(Bloomberg) -- The ouster of an influential Thai lawmaker and his supporters from the main party in the ruling coalition may trigger an early election and hamper Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s ability to pass key legislation, including the budget for next year.   

The Palang Pracharath Party expelled its secretary-general Thammanat Prompao and 20 other lawmakers on Wednesday, accusing them of “serious unethical behavior.” Thammanat’s rebellion is the biggest political challenge faced by Prayuth’s nearly three-year-old government amid simmering public discontent about rising food prices and its handling of the pandemic.

Prayuth on Thursday said that the expulsions were the decision of the party executives and he wasn’t involved with the process. He said he has “not given any thoughts to a cabinet shuffle or parliament dissolution.”

With talks of an early election swirling for some time, influential Thai politicians are busy forming new parties and stitching new alliances even though Prayuth has repeatedly pledged to complete his full term that ends in March next year.

While the expulsions didn’t immediately threaten the government, Prayuth may struggle to survive a no-confidence motion likely to be called later this year, according to to Punchada Sirivunnabood, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.  

“The party may think that by expelling the group of lawmakers and getting rid of conflict, it could make Prayuth’s position stronger,” Punchada said. “But in the long term, this could hurt them, and Prayuth will likely be the one hurting the most.”  

Prayuth sacked Thammanat from his cabinet last year after a no-confidence vote in which he received fewer votes than some of his ministers, which local media said was the result of infighting within the ruling party. The main opposition party this week said it will bring a censure motion against the prime minister for his failure to tackle the pandemic, high inflation and other economic issues.

The bickering in the coalition “will speed up the moves toward parliament dissolution and toward a new election,” said Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University’s Center of Asean Community Studies in northern Thailand. “The election will probably happen this year. Politicians are already preparing for it. We see Thammanat making moves and his enemies making moves.” 

Palang Pracharath’s deputy leader Paiboon Nititawan said on Thursday that the party needed to oust the lawmakers to avoid “creating problems and conflicts” and insisted that the move wouldn’t affect the stability of Prayuth’s government.

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