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Thai voters rally after Pita's prime minister bid blocked

July 23, 2023

Progressive parties have won a recent election in Thailand, but unelected lawmakers were able to block Pita Limjaroenrat from becoming prime minister.

Protesters gather on a street in Bangkok after the Thai parliament denied party leader Pita Limjaroenrat bis to be prime minister
Pita Limjaroenrat is facing opposition by the traditionalist SenateImage: Andrea Capello/NurPhoto/IMAGO

In Thailand, as many as a thousand pro-democracy protesters gathered on Sunday in a show of support for Pita Limjaroenrat, whose latest attempt to become prime minister was thwarted last week.

"Pita! Pita! Pita!" the crowd in central Bangkok chanted, with one supporter saying, "We will keep fighting ... no matter how many months we have to support democratic principles."

The opposition bloc holds sway in the 500-member House of Representatives. However, their majority is not enough to overcome the votes of the 250-member Senate, which is appointed by Thailand's military.

The Senate has twice blocked the Harvard-educated Pita, the leader of Move Forward, from leading a new government.

Pita's anti-establishment party won the May election and formed an eight-party coalition that includes the populist Pheu Thai party. But with the Senate firmly against him, the country could face a destabilizing political deadlock in the country ruled by parties associated with the military junta. 

Election winner effectively blocked

In the May election, Move Forward received strong youth support on a platform of reforming the military, ending business monopolies and amending the royal insult law, which protects the powerful monarchy from criticism.

Pita and his allies have a 312-seat majority in the 500-member lower chamber. The Senate, which is mostly appointed by the country's military that seized power in 2014, is made up of conservatives, old-money elites and monarchists, who see themselves as defenders of traditional royalist values, which they believe to be under threat. 

Under the military-enacted constitution, a new prime minister must receive the support of a combined majority of both the lower and upper houses

The Senate refused to back the 42-year-old on Wednesday. The previous week, Pita also failed to win enough support after dozens of senators failed to show up for the ballot.


Protesters in Bangkok clap in support for Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat
Protesters braved heavy rain to show their anger and frustration toward the members of the Senate, who were appointed by the militaryImage: Andrea Capello/NurPhoto/IMAGO

Thaksin's party to propose next PM candidate

Another vote is scheduled for Thursday but Pita cannot be nominated again. This time, coalition ally Pheu Thai will propose a candidate.

The party's three possible nominees are real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin; Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup; and Chaikasem Nitsiri, the party's chief strategist.

Pheu Thai also did not rule out the possibility that Move Forward could be excluded from the coalition altogether in order for it to succeed in forming the government.

On Saturday and Sunday, Pheu Thai met with several parties that voted for junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha as prime minister in 2019.

Pheu Thai was ousted from power twice by the military, once during Thaksin Shinawatra's rule in 2006 and eight years later, when his sister Yingluck Shinawatra was prime minister.

Thaksin Shinawatra is in exile to avoid a prison sentence for abuse of power that he contends was politically inspired.

Move Forward's victory was powered by a widespread desire, particularly among young people, for deep structural change after nine years of military-backed rule.

The Thai military has staged more than a dozen coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

mm/dj (AP, Reuters)