The Move Forward Party (MFP) may have won the 2023 General Election in Thailand on Sunday, May 14 but it is still uncertain whether they will form a government. Despite securing 152 seats, surpassing the favoured Pheu Thai party by 11 seats, the MFP still falls short of the required majority of 376 seats to establish a government.
In an effort to create a coalition, MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat reached out to five other parties, securing a total of 310 MPs. Nevertheless, the MFP faces an additional hurdle in gaining the support of 66 senators to reach the necessary 376 votes to confirm their choice of prime minister, as stipulated by the constitution.
The challenge lies in the composition of the Senate, with 250 members being selected by the former military regime. The Senate may disregard the will of the Thai people and undermine democracy, jeopardizing the MFP’s prospects of forming a government.
In the previous 2019 election, the Palang Pracharath Party received the highest number of votes, winning 116 seats, while Pheu Thai emerged as the largest party with 136 seats. The remaining seats were mostly won by the Future Forward, Democrat, and Bhumjaithai parties. Although Pheu Thai and Future Forward announced a seven-party alliance soon after the election, they were unable to establish a government. Ultimately, on May 25 and June 5, Parliament voted to install Prayut Chan-o-Cha as prime minister.
The official announcement of the 2023 General Election results is scheduled to take place 60 days after the conclusion of voting, meaning that the Thai public can expect to know the outcome on Thursday, July 13. Until then, strap yourself in and hold on to buckled belts because it is going to be a hell of a bumpy ride as The Thaiger provides updates on all of the ensuing political machinations.
MFP blamed for campaign of abuse
Supporters of the Move Forward Party (MFP) have come under fire from the Senate after launching an aggressive social media campaign stemming from party leader Pita Limjaroenrat's unsuccessful bid to secure a prime ministerial nomination. The situation heightened on the recent Parliamentary voting day involving a total of 206 senators.
Pita Limjaroenrat, 39 years old, saw significant opposition, with a mere 13 senators voting in favour, 34 against, 159 abstaining, and an additional 43 senators absent from the event.
Following the vote, supporters of Pita directed their ire towards the senators who voted against or abstained, using the platform Twitter. The hashtag "Senator's businesses" began trending on Twitter, garnering over 1 million tweets. The ire extended far beyond the official figures involved, lashing out towards senators' family members and their business interests.
The movement escalated into a full-scale campaign against the commercial enterprises associated with the senators. Businesses revealed as senator-owned ranged from markets, insurance companies, and beauty clinics to football teams and even petrol stations.
A picture of a restaurant brandishing a banner declaring unwelcome any senator who voted against Pita or abstained, began garnering attention on various social media platforms.
Sen Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, who was among the senators who abstained from the vote, took to Facebook to voice her indignation. She denounced the behaviour of the MFP's supporters who persisted in harassing senators and their families.
She shed light on the abusive language directed at senators post-vote and mentioned a fake Facebook account created under her name. The account had posted messages criticising the MFP and had drawn the ire of the party's supporters. Khunying Porntip had addressed this issue with the MFP's representatives who had sought her support for Pita.
Another senator, Ronwarit Pariyachattrakul, who also abstained from voting, expressed his desire to provide moral support to his children who may face hostility from their peers who are MFP supporters. In his statement, Ronwarit identified the sticking point for his support being the MFP's steadfast stance on altering Section 112 of the Criminal Code. This controversial section is referred to as the lese majeste law. Given this stance, he maintained that Pita cannot win his endorsement for the position of prime minister.
Highlighting the need for democratic principles and mutual respect within a society, he wrote, "If your friends uphold the principles of democracy, they should accept and respect different opinions."
Pheu Thai looms large as potential coalition leader
The chances of the Pheu Thai Party emerging as the chief coalition are looking strong if the Move Forward Party (MFP) and its lead, Pita Limjaroenrat, a 38-year-old political figure, fails to secure victory in the selection of the new prime minister. This prediction was made by a well-known political science analyst this Friday.
Being the party with the runner-up count of House seats, the Pheu Thai party is well-positioned to take the baton from the MFP and establish a new alliance, potentially in conjunction with other major parties outside the MFP-guided coalition, explained Olarn Thinbangtieo, a 56-year-old academic from Burapha University during an interview with a national newspaper.
He noted that the present coalition is a mixture of eight parties, with Pheu Thai included.
"The key for Pheu Thai is patience, reviewing its potential options — either selecting a prime ministerial candidate in-house or cooperating with another party in a renewed political union," elaborated Olarn.
