Thai MPs elect compromise candidate to serve as house speaker

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai MPs elect compromise candidate to serve as house speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha speaks to members of the Thai parliament after they voted for him to be house speaker, July 4, 2023.
Nava Sangthong/BenarNews

Thailand’s new parliament elected a veteran official from a minor party on Tuesday to serve as house speaker, ending the two leading parties’ squabble over the post as their pro-democracy alliance seeks to nominate a leader for prime minister later this month.

Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, 79, head of the Prachachart Party, was the sole nominee for house speaker after the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties, which hold the most seats in the lower house following the May 14 general election, agreed to nominate him.

Prachachart is one of six smaller parties aligned with the leaders of the opposition alliance that is seeking to replace a nine-year-old government with deep military ties and headed by the man who led a 2014 coup. 

Better known as Wan Noor, the likely speaker needs royal approval to assume the post. He is a nine-time MP from the Malay-speaking Muslim-dominant Deep South region and previously served as house speaker in 1996 and held other government roles before establishing his own party in 2018.

“I will duly perform my task with neutrality and follow the advice of His Majesty the King given to the parliament yesterday,” Wan Noor told MPs after the vote, which took place a day after members of the new parliament were inducted.

In addition to electing Wan Noor, MPs voted for Move Forward’s Padipat Santipada, a 42-year-old veterinarian, as first deputy house speaker over Wittaya Kaewparadai, the United Thai Nation Party nominee. Pheu Thai member Pichet Chuamuangphan was elected second deputy speaker.

Move Forward has nominated its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat for prime minister, but it is uncertain if he has enough support from MPs. Parliament has yet to set the date for that vote.

“It would not be too late. About two weeks,” Pheu Thai Party Leader Cholnan Srikaew, the second largest coalition party, told reporters in Bangkok about the upcoming vote.     

Pita’s eight-party alliance holds 313 seats in the 750-seat bicameral legislature – short of the combined 376 required to govern. Rules enshrined in a military-drafted constitution mean the alliance has to overcome 250 votes held by the junta-appointed Senate, which is stacked with conservative-leaning members.

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat enters the Parliament building in Bangkok, July 4, 2023. [Nava Sangthong/BenarNews]

Following the vote for speaker, Pita, 42, a Harvard-educated former executive at Southeast Asian superapp Grab, dismissed reporters’ questions about the new coalition’s unity.

“[I] bear in mind that I have to concentrate on the work. [I] will try to set up the government as soon as possible to troubleshoot for the people,” Pita said.

Meanwhile, an analyst said Pita’s outlook appeared brighter.

“It’s highly likely Pita could become prime minister. I believe Pheu Thai would not reverse the trend to affect its own popularity,” Nuttakorn Vititanon, a political science professor at Chiang Mai University, told BenarNews.

“It seems Pita has secured support from some business-oriented senators, but I believe he cannot do the same with the pro-military senators,” he said. “But in the long run, anything can happen. The investigation into Pita’s stock holding is an obstacle, but it may take more than a year to finish.”

Election complaint

Winning the support of at least 63 unelected senators to join with the 313 coalition members is not Pita’s only potential hurdle in his bid to form a government. A complaint filed ahead of the election could lead to his disqualification from holding elected office.

The Election Commission has launched an investigation – which could take up to a year – into whether he knowingly applied to be an MP candidate while holding shares in a media company, a potential violation of Thai electoral laws.

“Pita’s investigation will not delay voting for the prime minister,” said Don Hormmanee, an independent political analyst and former researcher at Chiang Mai University, adding “he can be disqualified by the Election Commission should he be found guilty.”

Pita has denied wrongdoing and said he is confident the investigation will clear him.

A similar complaint following the 2019 general election resulted in Move Forward’s predecessor, Future Forward, being taken to court. Leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit lost his seat in parliament over ownership of shares in the V-Luck Media Co. Ltd.

The court later disbanded Future Forward because of a loan Thanathorn made to the party, leading Pita and other members to establish Move Forward ahead of this year’s election.


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