Thailand: Pita’s party will support another party’s candidate for prime minister

Thailand’s Reform Party, which won the last election, announced on Friday its intention to support a rival party’s candidate for prime minister after parliament automatically rejected it.

Appointed by the military, the senators twice rejected the candidacy of Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward (MFP), which has the largest number of delegates but whose program was deemed too radical and hostile to the all-powerful monarchy.

The MFP came out on top in the May 14 election, thanks to overwhelming support from youth eager for sweeping changes in the state, which has been ruled by the military for nearly a decade.

Now, “the most important thing is not that Pita becomes prime minister, but that Thailand can become a democratic country,” MFP secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon told reporters on Friday.

The party will therefore support the Phu Thai (PT) candidate, who finished second and is already associated with Move Forward within the 8-party coalition.

Move Forward leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat (C, G) and Phu Thai leader Cholanan Srikaew (C, D) during the signing of a memorandum of understanding by eight political parties to form a new government in Bangkok, Thailand May 22, 2023 (AFP – Lilian Suwanrumpha)

Phu Thai is a heavyweight in Thai politics, secretly led by the Shinawatra family, whose members include two former prime ministers ousted by military coups in 2006 and 2014.

“In the next vote (Thursday) for prime minister, the MFP will vote for the PT candidate, just like the PT voted for the MFP candidate,” Chaitavat said.

The kingdom’s conservative elite strongly opposes Move Forward’s reformist program, which notably seeks to soften the strict lèse-majesté law, which shields the king and his family from any criticism.

On Wednesday, Pita was suspended by the Constitutional Court from his term as deputy, seized on suspicion of irregularities during his campaign. He had to leave the hemicycle for an entire season to decide on his second candidacy after the first rejection the previous week.

In the end, the vote did not take place, his candidacy being deemed contrary to the rules of the Assembly.

Phu Thai party candidate for prime minister Shretha Thavisin (C) in Bangkok, Thailand on May 14, 2023 (AFP/Archive - Manan Vatsyayan)
Phu Thai Party’s candidate for prime minister Shretha Thavisin (C) in Bangkok, Thailand on May 14, 2023 (AFP/Archive – Manan Vatsyayan)

One of the PT’s two main figures, Shretha Thavisin (60), a businesswoman with a consensus profile, appears better positioned to become the pro-democracy bloc’s candidate for prime minister.

But Move Forward’s presence among its supporters could once again lead to senators’ denials and thus lead it to align with movements that are more aligned with the military.

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