February 26, 2024

Thai PM Vote: Move Forward With Thai Pheu Coalition At Risk

Thailand’s parliament gathered on Wednesday to vote for the prime minister for the second time in less than a week – a test of democracy in a nation where the powerful military and its royal allies have often pushed back against democratic change.

The Move Forward Party, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, is pushing for change in Thailand, and won the largest number of votes in May’s general election. But Mr. Pita cannot form a government unless he is elected prime minister by the Thai Parliament.​

He lost a previous vote last week. If Parliament fails to re-elect a leader by the end of Wednesday, a third vote could be held as early as Thursday.

Here’s what you know.

Mr Pita’s party has proposed ambitious policies to challenge Thailand’s powerful institutions such as the military and monarchy. The party won 151 seats in Parliament, the most of any party, and 10 more than Pheu Thai, the populist party founded by Thaksin Shinawatra, one of Thailand’s most famous politicians.

Mr. Pita’s party, which named him prime minister last week, has formed an eight-party coalition. He came up short in the first vote because the Senate is controlled by military-appointed lawmakers who opposed his candidacy and the Move Forward platform.

In other countries, yes. In Thailand in 2023, no.

A simple majority of the 500-seat House of Representatives and the 250-seat Senate is required to become prime minister.

But the rules for Senate appointments were drafted by the military junta that seized power from a democratically elected government in a 2014 coup. They effectively give senators veto power over prime ministerial candidates.

Last week, Mr. Pita won only 13 votes from the 249 Senators who voted for the prime minister. Analysts say he is unlikely to fare any better on Wednesday.

Mr. Pita faces many challenges other than getting the votes he needs.

On Wednesday morning, lawmakers gathered to discuss whether rules of parliament allowing a prime ministerial candidate to stand for a second vote after losing the first. Some have argued that the rules prevent a failed bid from being resubmitted; others say this is a special case that requires an exemption.

Separately on Wednesday morning, the Constitutional Court said it was suspending Mr Pita from Parliament pending a ruling in a case involving his shares of a media company. Investigators are trying to determine whether Mr. Pita properly disclosed the shares before running for office, as required by Thai law.

The court’s ruling forced Mr. Pita to leave the chamber on Wednesday, but it does not necessarily prevent his coalition from nominating him as prime minister for a second term.

Mr Pita’s supporters have said the investigation is an attempt by the government to unfairly destroy his candidacy.

Mr. Pita has said that if it becomes clear that he cannot win, his party would allow his partner in the coalition, Pheu Thai, to nominate its own candidate.

Pheu Thai is likely to nominate its own candidate, but it is also likely to form a brand new coalition, one that is more palatable to conservative lawmakers who cannot stomach Mr. Pita and move on.

Pheu Thai’s candidate is likely to be 60-year-old Srettha Thavisin, a property mogul with little political experience.

Still, as prime minister he would immediately appear in sharp contrast to the current one, former General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 military coup.

A more remote, but not impossible, scenario is that Pheu Thai allows a party from the conservative establishment to nominate a candidate as a condition of entering a new coalition. That candidate could be the Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, 77, deputy prime minister in the current government.

Many would see a victory for Mr Srettha as a victory for the democratic process in Thailand, a country with a long history of mass protests and military coups. Some foreign investors would also see it as a possible boost to a weak economy, hit by the coronavirus.

But many progressive Move Forward supporters would be angry if their party was prevented from forming a government after winning the most votes in May’s election. There was heavy security around the National Assembly in Bangkok on Wednesday morning, and at least two demonstrations were planned for later in the day.

The scale of the protests over the next few days or weeks is likely to depend on who becomes prime minister. If it is Mr. Srettha, demonstrations may be tumultuous and moderate. If it is General Prawit or another military figure, they could be persistent and tough.

Most analysts agree that Mr. Pita’s chances remain slim.

Mukta Suhartono reporting helped.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *