By Helen Regan and Kocha Olarn, CNN Updated on July 13, 2023, at 10:46 PM EDT
In a significant setback for Thailand’s democratic prospects, the sole nominee for the position of the next prime minister failed to secure enough parliamentary votes to form a government on Thursday. This development raises concerns about the future of democracy in Thailand after nearly a decade of turbulent military-backed rule.
The parliamentary vote held great importance for Thailand, as members of the bicameral National Assembly were tasked with choosing the country’s next prime minister. It was anticipated to reveal whether the ruling establishment would respect the choice of the people, who had overwhelmingly supported progressive opposition parties in the May election.
In a surprising election outcome, the newly formed Move Forward party emerged as the winner, securing the most seats and the largest share of the popular vote. This victory was a reflection of the mounting frustration with the kingdom’s governance that had been building for years.
Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward party and the prime ministerial candidate, garnered only 324 votes out of the required 376 for a majority in both the upper and lower houses. As a result, the House Speaker is set to call for another round of voting at a later date.
The Move Forward party had made ambitious commitments to implement profound structural reforms in the Southeast Asian country, home to more than 70 million people. These reforms encompassed changes to the military, the economy, the decentralization of power, and even revisions to the previously untouchable monarchy.
Following the vote, Pita Limjaroenrat addressed reporters outside parliament, expressing his acceptance of the outcome while emphasizing the party’s determination to uphold its promises to the people. He made particular reference to the party’s audacious campaign pledge to amend Thailand’s stringent lese majeste law, despite the sensitivity surrounding discussions about the royal family.
Lese majeste is covered under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, making it a criminal offense to criticize the King, Queen, or heir-apparent, with convictions carrying severe penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Remarkably, anyone, even if unrelated to the alleged offense, can file a case related to lese majeste.
The topic of royal reform is exceptionally delicate, leading several senators and conservative parties to oppose Pita’s candidacy. Senator Seri Suwannapanon, prior to the vote, stated, “He is not suitable to become a prime minister of Thailand. First, the Move Forward Party has a policy of amending and abolishing Section 112. Secondly, after the Election Commission forwarded the case to the court to examine his eligibility, it has been proven at a certain level that he is not qualified.”
Senator Kittisak Rattanawaraha echoed these sentiments outside parliament, stating that he would not vote for Pita because of the party’s alleged interference with independent agencies, the military, the police, and Section 112.