Thai parliament kicks off high-stakes vote for new prime minister

Bangkok, Jul 13 (EFE).- Thailand’s bicameral parliament on Thursday morning began a high-stakes vote to determine the country’s next prime minister amid uncertainty over whether a progressive leader will be able to take power after nearly a decade of military-backed rule.

The 500 members of the House of Representatives elected in May and the 250 senators handpicked in 2019 by the now-defunct military junta were scheduled for a six-hour debate before a vote expected from 5pm local time (10:00 GMT) amid doubts about whether any candidate will reach the 376 votes needed to become prime minister.

Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the progressive Move Forward party that pulled off May’s shock election win, heads an eight-party coalition of 312 deputies.

However, two legal complaints lodged on the eve of the vote that could lead to the dissolution of Move Forward and Pita’s disqualification, could hinder the popular politician from reaching the 64 extra votes needed to reach Thursday’s target.

Upon arrival at parliament, Pita told local reporters he was confident of achieving the necessary numbers.

Overnight authorities set up barricades of shipping containers in anticipation of a second day of public protests.

On Wednesday, the eve of the PM vote, the Election Commission referred a complaint over Pita’s inheritance of shares in a media company to the Constitutional Court, which hours later accepted another complaint filed by a private party over Move Forward’s plan to amend the country’s hardline lese majeste law.

The party has 15 days to respond to the court regarding the complaint against it, and if the same court finds that Pita violated election laws, he could face up to 10 years in prison and 20 years of political disqualification.

“I am curious like anyone else,” Pita said Wednesday night in an interview with Thairath. “I have been an MP for four years … and now, a day before the prime minister vote in which 750 National Assembly members participate, suddenly there is something wrong. I can’t help but wonder what is going on.”

Allegations against the leader of Move Forward are reminiscent of the case against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the dissolved Future Forward party – Move Forward’s predecessor – who was disqualified in 2019 when running for election that year while holding shares in a communications company.

That decision was criticized by the European Union as well as the United States and triggered massive student-led pro-democracy protests in 2020 and 2021, which formed the basis for the 14 million votes Move Forward garnered in this year’s ballot boxes. EFE


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