June 17, 2024

Thai Parliament says it will try to pick a prime minister next week after 2 unsuccessful attempts

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Parliament will try to pick a new prime minister next week following two unsuccessful attempts, it said Thursday, as political uncertainty grows more than two months after the country’s election.

Parliament said the vote will take place Aug. 4. The decision came despite the House speaker saying two days ago that the vote would be delayed pending clarity from the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of Parliament’s vote last week to block Pita Limjaroenrat, whose progressive Move Forward Party captured the most seats in the election, to be nominated for prime minister a second time.

The government ombudsman petitioned the court to rule on the issue after receiving complaints from private citizens and lawmakers from Pita’s party that Parliament’s vote was unconstitutional. Pita lost a first vote in Parliament on July 13.

Thai media say the court will meet next Thursday, a day before the new scheduled vote, to determine whether to accept the case. If accepted, it could order the vote to be postponed until it issues a ruling.

Adding to the political uncertainty, the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, one of the most divisive figures in Thai politics, announced Wednesday that he plans to return on Aug. 10 after living in self-imposed exile to escape a prison term in criminal cases he has decried as politically motivated.

Thaksin was elected prime minister in 2001 and easily reelected in 2005, but was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespecting the country’s monarchy.

The Pheu Thai party, the latest in a string of parties closely affiliated with Thaksin, is seeking to gather enough support in Parliament to have one of its leaders become prime minister. Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, is one of the party’s three candidates.

Forming a new government after the May election has proven an unexpectedly hard task. Move Forward, the surprise election winner, pulled together an eight-party coalition with 312 seats in the 500-member lower house. However, under the military-enacted constitution, confirming a new prime minister requires a majority vote by both the elected House and the 250-member Senate, which was appointed by a previous military government. Pita’s initial bid fell short by more than 50 votes, largely because only 13 senators backed him.

The Senate sees itself as the guardian of conservative royalist values. Many senators said they would not vote for Pita because of his party’s call for the reform of a law that makes it illegal to defame the royal family. Critics say the law, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, has been widely abused as a political weapon.

Parliament on Aug. 4 is also scheduled to debate a motion filed by Move Forward seeking to amend the constitution to eliminate the Senate’s ability to veto a prime ministerial candidate.

Public frustration has grown over Parliament’s failure to name a new leader. Supporters of the Move Forward Party have staged several protests calling for senators to stop blocking a candidate from the eight-party coalition.

Dozens of protesters gathered in central Bangkok on Thursday to express their anger at the Senate and over growing rumors that Pheu Thai plans to join hands with parties that supported the outgoing government of Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander seized power in a 2014 coup and was returned as prime minister after a 2019 election.

Move Forward, the most progressive member of the coalition, stepped aside as the coalition’s leader after its two failed attempts at selecting a prime minister and let Pheu Thai, the second biggest member, take over. Pheu Thai’s other possible nominees include real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin and Chaikasem Nitsiri, the party’s chief strategist.

Although Pheu Thai said last week that for now the coalition will stick with its original members and try to win more support before the next vote, it did not rule out the possibility that Move Forward could be excluded to attract more conservative lawmakers. It met with several parties that supported Prayuth as prime minister in 2019.

Move Forward supporters feel that Pheu Thai is putting the pursuit of power ahead of principle. The rumor of that Pheu Thai is switching sides was fueled further by the announcement of Thaksin’s return. The royalist establishment, backed by the military, holds a sharp animosity toward Thaksin, making many believe that Pheu Thai has compromised with them to facilitate the populist billionaire’s return.

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