Thailand is sinking into a political crisis after the new rejection by Parliament on Wednesday of the candidacy for the post of prime minister of progressive MP Pita Limjaroenrat, winner of the last elections whose program is considered too radical vis-à-vis the monarchy and the army.
After more than seven hours of discussions, deputies and senators prohibited (394 against 312) the progressive leader from presenting himself a second time, after his failure last Thursday to become head of government.
The vote for the Prime Minister therefore did not take place. After the sidelining of Pita, Thailand now finds itself without any declared candidate.
Winner of the legislative elections of May 14 under the banner of the Move Forward partydarling of the new generations, Pita Limjaroenrat had few illusions before this outcome, in the face of tenacious opposition from the pro-army establishment he is fighting.
It is “obvious that the vote of the people is not enough to govern the country”, he assured Wednesday afternoon in a message published on his Instagram account.
In a kingdom caught in the spiral of political crises for more than 20 years, its failure opens a new period of instability, which awakens the scenario of giant protests.
At the end of the afternoon, around 300 supporters of Move Forward faced the police equipped with shields in front of the Parliament, noted an AFP photographer, while others joined a call to meet in front of the Monument of the democracy, in Bangkok.
Their protests must conclude another day full of drama, which saw Thailand move away from a government from the most popular party.
The Constitutional Court began by suspending Pita Limjaroenrat from his duties as a parliamentarian, while he attended the debates on his second candidacy to become head of government.
“I would like to say goodbye to you until our next meeting”, launched the person concerned when leaving the hemicycle, to applause, fist raised.
“Thailand has changed since May 14, and the people have already won half. There is another half left,” he also said.
The judges of the Court followed the recommendations of the electoral commission, which accuses the parliamentarian of owning shares in a television channel at the time of the campaign, which is prohibited by law.
Pita defended himself from any illegal maneuver and recalled that the media in question, iTV, had not been broadcasting since 2007. He risks being banned from political life for 20 years.
This decision dealt a near-fatal blow to the candidate, whose chances were already slim to form the next government.
Acclaimed in May for his breakthrough program promising to turn the page on almost a decade of military domination, echoing the pro-democracy demonstrations of 2020, Pita Limjaroenrat embodies at 42 the renewal desired by the Thais.
But the champion of the alternation, supported by a majority coalition in the National Assembly, came up against the blockages of the senators appointed by the army who reproach him for his legal troubles and his program, considered too radical vis-à-vis of the monarchy.
Pita needed the rallying of about fifty additional senators (out of 250) to obtain the required majority. Only 13 of them approved it in the first vote.
But the vote did not even take place. The conservative camp brandished a point of the rules which prevents a motion previously refused by Parliament from being presented again during the same session.
His project to reform the lèse-majesté law has drawn a yellow line with the senators, who refuse any compromise with Move Forward, considered too radical vis-à-vis the monarchy.
Pita Limjaroenrat was the only declared candidate to become prime minister, so far.
Risk of disputes
In the event of a second defeat, he promised that he would withdraw in favor of the Pheu Thai party, the second force in the hemicycle and a member of the pro-democracy coalition.
Businessman Srettha Thavisin (60), with a more consensual profile, is the best placed to take over, but the presence of Move Forward among his supporters could dissuade the senators and thus push him to ally himself with movements more conciliatory with the army.
Thailand, where high inequalities persist, has one of the lowest growth rates in Southeast Asia, which calls for major structural reforms.
Economic circles are concerned in the event of prolonged instability, which could impact the vital tourism sector.
If the party loses again in Parliament, “there will be a backlash, that’s for sure. There are already some demonstrations, supporters of Move Forward feel cheated, robbed, ”said political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak.
Riot police, containers to block access, additional fences… The Parliament was at the center of an important security device during the deliberations.
Supporters of Move Forward gathered throughout the day near the building to demand that their voice be heard by the senators. Orange smoke bombs, the color of the party, were lit by the demonstrators.
“Why ask people to go to the polling stations? asked one of them, who requested anonymity.
The dissolution of Future Forward in 2020, the ancestor of Move Forward, had led to massive protests in Bangkok demanding more democracy and transparency.