June 2, 2023
BANGKOK – A core group of senators loyal to generals Prayut Chan-o-cha and Prawit Wongsuwan are actively lobbying their peers not to vote for Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat to become Thailand’s 30th prime minister.
Pita is the candidate of the eight-party coalition that is attempting to form the next government.
The two generals helped form the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) after the 2014 coup, while a post-coup charter gave them the right to join MPs in voting for the prime minister.
Most of the 250 senators were handpicked by either Prayut or Prawit.
The core NCPO loyalists are arguing that “voting for Move Forward is tantamount to betraying the monarchy”, the sources say.
They are trying to convince other senators that Move Forward’s repeated vow to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, is proof of the party’s opposition to the monarchy.
They have also been telling other senators that a vote for Pita to become prime minister will be wasted because Pita and the Move Forward might be disqualified or dissolved by the Constitutional Court.
If Move Forward is dissolved, 14 executives of the party will be banned from politics, so the Pheu Thai Party would immediately become the party with the most MPs. Move Forward won 151 seats in the Lower House, while Pheu Thai – its main coalition partner – won 141.
Currently, the Move Forward-led coalition has the support of 312 MPs, including those from Pheu Thai and six prospective partners. But the number is still short of the 376 votes required to elect the next prime minister.
Pita still needs support from 64 members of both chambers to become the next prime minister, and this will require some support from the Senate.
Sensing an opening, the NCPO loyalists in the Senate have proposed that the next government be formed with Prayut and Prawit as key ministers so that they can continue running the country.
Prayut is the United Thai Nation Party’s candidate for the prime minister, while Prawit is the Palang Pracharath Party’s pick for the top job.
Eyes on the court
Senators are closely following two legal cases that may lead to the dissolution of Move Forward, the sources said.
Lawyer Thirayut Suwankesorn filed a complaint with the Election Commission and the Office of Attorney-General on Tuesday, accusing Pita and the Move Forward of violating Article 92 of the Political Parties Act.
Thirayut alleged that Pita and Move Forward have exhibited behaviour detrimental to the monarchy by campaigning against Article 112, which exists to protect the monarchy. Thirayut asked the commission and the Office of Attorney-General to forward his case to the Constitutional Court to consider dissolving the Move Forward.
He alleged that Pita had expressed harmful intentions against the monarchy during the election campaign, noting specifically that he proposed a bill to amend Article 112 on March 25, 2021.
Thirayut also pointed out that the intention was also stated in the memorandum of understanding signed by the eight prospective partners of the Move Forward-led coalition, saying that Move Forward would push for amending Article 112 on its own.
A second case involves allegations by political gadfly Ruangkrai Leekitwattana that Pita was not qualified to contest the election and not qualified to act as the party leader to nominate Move Forward candidates to contest the election because he had held shares in a company that owned a defunct TV station.
Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, a legal expert, has said if the Election Commission sees the allegations that Ruangkrai’s claims have grounds and passes them on to the Constitutional Court, the victory of Pita and all his MPs may be annulled, leading to a new general election.
The election has moved from a public campaign to discussion behind Senate doors, where those loyal to the former coup leaders are hoping the legal cases against Pita will help them maintain the status quo.