Sunday, 24 September 2023

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Thai House picks compromise speaker as progressives seek to form govt

BANGKOK, THAILAND — The Thai parliament appointed a compromise candidate to the powerful role of House speaker on Tuesday, potentially complicating progressive party leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s efforts to form a government.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn officially opened the Thai parliament on Monday, more than a month after Pita’s pro-democracy Move Forward Party (MFP) unexpectedly won the most seats at the May 14 election.

MFP has cobbled together an eight-party coalition that also includes election runners-up Pheu Thai, but it still remains well short of the 376 seats needed across both houses of parliament for Pita to be appointed prime minister in a vote due in mid-July.

MFP and Pheu Thai had been at loggerheads for weeks over which party would hold the speakership, ultimately settling on compromise candidate Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, head of the smaller Prachachat Party, on Monday night.

Lawmakers on Tuesday elected the 79-year-old veteran unopposed as speaker of the lower house.

“I will work neutrally,” Wan Noor told the parliament.

One of his first jobs will be deciding the timing of the vote for prime minister. The powerful speaker role also sets the parliamentary agenda.

Analysts say the fact that MFP was unable to get the coalition to back its own speaker candidate was not ideal for Pita’s prospects of taking the top job.

“It doesn’t really guarantee that Move Forward Party’s (leader) will get to be prime minister, it just stops the conflict at this time,” Mahidol University political analyst Punchada Sirivunnabood told AFP.

Ubon Ratchathani political scientist Titipol Phakdeewanich noted that the vote for prime minister could go through multiple rounds, and the speaker had an important role in putting names forward.

“This is why they (MFP) really wanted the position of the house speaker, to ensure (Pita’s) name will keep being nominated,” Titipol said.

Since winning the May election, MFP has faced resistance from within the junta-appointed Senate, partly because of the party’s controversial push to reform Thailand’s royal defamation laws, which carry a jail term of up to 15 years.

Last month, the election commission also set up an investigation to look at whether Pita was eligible to run for office because of his alleged ownership of shares in a now-defunct media company.

Legislators are not allowed to own media shares.


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