BANGKOK, THAILAND — The reformist party that won Thailand’s recent election said Friday it would back a rival candidate to become prime minister after its own leader was blocked by the military and pro-royalist establishment.
The Move Forward Party (MFP) said it would put its support behind the nominee of Pheu Thai after its own leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, was knocked back in a leadership vote last week by military-appointed senators.
MFP, which rode to victory in May’s election on a wave of support from young and urban voters frustrated by a decade of army-backed rule, said its priority was not to take the PM job but to restore the civilian government.
“The most important thing is not that Pita will become PM, but the fact that Thailand would be able to become a democratic country,” MFP secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon said.
Pheu Thai — seen as a vehicle for the Shinawatra political clan, whose members include two former prime ministers ousted by military coups in 2006 and 2014 — came second in the election and joined MFP’s eight-party coalition.
“MFP will allow the second party, Pheu Thai, to become the main party of the eight coalition parties,” Chaitawat said.
“In the next parliamentary meeting, MFP will vote for PT’s PM candidate, just like PT voted for MFP’s PM candidate.”
The kingdom’s establishment strongly opposes MFP’s reformist agenda, and on Wednesday Pita was suspended from parliament by the Constitutional Court.
The court decided to proceed with a case that could see him disqualified as an MP altogether for owning shares in a media company.
Lawmakers are forbidden from doing so under Thailand’s charter, though the television station in question has not broadcast since 2007.
Caretaker Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who came to power in the 2014 coup, called for calm on Thursday as simmering anger over the thwarting of Pita’s PM bid began to give way to street protests.
Property tycoon Srettha Thavisin, one of Pheu Thai’s three PM candidates, now looks to be in a strong position to take the job in the next vote, expected on Thursday.
A successful entrepreneur liked by business leaders among the Thai elite, Srettha is seen as more palatable to the establishment than Pita.