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.

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

– Which alliance to rule? ,

His party has defended to the end its plan to reform the strict lèse-majesté law, which protects the king and makes any criticism of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

It also represents a threat to the monopoly of the large families that play a dominant role in the state’s economy.

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.

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.

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

“Pheu Thai will now have a chance,” political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak told AFP.

He added, “And the next step would be to organize a coalition government led by Phu Thai to exclude further advances.”

– Threat of civil unrest –

“As of now, we are loyal to the MFP,” said party leader Cholnan Shrikew, adding, “If we want to win, we have to have enough confidence.”

To obtain the necessary votes in the Senate, Phu Thai may seek support elsewhere in parliament, possibly among pro-army parties.

But according to political scientist Nepisa Wetulkiat, the decision to break away from Move Forward could cost Phu Thai dearly in the future. “They’re walking on a rope.”

Maintaining a military presence in the next government risks civil unrest, as many voters voted to turn the page on the ruling military.

“There will be bigger protests than in 2020 because the government is attacking the party that won the popular vote,” Patsarawale Tankitwibulapon, a protest leader at the time, told AFP. “People will not tolerate it.”

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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