Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the elaborate opening ceremony in Bangkok in the late afternoon, allowing the 500-seat lower house to convene for business on Tuesday.
“It is your direct responsibility as MPs to lead the country within the democratic system, for the benefit of the country and people,” the prince told lawmakers during a short inauguration speech.
Within days, MPs are expected to vote in the country’s first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai Party, which on July 3 won a crushing electoral victory to take power from the pro-establishment Democrats.
Ms Yingluck will take the helm almost five years after her brother, the deeply-divisive Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as premier in a military coup. He now lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption.
Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun said 44-year-old Ms Yingluck, who is widely-seen as a proxy for her brother, had shown surprising charisma since her electoral success and could become “a very capable prime minister”.
But he said the challenges facing the premier-in-waiting, a political novice, are formidable.
“I think the honeymoon period of Yingluck will be very short. She has so many obstacles in front of her,” said Mr Pavin, of Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Thailand’s political landscape became increasingly polarised following the 2006 coup, with other Thaksin allies removed from power by the courts and paralysing rallies by both pro- and anti-Thaksin camps.
They culminated in mass demonstrations by his “Red Shirt” followers in Bangkok last April and May, which ended with a military assault and more than 90 people dead. Thaksin is wanted on terrorism charges linked to the unrest.
Ms Yingluck is expected to face pressure from the Red Shirts, many of whom support Mr Thaksin for his populist policies during his 2001-2006 rule. They are likely to demand justice over last year’s violence and push for their leaders to be given key positions.
The new government will also need to appease those among the Bangkok-based elite who backed Thaksin’s ouster and believe his style of leadership was authoritarian and corrupt.
Economic concerns have meanwhile been raised over the potential impact of Ms Yingluck’s vote-grabbing promises, such as a minimum wage hike and higher rice prices for farmers, which the Bank of Thailand has warned could stoke inflation.
The Commerce Ministry said Monday that inflation edged up marginally in July, but permanent secretary Yanyong Phuangrach warned against panic-buying out of concern over new policies, as “that will cause a surge in prices”.
Last week, the Election Commission endorsed dozens of winning candidates from the national polls, bringing the total approved to 496 – passing the 95 per cent threshold needed by law for Parliament to convene. – AFP