BANGKOK, THAILAND — Thailand’s parliament confirmed Friday it would vote again on a new prime minister next week after pro-royalist lawmakers foiled liberal frontrunner Pita Limjaroenrat’s bid for the top job.
Pita’s Move Forward Party (MFP) won the most seats in the May elections, buoyed by young Thais eager for progressive reforms after nine years of army-backed rule.
But the Harvard-educated millionaire’s campaign to lead the next government was knocked back Thursday by the legislature’s military-appointed senators, who consider his pledge to reform the kingdom’s strict royal defamation laws a red line.
And the vote came just a day after the kingdom’s top election body recommended the Constitutional Court suspend Pita as an MP — providing more fuel for senators already poised to vote against him.
Thailand’s parliament will hold its second ballot to elect a new prime minister on July 19, deputy house speaker Pichet Chuamuangphan told AFP on Friday.
“The schedule is the same,” Pichet said, confirming local media reports on when the vote would be held.
Pichet, also a lawmaker for the MFP’s coalition partner Pheu Thai, said it remained unclear whether Pita would be renominated or whether he would face any additional candidates in the next ballot.
“We still have to talk about it first,” he said. “For now, it’s gathering opinions and feedback from the people.”
Pita has insisted that he remains a candidate to lead the next government and was “not giving up” despite taking only 324 votes overall — well short of the 375 he needed.
Just 13 senators voted for the progressive candidate, with many voicing their opposition to MFP’s platform on reforming the country’s strict royal defamation laws.
‘Abuse of power’
Pita rode a wave of support that saw voters emphatically reject almost a decade of army-backed rule under Prayut Chan-o-cha, who took power in a 2014 coup.
But the outcome had become increasingly inevitable, with signs conservative MPs of the lower house and junta-appointed senators would not give him their support.
The MFP’s reformist agenda has drawn objections from conservatives and the country’s powerful establishment.
The party’s plans to shake up business monopolies are similarly unpopular with the old guard.
On Wednesday the EC recommended Pita’s suspension from parliament over allegations he broke campaign rules — a move the MFP branded as an “abuse of power”.
The recommendation followed a probe into Pita’s ownership of shares in a media company, prohibited under Thai law.
The station has not broadcast since 2007, and Pita has said the shares were inherited from his father.
Pita’s MFP was the only party that campaigned on tackling the thorny issue of the royal defamation laws, but that too landed it in trouble.
The Constitutional Court accepted a case alleging that the promise amounts to attempting to “overthrow” the constitutional monarchy. The party has two weeks to present their defence.