In a scenario where Pita undergoes multiple unsuccessful attempts to secure the prime minister vote, Pheu Thai might be faced with a decision of whether to continue aligning with the MFP-led partnership, or transfer alliances, possibly to coalition with parties like Bhumjaithai or Palang Pracharath, commented Olarn.
If Pheu Thai chooses to stay within its current alliance, but seizes the chance to put forth its prime ministerial candidate in a fresh vote, there's a likelihood the party could fall short of obtaining enough votes from the Senate as well, warned Olarn.
Regarding the likelihood of MFP's supporters taking to the street following Pita's unsuccessful vote this Thursday, Olarn stated that this seems quite unlikely as Pita still has the opportunity to compete for the premiership again.
The debate that took place on Thursday before MPs and senators cast their votes for Pita — the sole nominee for the parliamentary selection for the prime minister role — appeared futile as the participating voters seemed to have decided prior to the session, Olarn observed.
This opinion is reflected by other political science experts, including Wanwichit Boonprong, 46 years old, from Rangsit University; Stithorn Thananithichot, a 48-year-old from King Prajadhipok's Institute; and Thanaporn Sriyakul, 52 years old, from Kasetsart University.
They collectively expressed the sentiment that those senators who either abstained from voting or voted against in Thursday's vote were seemingly influenced by MFP's stance against Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, resulting in them denying support for Pita as the country's new prime minister.
Furthermore, these academics proposed that Pita and the MFP seemed to be backed into a corner with their Section 112 standpoint, after having previously making it an integral part of their campaigning.
New bid to remove Senate's PM vote
The Move Forward Party (MFP) conveyed to Parliament on Friday a plan advocating for the removal of military-appointed senators from the decision-making process in prime ministerial selection.
This proposal, which opposes Section 272 of the constitution that endows a 250-strong Senate with joint discretion in the selection of a prime minister, occurred a day subsequent to the party leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, 39 years old, experiencing a lack of significant support in his pursuit of the role. This marks the seventh effort up to today to rescind the Senate from this authority.
Chaithawat Tulathon, the secretary-general of MFP, acknowledged that the entirety of the party's MPs had endorsed the proposal for amending this charter, following a stance by the senators to abstake from voting earlier this week.
Laying out specifics, he indicated that out of the total body of senators, 156 abstained and an additional 43 were not present at the July 13 meeting held to appoint a new prime minister for the nation.
Seeing as the senators clearly indicated their disinclination to exercise their voting authority, he elaborated, "We are bringing forward a solution, which, we believe, will provide a way out not just for the senators but our parliamentary system as well."
Following the vote, he declared that the MFP remained firmly against Section 272 and decided to pursue change once more.
Adding further, Chaithawat noted that the party's ally, Pheu Thai, did not voice any objections to this move. Other parties, inclusive of Bhumjaithai and the Democrats, will also endorse a constitutional amendment of such a nature, he imparted.
Despite the process of appointing a new prime minister not yet being finalised, the secretary-general noted that this proposal can proceed. He estimated that it could go through Parliament within three weeks from the initial reading.
Accepted already by the newly inducted president of Parliament, Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, it was stated that following full examination and verification, the petition will be addressed.
Meanwhile, casting doubts on the likelihood of the MFP's endeavours achieving success, Prasert Chantararuangthong, the secretary-general of the Pheu Thai Party, stated that the proposal faced a major obstacle as its final approval was dependent upon senators and MPs. It is imperative that at least one-third, or about 84, of the senators, give it their stamp of approval.
He pointed out that those who stood in opposition to Pita's nomination were likely to obstruct the MFP's plan to amend the lese majeste law.
MFP stands firm on S112 amendment
The Move Forward Party (MFP) remains resolute in its intention to revise Section 112 of the Criminal Code, otherwise known as the lese majeste law. The MFP dismissed allegations of falling into a scheme orchestrated by senators.
On Friday, MFP secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon disclosed that productive discussions have been held with key members of the Pheu Thai Party on the strategy to bolster support for MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat's bid for premier.
It was firmly agreed that Pita Limjaroenrat would be nominated once again in the second parliamentary voting round due tomorrow. Chaithawat Tulathon emphasised that extensive efforts are underway to rally more senatorial support for Limjaroenrat.
Limjaroenrat was unable to secure sufficient backing for his prime ministerial nomination at Thursday's parliamentary vote. The reference to Section 112 was the primary factor causing many senators to withhold their support.
Undaunted, Limjaroenrat and his party affirmed their commitment to go ahead with their plan to revise this law, voicing optimism about gathering the necessary support before the next voting session.
