Thai parliament names veteran politician Wan Noor as speaker

Wan Noor’s appointment is seen as a compromise between Move Forward and Pheu Thai, which have been at odds over the crucial post.

Pracharat Party leader and house speaker candidate Wan Mohamad Noor Matha speaks to the press before the house speaker vote at Parliament in Bangkok on July 4, 2023.
Wan Muhamad Noor Matha speaks to the press before the house speaker vote [Lillian Suwanrumpha/ AFP]

Thailand’s parliament has confirmed veteran politician Wan Muhamad Noor Matha of the Prachachart Party as the speaker of the newly elected House of Representatives.

Wan Noor’s appointment on Tuesday was seen as a compromise between the two biggest parties and coalition partners Move Forward and Pheu Thai, which have been at odds over the crucial post.

Wan Noor’s was the only name put forward for the post.

As the only nomination, no vote was required to endorse the 79-year-old politician.

The compromise over the house speaker could help to defuse some tensions between the progressive Move Forward and the populist Pheu Thai parties, which had jostled for weeks over the speakership.

The two parties had trounced their conservative and pro-military rivals in a May 14 poll, with Move Forward winning 151 seats and Pheu Thai taking 141.

The outcome was a resounding rejection of nine years of government led or backed by the military.

Move Forward and Pheu Thai have formed an alliance with six other parties, including Wan Noor’s Prachachart Party, which has 10 seats in the lower chamber.

The speaker position was sought because the holder can influence the passage of key legislation and the timing of votes.

Following his appointment, Wan Noor, who was House Speaker between 1996 and 2000, said he would strive to remain politically neutral.

“I will conduct duties fairly … with transparency in considering draft laws and petitions to improve the lives of all Thais,” he said.

Once Wan Noor takes up the post, among his first tasks will be to table a joint session of parliament to decide on a prime minister, which requires the votes of more than half of the 750 members of the bicameral legislature.

The alliance is backing Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, to become prime minister. Pita needs 376 votes to secure the post, but he currently has 312.

He will need 64 more votes from either rival parties or members of the conservative-learning Senate that was appointed by the military and has previously locked horns with Move Forward over some of its policies.

Pita said last week that he had secured enough support in the Senate.

Aside from Move Forward’s problems with the Senate, there are also serious fears that Pita and his party will be blocked by legal challenges, a fate that has brought down previous parties that ran afoul of the conservative establishment.

Several Pheu Thai-backed governments and a party that was Move Forward’s predecessor were victims of rulings by the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission, both nominally independent agencies that are often seen as favouring the ruling elite, along with the Constitutional Court.

Pita has been accused of violating a constitutional ban on politicians holding shares in a media company.

The media company is no longer operating, and Pita says the shares are part of his father’s estate and do not belong to him.

The prospect that he could be banned from politics and even jailed for what is widely seen at most as a minor technical violation has triggered fears that Thailand could see a return to the political instability that has racked the country on and off since 2006 when the military toppled the government of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies