Thursday, 21 September 2023

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Thwarted Thai PM candidate chases support for next vote

BANGKOK, THAILAND — The liberal reformist seeking to become Thailand’s prime minister said Monday he was marshalling support for his next tilt at the job after military-appointed senators foiled his first attempt.

Efforts to elect a government have deadlocked on parliament’s refusal to endorse the candidacy of Pita Limjaroenrat, whose Move Forward Party (MFP) won the most seats in the May elections.

Establishment lawmakers consider his party’s pledge to reform the kingdom’s strict royal defamation laws a red line and the Harvard-educated politician’s nomination fell 51 votes short last week.

Pita said the eight-party coalition supporting him had agreed to renominate him for a second vote Wednesday, adding he was canvassing senators who did not support him in the first round.

“We still are talking to find more support,” he told reporters.

“There are several who missed the vote because of other duties,” he said. “It is still possible they might vote.”

MFP won nearly 40 per cent of the vote in May’s poll but Pita’s attempt at forming a government was blocked by supporters of the Thai establishment.

Junta-appointed senators oppose MFP’s proposal to soften the kingdom’s royal defamation law, under which offenders can be jailed for up to 15 years.

Just 13 members of the 250-strong upper chamber voted for him last week.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court could also take up a case Wednesday on whether Pita, 42, should be disqualified from parliament entirely for owning shares in a media company, prohibited for MPs under the Thai constitution.

Pita, who made his fortune in a family-run agrifood business, has said the shares were inherited from his father. The station has not broadcast since 2007.

He said Monday he was unfazed by the Constitutional Court case against him the same day as he submits himself to another parliamentary vote.

“It does not affect my candidacy for prime minister,” he said.

The court has also agreed to hear a case alleging that the MFP’s campaign promises to amend the royal defamation laws are tantamount to a plan to “overthrow” the constitutional monarchy.

The roadblocks thrown in front of Pita’s candidacy have dismayed supporters eager for progressive reforms after nine years of army-backed rule that followed a 2014 coup.

“What I would like to see is for the senators to respect our votes,” retail worker Preaw Roengsart, 28, told AFP Sunday at a small Bangkok rally for the party.

“I feel like this is it for us. If we don’t come out and speak now our voice will forever be silenced.”

The case has drawn international attention, including from Washington.

“We are very closely watching the post-election developments. That includes the recent developments in the legal system, which are of concern,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, making clear the United States has no preferred outcome in the Thai election.

“We believe this moment is an opportunity for Thailand to demonstrate its commitment to democracy,” he added.


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