Thailand’s Pita Limjaroenrat has said he will not give up after losing in a parliamentary vote for the prime minister’s position, where he was 51 votes shy of the required threshold.
The 42-year-old said on Thursday his party would re-strategise to gather the required support to win the next vote, which is expected to be held next week.
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Pita is the leader of the progressive Move Forward Party that won the most votes in Thailand’s general election on May 14.
He was was unopposed in Thursday’s contest, but could not muster the required support from Thailand’s 749-member bicameral legislature, with a host of abstentions and votes against him.
Pita’s eight-party alliance controls 312 seats in the lower house, but needed 375 votes to be able to form a government.
When voting concluded, Pita had won 323 votes, including 13 from the 249-member conservative-leaning upper house, which was appointed by the military after a coup in 2014.
Some 182 legislators voted against him while 198 abstained.
The voting for the prime minister position has concluded, and the unofficial results so far are as follows:
— Thai Enquirer (@ThaiEnquirer) July 13, 2023
Many senators are opposed to Move Forward’s anti-establishment agenda, which includes a controversial plan to amend a law that bans insulting the monarchy and undoing the military’s role in politics.
“I accept it but I’m not giving up,” Pita told reporters after the vote.
“I will not surrender and will use this time to garner more support.”
The vote on Thursday marked a pivotal moment for Thailand in the aftermath of Move Forward’s shock election success in the May 14 general election and raises fears of renewed political instability in a country that has seen more than a dozen military coups in the past century.
Pita’s defeat in parliament was the latest blow dealt to the politician and his party by the conservative establishment, with Thailand’s Constitutional Court taking up two legal complaints against them on the eve of the election.
The court agreed on Wednesday to review a complaint against Move Forward over its plan to amend the law that prohibits insulting the monarchy.
The announcement came just hours after the election commission also recommended that the court disqualify Pita from parliament.
The recommendation followed a probe into Pita’s ownership of shares in a media company. Politicians are not allowed to own media shares. The station has not broadcasted since 2007 and Pita has said the shares were inherited from his father.
“Legislators will reconvene next Wednesday and Thursday if necessary to hold a new vote. All indications show Pita’s name will be re-submitted if he hasn’t been disqualified by then. He is facing legal challenges that could see him removed as a member of parliament,” said Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from Bangkok.
“His supporters have said that they see these cases as an attempt to block his bid to become prime minister, but what we do expect from now until next Wednesday is Pita’s coalition of eight parties will likely be conducting negotiations, reaching out to members of parliament and to senators in a bid to get them to vote for [him],” she said.
The developments on Thursday raises the spectre of weeks of deadlock and economic uncertainty in Thailand.
Pita’s alliance must now decide whether to back him again in the vote slated for July 19, or put forward another candidate, testing its cohesion as it seeks to form the next government.
Outside the parliament, a small number of Move Forward’s supporters, wearing the party’s signature orange colors, expressed disappointment and anger at the final result, especially the lack of support from senators.
“The Senate are not with the people. The election did not mean anything to them,” complained Nattapon Jangwangkaew, 42.
“I’m not ok with this,” said 35-year-old Wipada Pimtare, who was crying in the rain. “I hoped that it would finish today. Thailand should move forward. They shouldn’t buy time like this. The people have chosen and they should follow.”