Thailand's Pita Limjaroenrat fails to become prime minister in 1st parliament vote

324 votes in favour, 182 against, 199 abstained.

Yen Zhi Yi | July 13, 2023, 09:29 PM

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Thailand’s National Assembly voted for the country’s new prime minister at 5pm today (Jul. 13).

However, the sole candidate for premier and leader of opposition Move Forward Party (MFP), Pita Limjaroenrat, failed to receive sufficient votes to be elected as Prime Minister.

The PM vote

324 Members of Parliament (MP) and senators seconded Pita’s candidacy, according to The Nation. Most of them were from his eight-party coalition.

216 senators and 460 MPs present were told to declare one-by-one whether they supported him. Those who abstained from voting were counted as “no”.

Though he received 324 votes, 182 had voted against him while 199 abstained.

Out of 250 military-appointed senators in the upper house (of which 216 were present), only 13 voted for him, 39 voted no and 159 abstained.

The new prime minister was to be decided by a combined vote of the upper and lower houses of parliament, which required 376 votes out of a total of 750.

A senator earlier resigned on Jul. 12, thus lowering the votes that Pita had needed to be elected as premier to 375.

In response to the results, the MFP leader said that his party accepted them but will not retreat, according to Bangkok Post.

He noted that MFP will work harder to rally more support in the next votes. The second and third rounds of voting will take place on Jul. 19 and 20 respectively.

The debate

The decision came after six hours of deliberations which began at 11am. Thailand's House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha later closed the floor for voting at 4pm, The Nation reported.

The hours-long debate was mostly centred on MFP’s proposal to reform Thailand's powerful Lese Majeste law, which prohibits and penalises any criticism of the monarchy.

Criticism of the royal family is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under this particular law.

For instance, United Thai Nation (UTN) Party MP Satra Sriparn said that his party was against MFP's position to amend the law as it would create more divisions in the country.

Another MP from the Democrat Party of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Chaichana Dejdecho, expressed similar sentiments about MFP’s decision to amend the law.

On Jun. 13, the same party announced that its 25 MPs will not support Pita and will instead abstain, according to The Nation. The party is not part of the MFP coalition.

Bhumjaithai Party’s MP Chada Thaiseth said that his party will support Pita if the MFP gave up their proposal to amend the Lese Majeste law, according to Thai Enquirer.

Without the law, the monarchy would be subject to open criticism, and this could lead to “civil war”, he was quoted as saying.

During the debate, Pita also defended against allegations that his party would allow for the secession of southern Thailand provinces, as some of their policies were viewed as supporting separatism.

His final words to the National Assembly before the voting began were reportedly that he would continue to “maintain the monarchy institution in the present time”.

Pita's legal double whammy

The parliamentary session came a day after the country’s Constitutional Court accepted a complaint against Pita and his MFP for proposing to amend the Lese Majeste law.

If found guilty of attempting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy system, he could be banned from politics, while his party may face dissolution.

Separately, Pita also faces the threat of disqualification as a Member of Parliament over his shares in a supposedly defunct media company iTV, which potentially breaches electoral rules.

Potential unrest?

Meanwhile, according to local media, Thailand’s police put up barricades, barbed wires and tarp covers with local landmarks to brace for potential protests in light of the premier vote.

In 2020, mass protests aimed at King Maha Vajiralongkorn and incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha broke out in Thailand.

Those marching on the streets wanted a new constitution and called for a reduction in the powers of the king.


Top image via Twitter/@PravitR