BANGKOK, THAILAND — The head of Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party said Thursday he was confident of becoming prime minister despite junta-appointed senators saying they will block his appointment.
MFP stunned observers by emerging as the largest party at Sunday’s election, which saw a record turnout deliver a thumping defeat for army-linked parties who had run the kingdom for nearly a decade.
Two more small parties joined the new coalition formed by MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat, giving it 313 out of 500 seats in the lower house.
“We have a lot of momentum, my coalition is taking shape,” the Harvard-educated, 42-year-old Pita told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday.
“All parties support me, as the Move Forward Party leader, to become the 30th prime minister of Thailand,” he said.
While the coalition has a large enough majority to govern, to secure the PM’s job it has to muster a majority across both houses — including the Senate, whose 250 members were handpicked by the last junta.
MFP’s determination to amend Thailand’s tough laws against insulting King Maha Vajiralongkorn has spooked the royalist-military conservative establishment.
A number of senators have already said they will vote against Pita and on Wednesday a potential route around their opposition closed as the Bhumjaithai party said it would not support him.
The coalition pact is 63 seats shy of the 376 votes it needs for a majority across both houses.
But Pita played down the challenges.
“I’m not worried about setting up the government. I’m confident it will happen. I have a clear road map and objectives,” he said.
Pita said the eight coalition parties had committed to finding a middle ground on the issue of lese-majese reform — a significant development in itself, given that for many years even discussing the topic was off-limits.
Royal defamation convictions carry a jail term of up to 15 years. MFP says it wants to reduce this maximum and to restrict who can bring allegations — currently anyone can file a complaint to the police.
Sunday’s election was the first since mass youth-led pro-democracy protests in Bangkok broke a long-held taboo by demanding curbs on the king’s power and spending.