On Friday, Chaithawat Tulathon also reasserted the MFP's dedication to its amendment bid, reminding the public that this action was one of the party's pre-election pledges made before the May 14 election.
Chaithawat said, "I don't believe that the senators will support Limjaroenrat, even if we formally declare our retreat from the amendment bid. Senators have quite set opinions about us. Surmounting the issue of Section 112, they will inevitably find other reasons to counter us."
Reports have surfaced indicating attempts by established power groups to influence the senators in the hopes of forming an alternative coalition government. Chaithawat Tulathon warned, "These old power circles and significant business organisations do not want Move Forward to become the new government."
On Friday, Senator Kittisak Rattanawaraha predicted that nominating Limjaroenrat for the second parliamentary vote scheduled for tomorrow will yield a result not unlike Thursday's vote. Furthermore, last Wednesday, the Election Commission referred to the Constitutional Court for a decision on Limjaroenrat's eligibility due to the unfolding iTV shareholding scandal.
The constitution effectively bars an investor in a media business from participating in a general election.
In an added twist, the same court has agreed to deliberate a petition submitted by legal practitioner Theerayut Suwankesorn. The petition alleges that the MFP's proposal to revise Section 112 violates Section 49 of the constitution, which emphatically forbids anyone from utilising their rights and privileges to undermine the constitutional monarchy.
Kittisak Rattanawaraha declared, "Should Limjaroenrat be nominated a second time tomorrow, he will fail to attract the senatorial votes. Perhaps not even the 13 who supported him on Thursday would vote for him." He suggested allowing the second-ranked party to nominate its candidate for prime minister instead.
He raised concerns about the MFP's recurring attempts to revise Section 112, stating that he would be sceptical even if the MFP were to back down from pursuing the amendment.
Prapan Koonme, another senator, expressed doubt about the possibility of Limjaroenrat being nominated for the prime minister vote tomorrow after failing to gain sufficient support in Thursday's vote.
Koonme referenced the No.41 parliamentary regulation, which states that "any motion that has been dismissed cannot be reintroduced in the same parliamentary session, except for a motion that parliament has not yet voted on, or a motion permitted by the president of parliament who deems the circumstances have altered.''
Consequently, this regulation is also pertinent to the motion regarding Limjaroenrat's nomination for Thursday's vote, Koonme added.
Pheu Thai looms large as potential coalition leader
Political science experts averred on Friday that the Pheu Thai Party is poised to emerge as the leader of a fresh coalition if the leader of the Move Forward Party (MFP), Pita Limjaroenrat, 34 years old, fails to emerge victorious in the parliamentary election for the post of the new Prime Minister.
Olarn Thinbangtieo, an academic from Burapha University, noted to the Bangkok Post that Pheu Thai, having the second-largest number of seats in the House, can convincingly make a move to replace the MFP and establish a new coalition. This new alliance might include some other significant parties not currently with the MFP-led coalition.
He also indicated that the present coalition includes eight parties, Pheu Thai being one. He asserted, "All Pheu Thai has to do is to assess its optimal move – nominating its own candidate for Prime Minister or moving forward with a candidate from another party in a newly formed political alliance."
Having a history of recurrent failures to secure the prime minister seat, Pita might compel Pheu Thai to contemplate whether to stick with the current MFP-led coalition or switch to new alliances with parties such as Bhumjaithai or Palang Pracharath, he stated.
Olarn further explained that if Pheu Thai chooses to stay within the existing political alliance but seizes the opportunity to nominate its candidate for a fresh prime ministerial vote, the party might not be successful in securing sufficient votes from the Senate.
Regarding the possibility of the MFP supporters taking to the streets following Pita's defeat in Thursday's vote, Olarn suggested it seemed unlikely at the moment. He stressed Pita still has an opportunity to vie for the Premiership role.
He added that Thursday's debate prior to the MPs and senators casting their votes on Pita, the only nominee for the parliamentary post, served no purpose as the electorate seemed to have made up their minds already.
These views were mirrored by other political science academicians, namely Wanwichit Boonprong of Rangsit University, Stithorn Thananithichot of King Prajadhipok's Institute, and Thanaporn Sriyakul of Kasetsart University.
They collectively remarked that the senators opting to abstain or vote against Pita in Thursday's vote expressed their disapproval of the MFP's stance against Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also referred to as the lese majeste law, which was their primary reason for not supporting Pita as the new Prime Minister of the country.
In addition to this, the academicians believed that there was no scope for backtrack for Pita and the MFP on their position against Section 112 after using it as a primary tactic in their election campaign.
