Spotlight - Thailand: July 20, 2023

On July 19, Thailand’s parliament voted against the renomination of Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat for the position of prime minister, despite the party securing the most seats in the May 2023 election. This decision came after Pita was blocked from assuming the prime minister’s office during the first round of voting on July 13. Parliament’s rejection of the renomination officially has ruled out Pita’s possibility of becoming Thailand’s next prime minister.

Simultaneously, Thailand’s Constitutional Court suspended Pita from working as a member of parliament due to an ongoing ruling examining his eligibility to run in the election. The case alleges that Pita’s ownership of shares in a now-defunct media company violated Thailand’s electoral rules.

Adding to Pita’s case, the court accepted a petition that accuses the Move Forward Party of attempting to overthrow the country’s democratic system with the king as the head of state by proposing to amend section 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, known as the lèse-majesté law. Should the court rule in favor, the party might face dissolution, and its executive committee members, including Pita, could be barred from politics for up to 10 years, similar to what its predecessor, the Future Forward Party, experienced.

The schedule for the third round of voting and the subsequent nominee remains uncertain. However, there is a high possibility that Srettha Thavisin, a candidate from the Pheu Thai Party, which secured the second most seats, will be nominated. Yet, the future of the Move Forward Party within a new Pheu Thai-led coalition remains uncertain. Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of the Bhumjaithai Party and Thailand’s current minister of public health, has already indicated that his party will not support any prime minister candidate as long as the Move Forward Party remains in the coalition.

Thailand held a general election on May 14, 2023, in which the Move Forward Party emerged with the most seats in the parliament. However, according to the country’s constitution, the prime minister must be elected by the parliament, consisting of 500 elected members of the House of Representatives and 250 military-appointed senators. These latest developments in Thai politics reveal how the establishment can intervene to shape the country’s direction.

Pongkwan Sawasdipakdi is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.