Thailand’s Conservatives Strike Down Election Winner’s Leadership Bid

On Wednesday, Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), was suspended from parliament and blocked from becoming the country’s next leader. The MFP won more seats than any other party in the May 14 general election, but Pita fell 51 votes short of the 375 needed when the parliament met on July 13 to choose a prime minister. Most of Thailand’s 249 military-appointed senators voted against him.

When the parliament reconvened on July 18, it ruled that Pita could not make another bid for prime minister. Simultaneously, the constitutional court suspended Pita from parliament over allegations that he was ineligible to run for office because he owned shares in a (now defunct) media company. Pita denies any wrongdoing, and many of his supporters suspect the allegations are politically motivated.  

On edge and in wait-and-see mode

Wednesday’s decision throws fresh uncertainty into Thai politics. The MFP’s coalition partner, the Pheu Thai Party, is assembling a new coalition and will put forward a candidate for prime minister when the parliament meets on July 27.

The likely candidate is former real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin. Srettha clarified that a Pheu Thai-led coalition will not push to amend Article 112, the law that criminalizes — sometimes with lengthy prison sentences — any speech or action deemed insulting to the Thai royal family. Amending Article 112 was a core — and popular — MFP campaign pledge. But many senators say they will not support a coalition that includes MFP so long as MFP insists on challenging Article 112.

The kids are not okay

Another uncertainty is how Pita’s supporters will react to what many see as the conservative establishment using a familiar playbook to quash political reform. For example, the constitutional court that suspended Pita’s House seat is nominally independent but is known to be under the influence of the country’s powerful military.

After news of Pita’s disqualification broke, about a thousand protesters gathered outside the parliament building. One human rights researcher warnedthe recent developments could “trigger reactions in the form of street protests and new political upheavals.”