By Noel Caballero
Bangkok, Jul 12 (EFE).- Educated, well mannered and with a charming aura, Pita Limjaroenrat looks to be appointed Thailand’s next prime minister with a program aimed at democratically reforming the country’s institutions.
The candidate, 42, leads the progressive party Move Forward, representing a new generation of politicians who antagonize the until now ruling classes and who prevailed in the May 14 elections.
His closeness to people and facility to express himself and connect with all social classes, among other factors, earned the sympathy of young voters and those disenchanted with traditional politics.
Move Forward heads a broad coalition of opposition formations that add up to a large majority in the Lower House, however, for the election of the prime minister, the Senate – completely dominated by conservatives not elected at the polls – also intervenes, making it difficult to appoint him.
Born in 1980 into a wealthy family in Bangkok, Pita’s youth was not far from other boys from wealthy families educated in elite schools abroad, in his case in New Zealand.
Pita returned to the Thai capital to graduate in Finance at Thammasat University, one of the most reputable in the country, to continue his education in the United States, where he completed a master’s degrees in Public Policy and Business Administration at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technological.
It was in the US that he began to take medical cannabis to prevent epilepsy problems.
Currently divorced and father of a girl, his separation from actress Chutima Teepanar raised controversy over an accusation of abuse that courts rejected, although Chutima has been an important supporter of his electoral campaign and called Pita a “great father.”
At 25, he took charge of the family business to save it from bankruptcy and 12 years later took the step to become the CEO in Thailand of technology company Grab, similar to Uber in Southeast Asia.
In 2018, Pita made the leap into the political arena by joining the Future Forward party, formed that same year, with which she won a seat in the 2019 elections, an election marked by doubt and that served as a transition after the military dictatorship.
But a controversial court decision in 2020 forced the dissolution of Future Forward and prohibited its then leaders from holding political office, at which time Pita took command of the platform refounded under Move Forward.
During the electoral campaign, the young politician said he promised to abolish compulsory military recruitment and reform the army, decentralize the country, fight monopolies and promote a legal reform of the controversial law that protects the all-powerful monarchy.
Despite the fact that the coalition he commands brings together 312 of the 500 seats in Parliament, Pita needs the support of other parties or members of the Senate – formed by 250 senators elected by the former military junta – to reach 376 seats, or the absolute majority in the bicameral vote, and be appointed prime minister.
The main obstacle to gaining the favor of the senators is their firm promise to present an amendment to Article 112 of the Penal Code, known as the royal defamation law, which punishes anyone who insults members of the monarchy with between three to 15 years in prison.
Move Forward, which has the support of the young protesters in 2020 who are demanding a deep democratic reform, wants to reduce the penalties for royal defamation and that this can only be denounced by the Office of the Royal Household – whereas currently anyone can file a complaint.
Should he win the endorsements and become Thailand’s 30th prime minister – the youngest in 77 years – Pita will continue to face other risks that could end his political career.
The Electoral Commission is investigating whether Pita knowingly breached the conditions to register as a parliamentary candidate due to the possession of shares in a communication company, which is prohibited by electoral rules.
The convoluted complaint focuses on 42,000 titles of the iTV channel, which represent 0.0035 percent of the total shares of this chain closed in 2007, which the politician administered as part of the family trust after the death of his father in 2006.
The company created to manage the television channel, withdrawn from the stock market in 2014, cannot be liquidated due to a long-standing litigation that is still ongoing for a series of damages as a result of its insolvency.