the solid support of the Senate, whose 250 members he helped appoint. He staged the coup and has been prime minister and junta chief since then.

The king in his brief remarks said it is necessary for everyone to work together "in accordance with principles of law and righteousness."

Vajiralongkorn was officially crowned king in an elaborate coronation ceremony earlier this month. He was accompanied on Friday by his wife Queen Suthida, who received her royal title just prior to the coronation.

The show of unity before the king belies the fact that the election has failed to bring the country together. The polls were touted as restoring democracy, but appear likely to ensure the military's grip on power behind a facade of civilian rule.

Critics say such an outcome was dictated by a military-authored constitution and a blatantly manipulated electoral system.

On Thursday, a court suspended a charismatic progressive politician from parliament in a move widely seen as a further attempt to weaken anti-military parties. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit's new Future Forward Party became the third biggest with 80 seats. He is accused of breaking election rules on shareholdings in media enterprises, which he denies.

Despite the suspension he attended Friday's opening, and he and his party colleagues in official white uniforms appeared happy and relaxed. He will not be allowed, however, to take part in normal parliamentary activities unless a court finds him innocent of the charge against him. Several other legal cases, which supporters charge are politically motivated, could also disqualify him.

Selection of speakers for both the upper and lower houses will commence on Saturday, and a prime minister is expected to be elected by the end of the month.

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