Former Thai PM candidate Pita resigns as Move Forward leader

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Former Thai PM candidate Pita resigns as Move Forward leader Move Forward Party Leader and former prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat answers questions from the media as he arrives at the Thai Parliament before the parliamentary vote for the premiership in Bangkok on July 13, 2023.

Pita Limjaroenrat, whose Move Forward Party was the top vote-getter in the May 14 general election, resigned as leader on Friday to pave the way for another MP to steer Thailand’s opposition.

The progressive Move Forward won the highest number of seats in Parliament, but Pita’s bid to become Thailand’s first pro-democracy prime minister after nine years of army-backed rule was thwarted by conservative MPs and senators. 

He was suspended as an MP in July and is awaiting a Constitutional Court decision on whether he had violated election laws for owning stock in a media company.

Pita said Friday he was stepping down because his suspension as an MP meant he could not fulfill the role of opposition leader in the near future.

“I resigned as leader of Move Forward to pave the way for selection of another MP to lead the opposition in Parliament,” the 43-year-old wrote on his official Facebook page.

“I assure everyone that regardless of my status, I will not be going anywhere, but will continue working with Move Forward for the people to the best of my ability.”

Move Forward’s progressive political agenda, including a promise to reform the royal insult law, drew the ire of conservative and pro-royal lawmakers in Parliament, who twice rebuffed Pita’s prime ministerial nomination.

After Pita was blocked a second time, he stepped aside to allow a Pheu Thai candidate for PM to take his place.  

Soon after, however, Pheu Thai –  the populist vehicle for the billionaire Shinawatra family – cut ties with Move Forward and then struck its deal with pro-military and pro-royalist parties. 

Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin was sworn in as Thailand’s prime minister earlier this month.

Pita has until next week to challenge a complaint submitted to the Constitutional Court by the Electoral Commision, which alleges he knowingly applied to be an MP candidate while holding shares in defunct media company iTV, which is prohibited under electoral laws.

Move Forward will select a new leader and executive panel at a party general meeting on September 23, said its secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon.

Pita told reporters on Friday afternoon the party had several members capable of taking the reins.

“I think there are four or five people that are fit for the job, depending on what we want – a brawler or boxer,” he said.

Nattakorn Withitanon, a political scientist at Chiang Mai University, said Pita resigned too early and should have waited for the Constitutional Court ruling.

“Still, this could be a short-term decision because he can retake the party leader post,” he told BenarNews.

Sirikanya Tansakun, the party’s current deputy leader, was the top contender to take the job, Nattakorn said, adding that Rangsiman Rome and Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn were also potential successors.

“But if the party is to maintain its fighter-like image, the latter two have a chance, despite their young age.”

Kunnawut Boonreak contributed to this report.


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