Beta Limgarwinrat. Photo: Iba/Rongrog Jungret
BANGKOK: Two months after general elections in Thailand, the kingdom is still waiting for a new head of government. A pro-democracy home won’t – that’s for sure. The protests of angry voters did not last long.
After a day full of surprises in parliament, Thai election winner Pita Limgaroonrat no longer has a chance of becoming the next prime minister. In fact, the 42-year-old was due to face a second vote in both houses on Wednesday after failing in the first round last week. But the vote did not take place after several senators lodged complaints against his candidacy, and soon after Peta was suspended as a Member of Parliament by the Constitutional Court.
Noisy protests in front of the parliament building did not last long. Police officers in riot gear were called in to try and control the crowd. More and more protesters later moved to the Democracy Monument in Bangkok – a symbolic place known for mass protests for many years. Angry Thais spoke of “political sabotage”.
Because many of the 52 million eligible voters wonder why they went to the polls in the first place. Thailand likes to present itself as a democratic country. But when it comes to shaking up the political establishment, young hopefuls stand little chance. Since his election victory, so many obstacles have been placed in the way of Harvard graduate Pita that in the end he could only stumble. “It is clear that winning people’s trust in the current system is not enough to rule this country,” he wrote in his resignation on Instagram on Wednesday.
Why? The progressive PETA party, Move Forward, won the most votes in the May general election and has 151 of the 500-seat House of Representatives. The army, which has been in power since the military coup in 2014, has suffered a severe defeat. PETA was then able to put together an eight-party coalition, which gave it a solid majority in the Chamber of Deputies. However, he will not become prime minister.
The reason is a clause in the constitution passed in his favor by the military after the coup: Since then, 500 elected deputies and 250 military-appointed senators have voted for the prime minister. This is conservative. Very few support the progressive forces.
On Wednesday, several senators called for Pete to be denied the second vote altogether, even though his coalition again nominated him as the top candidate. They argued that a candidate can only run for parliamentary elections once, but political experts say there is no basis for that. However, they got their application through a vote. In simple language: this is the “end” of beta.
The sticking point was the Move Forward party’s plan to change the controversial Lèse Majesté. Thailand punishes self-humiliation more than almost any other country. There have been protests among the population for some time. However, Article 112 has so far been considered untouchable. Political observers say that the reform plans, which Peta was determined to adhere to, made his candidacy hopeless from the start.
The Constitutional Court in Bangkok also temporarily suspended PETA’s membership in parliament. Accordingly, the court approved a request made by the Electoral Commission, according to a statement. The decision was announced during Parliament debate for a controversial second vote. Then Pete left the parliament building, to applause from his party colleagues.
The background is investigations into alleged shares in a media company the 42-year-old was said to have owned during his candidacy. This is forbidden in Thailand. Peta maintained that he only managed the shares from his father’s estate. In addition, the company in question has long been closed. He now has two weeks to defend himself against the allegations.
The upheaval wasn’t a complete surprise: There’s been talk of a fateful choice in the popular vacation destination for months — with several possible scenarios. Thailand is no stranger to protests and chaos. There were also no military coups: there have been more than a dozen since the 1930s.
A third vote was scheduled for Thursday if the second round failed to elect a prime minister. But the situation was not clear at all on Wednesday night. It is likely that the Pheu Thai party, PETA’s most important coalition partner, will nominate a candidate. It was the second strongest force in the parliamentary elections. Still, new talks are necessary, because the alliance’s rounds may shift again. Thus, Thailand continues to wait for its next prime minister.
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