Thailand: Prime Minister calls for peace after Pita’s disqualification

Thailand’s outgoing Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha called for peace on Thursday after parliament finally rejected the candidacy of the progressive Pita Limjaroenrat, the winner of the last election, whose program is considered too radical compared to the monarchy and the military.

Pita’s party, Move Forward (MFP), won the May 14 election by a wide margin, thanks to overwhelming support from young people eager for sweeping changes in the state, which has been ruled by the military for nearly a decade.

But a tumultuous Wednesday ended his hopes, with Pita being suspended as deputy over suspicions of irregularities and banned from running for a second term as prime minister.

His plan to reform the crippling lèse-majesté law has drawn a yellow line with senators who rule out any compromise with Move Forward, which is seen as too radical against the monarchy.

About a thousand protesters gathered around the Democracy Monument in central Bangkok in the evening to express their anger at the decision by conservative lawmakers and senators to indefinitely ban 42-year-old Pita from politics.

Gen Prayut, who came to power in a 2014 coup and has been in office since the election as interim leader, said he “understood” the frustration of Move Forward supporters, his spokesman said.

He called for restraint and said, “Everyone should work to move Thailand forward democratically, alongside the monarchy,” said Rachada Dhanadirek.

Move Forward supporters give the three-finger salute in front of the Democracy Monument during a rally after the parliament rejected Pita Limjaroenrat’s candidature for the post of prime minister in Bangkok, Thailand, July 19, 2023 (AFP – Jack Taylor)

Thailand is at risk of plunging into a political crisis in the absence of a declared candidate after Progressive was sidelined.

His coalition of 8 parties with a majority in the National Assembly must now try to agree on a new name, probably from Phu Thai, the party that came second in the legislative elections.

Move Forward supporters gather in front of the Democracy Monument after the parliament finally rejected Pita Limjaroenrat's candidature for the post of Prime Minister in Bangkok, Thailand, July 19, 2023 (AFP - Jack Taylor)
Move Forward supporters gather in front of the Democracy Monument after the parliament finally rejected Pita Limjaroenrat’s candidature for the post of Prime Minister in Bangkok, Thailand, July 19, 2023 (AFP – Jack Taylor)

Businesswoman Shretha Thavisin (60), with a more conciliatory profile, is best positioned to take office, but the presence of Move Forward among her supporters could deter senators and thus lead them to cooperate with more conciliatory movements with the military.

Thailand, where high inequalities persist, has one of the lowest growth rates in Southeast Asia, calling for major structural reforms.

Economic circles are concerned about prolonged instability, which could affect the vital tourism sector.

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