19 July 2023

Pita Limjaroenrat:
“Until we meet again...”

Constitutional Court

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has suspended Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat from parliament with immediate effect, while it investigates his ownership of shares in the defunct TV channel iTV. After the ruling this afternoon, Pita left parliament saying, “goodbye until we meet again”. The court’s decision was timed to cause maximum political impact, as MPs and senators were due to vote on Pita’s nomination as prime minister later today. That vote was cancelled, ending Pita’s chances of becoming PM.

The court’s intervention came a week after the Election Commission of Thailand recommended Pita’s suspension. The timing of the ECT’s announcement was similarly impactful, coming on the eve of the first vote on Pita’s nomination as PM. Pita secured only thirteen votes from the 250 junta-appointed senators, and the debate on his nomination was overshadowed by senators and government MPs criticising Move Forward’s policy to amend the lèse-majesté law. The tone was set by Bhumjaithai MP Chada Thaiseth, who claimed that “our country will burn” if lèse-majesté was amended, adding: “How about I propose a law allowing people to shoot those insulting the monarchy?”

Constitutional Court

Another vote on Pita’s candidacy was due today, though after the court’s announcement MPs and senators voted instead to prevent the second round from taking place. (A parliamentary rule states that “[a]ny motion which has the same principle as the one lapsed shall not be submitted in the same session,” and last week’s vote was interpreted as a lapsed motion.) Three unelected bodies—the Senate, the ECT, and the Constitutional Court—have successfully prevented the election winner from assuming office. Protesters gathered at Democracy Monument this evening, burning a coffin symbolising the senators who blocked Pita’s nomination.

The political momentum has now shifted to Move Forward’s coalition partner Pheu Thai, which is likely to nominate its candidate Srettha Thavisin—who is more palatable to senators and government MPs—as prime minister. Pheu Thai has come under increasing pressure from other parties to abandon its alliance with Move Forward, though it has consistently denied any plans to do so. Pita has repeatedly hinted that Move Forward supporters would take to the streets if his party was excluded from the new government.

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