BANGKOK (AP) — The leader of Thailand’s election-winning Move Forward Party braced for what could be his last chance to become prime minister on Wednesday, when a parliament that rejected him last week convenes for its second vote on the premiership.
Thailand has been run by an interim administration since March and 65 days have passed since Move Forward’s stunning electoral triumph over parties backed by the royal army after nine years of general-controlled rule.
US-educated liberal Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, needs the backing of more than half of the bicameral parliament to be endorsed as Thailand’s next prime minister, but must overcome fierce resistance from an army at odds with his party’s anti-establishment ambitions.
Parliamentary rules written by the military after a 2014 coup and skewed in its favor ensured Pita’s defeat in the first round, when he was detained by a Senate appointed by generals allied with conservatives and wealthy families who have long held sway over Thailand’s democracy.
Pita has a mountain to climb and knows that if he fails this time, he must make good on his promise to give way to his coalition partner and political heavyweight, Pheu Thai, to field his candidate for prime minister in the next round.
“I did not fail. I won the elections and formed a coalition and was blocked by the Senate. Let’s be clear on that,” Pita told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
He fell short of 51 votes and was endorsed by just 13 of 249 senators, many of whom abstained or did not show up, effectively voting against him.
Move Forward believes many were pressured into denying it and Pita hopes some may change their minds.
“We are still in deficit, but we have won,” he said.
“I approached the 13 brave: there was a group that did not show up. They promised to vote for Pita… that is a considerable block”.
The progressive movement Move Forward ran a disruptive campaign dominated by social media, targeting urban and youth voters, with promises of bold institutional reforms to upend the conservative status quo.
But his agenda has put him on a collision course with powerful interests and Pita faces other hurdles on Wednesday that have raised questions about whether the parliamentary vote will go ahead.
Several senators have announced that they will try to prevent him from running, arguing that no candidate should be nominated twice.
While parliament meets, the Constitutional Court will consider a lawsuit against Pita seeking his disqualification for a shareholding issue considered in violation of electoral rules, which could result in his suspension as lawmaker.
“That’s good,” he said. “It is something that was planned in advance.
Explainer: Can Thailand’s Pita Succeed In A Second Prime Ministerial Vote?
Thailand’s pita is open to a leading coalition-allied government if he fails in his prime ministerial bid
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