Thai house speaker indefinitely postpones scheduled vote for PM

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwej
Thai house speaker indefinitely postpones scheduled vote for PM Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat speaks at a rally at Jomtien Beach in Pattaya, Thailand, following his suspension as an MP, July 22, 2023.
Jack Taylor/AFP

The speaker of Thailand’s Parliament on Tuesday indefinitely postponed this week’s scheduled vote for the next prime minister, deepening a political limbo after a general election more than two months ago.

The vote set for Thursday had to be put off while the Constitutional Court considered a petition challenging the constitutionality of Parliament’s blocking of a July 19 vote on Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat as a prime ministerial candidate, House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha said. The court has not set a date for a ruling.

“In the event the house speaker cancels the July 27th meeting, it is appropriate to avoid conflict given the Office of Ombudsman had referred to the Constitutional Court to rule whether the parliament activation of Rule 41 was valid,” Wan Noor said after discussions with legal counsel. 

He was referring to a parliamentary rule that conservative and pro-royal members of the upper house Senate used last week to block a second vote on Pita in the bicameral legislature. 

“Therefore the house speaker agreed to postpone the July 27 indefinitely until the new date is set,” the speaker said. 

Pita’s party was the biggest winner in the May 14 general election, where parties with ties to the military were crushed. Move Forward belongs to an eight-party alliance that is trying to form Thailand’s first pro-democracy government since a military coup in 2014. After he was blocked last week in his second try at being voted in as prime minister, Pita agreed to step aside so Pheu Thai, one of his allies, could nominate one of its leaders for PM. 

Last week, the Constitutional Court also ordered that Pita be suspended as an MP. The court had reviewed a case from the Election Commission recommending he be disqualified as a lawmaker over a complaint that he had applied to run for office while owning shares of a now-defunct media company – a violation of election laws.

The court also said it had received a separate complaint filed by lawyer Teerayuth Suwanakesorn against Pita and Move Forward’s plan to reform Article 112, the Lèse-Majesté law that strictly guards against royal defamation.  

Teerayuth’s petition alleges that the proposal could be deemed as an attempt to “overthrow the constitutional monarchy or the democratic regime with the king as the head of the state.”

In announcing the postponement of this week’s parliamentary vote, Wan Noor noted that many MPs would not be able to return to their homes on Friday to join ceremonies honoring King Maha Vajiralongkorn on his birthday.

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Pracharat Party leader Wan Mohamad Noor Matha gestures as he arrives at the Thai Parliament in Bangkok ahead of the vote where he was elected house speaker, July 4, 2023. [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

On July 21, an independent academic and a lecturer at Rangsit University lodged a petition with the Office of Ombudsman regarding the actions taken against Pita in Parliament on July 19. The office referred their petition to the Constitutional Court.

Pita’s Move Forward Party won 151 seats, while Pheu Thai Party won 141, with the eight allies in the opposition coalition holding 312 seats.

He called on the Pheu Thai Party to canvass support from other parties and from senators to reach the 375 vote plateau needed to secure a majority in order to lead Thailand’s next government. Those efforts apparently failed to add to the count.

On Saturday, Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of Bhumjaithai Party led an entourage to meet with Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew, but they failed to reach an agreement.

“I told the [Pheu Thai] party’s leader and executives of Bhumjaithai’s limits and I have to tell them that I cannot participate if the Move Forward Party is in [the coalition],” said Anutin, whose party holds 71 seats.

Other parties including the Palang Pracharath Party and United Thai Nation dismissed similar invitations. The ruling parties have expressed no interest in Move Forward’s goal to reform the monarchy.

On Sunday, thousands of Move Forward supporters took to the streets of Bangkok to protest against the Senate, whose members were appointed by the junta in 2019.

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Pro-democracy protesters rally in support of the Move Forward Party in Bangkok after Thailand’s parliament blocked party leader Pita Limjaroenrat's prime ministerial nomination, July 23, 2023. [Jack Taylor/AFP]

A professor at Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University said Move Forward could end up being an opposition party despite its strong showing in the general election.

“The political turmoil was intentional. The conservatives created all those many conditions to disrupt the eight parties’ forming of government,” professor Thannapat Jarernpanit told BenarNews.

She said Pheu Thai was slow walking a new vote – possibly waiting 10 months for the Senate’s term to expire, meaning 250 fewer votes would be counted.

“A possible scenario could be highly likely that Pheu Thai shakes hands with Anutin and then lets him make a deal with others such as Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan who controls many senators,” she said.

“Srettha will then certainly be nominated as a prime minister and Anutin and Prawit will have key position in the cabinet for the sake of power balance,” Thannapat said, referring to Srettha Thavisin, a property tycoon who is one of three Pheu Thai leaders.

“The Move Forward may have to take a role as an opposition again and admit that Thailand’s establishment’s structure is hard to tear down,” she said.


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