MFP leader vows to gather more backers
Pita Limjaroenrat, the Move Forward Party (MFP) leader, failed to secure sufficient backing in the parliamentary candidacy vote for the nation's 30th Prime Minister, held last Thursday. Nevertheless, 32 year-old Limjaroenrat vowed to amass the required support before the anticipated second round of voting scheduled for next Wednesday.
The primary reason for the refusal of several senators to support his candidature was the proposed amendment of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, otherwise known as the lese majeste law. Limjaroenrat remains resolute in this political target, stating: “I accept [the outcome], but I will not give up. I will find strategies to gather enough support in the next round of voting," and “I will also press on with amending Section 112 as I have promised.”
Limjaroenrat received the favourable vote of 324 MPs and Senators, with 182 votes against and a further 199 abstentions. A mooted 705 of a possible 749 politicians confirmed their attendance for the vote after spending six hours in joint session with MPs and Senators deliberating. Votes were cast ahead of evaluating the credentials of Limjaroenrat, the only MFP candidate for Prime Minister. To secure the position, 375 votes were needed – a simple majority of 749 combined House and Senate seats.
Ahead of the vote, opposition parliamentarians aimed much of their criticism at the party's proposal to amend Section 112 and questioned Limjaroenrat's past iTV shareholding activities. Bhumjaithai MP for Uthai Thani, Chada Thaiset was one such detractor, voicing his concerns over the proposal's potential to incite social unrest. Thaiset claimed, “If you let people insult the monarchy [...] our country will burn.”
Furthermore, Thaiset stated that with the exception of the MFP, the other seven coalition allies did not support changing Section 112, which was further echoed by Wittaya Kaewparadai, the MP from United Thai Nation (UTN). Kaewparadai condemned the MFP for causing disruption in Thai politics, labelling their proposal a "political abnormality."
Reflecting these sentiments, Satra Sripan, a UTN MP for Songkhla, claimed that amending Section 112 would create division within society. Meanwhile, Senator Khamnoon Sitthisamarn highlighted the possible risk that Limjaroenrat's amendment of the lese majeste law could minimise, or even eradicate, punishments for those convicted of offending the royal institution.
Adding another layer of contention, Senator Praphan Koonmee argued Limjaroenrat ineligible for service due to the past ownership of 42,000 shares in broadcaster iTV Plc. As the constitution prohibits shareholders in media organisations from running in a general election, parliamentarians were warned that voting for an unqualified candidate was tantamount to exercising their authority in an unconstitutional manner.
In his defence, Limjaroenrat reassured parliamentarians of his suitability for the role of Prime Minister and stated he was never officially informed about queries related to his MP qualifications.
EC defends decision to 'rush' Pita case
On Thursday, the Election Commission (EC) stoutly affirmed that it had adhered strictly to the legal procedures when deciding to propel the ineligibility case of Move Forward Party (MFP) leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, now 34 years old, to the Constitutional Court on the previous day.
The EC's response was addressing objections by Pita, as well as additional detractors, who criticised the commission for a failure to provide him the opportunity to combat the allegation before referring the case to court and hastily concluding the investigation.
Through a statement, the EC clarified that the case concerns Pita’s Member of Parliament (MP) status. It is broadly perceived, and endorsed by evidence, to have concluded due to a particular factor identified as a cause for the cessation of an MP’s status.
The critics, who have advanced the aforementioned objection against the EC, perhaps fail to understand that the case forwarded to the court was concerned with an alleged infringement of the organic laws governing elections and political parties. They seemingly expected the EC, under these two particular laws and its own rules, to probe into the matter and initially establish the credibility of the allegation before contemplating forwarding the case to court, the EC explained.
However, the reality is that the EC adhered strictly to Section 82 of the constitution which empowers it to immediately seek the Constitutional Court's verdict on an ineligibility case where the EC is persuaded by evidence that an MP’s status has been revoked for a reason outlined in the constitution, the commission added.
Invoking two prior verdicts by the court issued in 2019 concerning the court procedures for handling a Section 82 case, the EC underscored that it was not obligatory to summon Pita to address the charge or safeguard against it, as he will have his chance to defend himself in court.
The EC also asserted that it had meticulously examined Pita’s ineligibility case and formulated its decision to advance the case to the court based on facts and evidence collated and scrutinised during the earlier fact-finding investigation.
“The EC is not in the capacity to pass the final judgement on who loses their MP status and for what justifiable reason. And it hasn’t expedited Pita’s case as charged,” the EC statement observed.
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