Thai PM Frontrunner Faces Uncertain Path as Parliament Meeting Looms

Thai PM Frontrunner Faces Uncertain Path as Parliament Meeting Looms

BANGKOK, LELEMUKU.COM - Thailand’s Parliament will convene on Monday with top prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat facing an uncertain path to power because of opposition in the upper house to his plan to amend the nation’s royal defamation law.

Pita’s Move Forward Party won a surprise election victory in May on the back of its reform agenda, trouncing parties in the pro-royalist government that have ruled the country in some form or another since a military coup nine years ago.

The party’s liberal campaign promises, which include plans to rewrite the constitution, end business monopolies and modernize the justice system and security forces, have antagonized the country’s traditional ruling elite.

Move Forward’s ambition to amend the Lèse-Majesté law, which it says has been abused by the current government to silence criticism, is shaping up as its biggest hurdle to forming a government.

Pita’s eight-party alliance, including the populist Pheu Thai Party, has only 313 seats in the 750-seat bicameral legislature – short of the combined number of 376 required to govern.

Rules enshrined in a military-drafted constitution mean the alliance has to overcome 250 votes held by the junta-appointed upper house, which is stacked with conservative-leaning senators.

Pita’s “very high” popularity means the alliance will push his bid for prime minister as far as possible, said Nuttakorn Vititanon, a professor in the faculty of political science and public administration at Chiang Mai University.

“But what complications may arise after this are uncertain in the long run,” he added.

According to Nuttakorn, if Pita fails to win enough support in the Senate, a new coalition led by Pheu Thai, including parties in the current government such as Palang Pracharath, could be formed farther down the line.

House speaker squabbles

In the past week, jockeying for cabinet seats and key parliamentary positions, including for speaker and deputy roles, has revealed tensions within the alliance.

Pheu Thai, the populist vehicle for the Shinawatra dynasty, is at loggerheads with Move Forward over who will take the post of speaker in the coalition.

Move Forward won 151 parliamentary seats in the election, while the more favored Pheu Thai came second with 141.

Pheu Thai has proposed that the two parties be allocated 14 cabinet seats each, with it taking the House speaker role and Move Forward entitled to the prime minister’s position.

But Move Forward has nominated MP and deputy leader Padipat Santipada, a 42-year-old veterinarian, as the new house speaker, saying it is their right as the party with the highest number of seats.

Attempts to find a compromise on the issue have failed so far. This week, a meeting between the two parties was postponed largely because of disagreement over the nomination.

All eight parties in the alliance are scheduled to meet on Sunday, with Parliament set to select a speaker on July 4.

Nuttakorn said the position of house speaker was important for two main reasons: the ability to push through laws and control the vote for prime minister.

“Remember that the constitution allows the senators a term of five years,” he said.

“So, these senators can vote for the PM for another year. And if the senators do not vote for Pita, the house speaker can continually propose Pita’s name for prime minister until the senators’ term ends.

“This is in conflict with Pheu Thai’s stance that the second largest party should be given a chance [to form government].”

While the spat has dominated domestic headlines in recent days, party leaders insist the alliance is still united.

“We have the right to exit the deal but it’s not legitimate,” Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew told reporters on Thursday at Pheu Thai’s headquarters in Bangkok.

“Twenty-five million people bundled us with the Move Forward. They are like our parents. We entered an arranged marriage.”

Election complaint

Winning over at least 63 votes in an unelected Senate is not the only hurdle Pita faces in his bid to form a government.

The 42-year-old, a Harvard-educated former executive at Southeast Asian superapp Grab, is also facing potential disqualification as an MP over an electoral complaint.

The Election Commission has launched an investigation – which could take up to a year – into whether he knowingly applied to be an MP candidate while holding shares in a media company, which is prohibited under electoral laws.

“Pita’s investigation will not delay voting for the prime minister,” said Don Hormmanee, an independent political analyst and former researcher at Chiang Mai University. “He can be disqualified by the Election Commission should he be found guilty, though.”

Pita has denied any wrongdoing and said he was confident in beating the complaint against him.

A similar complaint following the 2019 general election resulted in Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward being taken to court, with leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit losing his seat in parliament over his ownership of shares in the V-Luck Media Co. Ltd.

The court later disbanded Future Forward over a loan Thanathorn made to the party, leading Pita and other members to establish Move Forward ahead of this year’s election. (Benar News)

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