The old guard retains its grip, for now

The old guard retains its grip, for now

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party, speaks to the media on Thursday after senators appointed by the army blocked him from becoming prime minister in the first vote since his party won the most seats in a May election. (Photo: Bloomberg)
Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party, speaks to the media on Thursday after senators appointed by the army blocked him from becoming prime minister in the first vote since his party won the most seats in a May election. (Photo: Bloomberg)

The failure of Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat to gain enough support in his bid for the premiership is neither surprising nor unexpected, given the coordinated efforts of the conservative camp to block the young leader.

Mr Pita gained 324 votes in Thursday's session, 51 short of the 375 votes required in the joint sitting of the Lower House and Senate to fulfil his political ambition. While the eight prospective coalition parties showed their solidarity with 311 votes, only 13 senators gave him the nod -- much fewer than the MFP had expected. The scarce support had something to do with pressure -- with various forms of threats and bribes -- from the old powers to prevent the Senate from stepping out of line. That resulted in a huge number of abstentions, 159, on the part of the Upper House.

In his response to the unfavourable vote, Mr Pita said he accepted the outcome, but wouldn't give up. The party is to find strategies to gather more support in the next round of voting, scheduled for Wednesday.

But Mr Pita will also find it hard, if not impossible, to remain in the race. Some senators have tactics to keep him out, claiming that a second nomination of Pita might be unconstitutional.

Besides the so-called politics of judicialisation against the MFP leader have intensified. Just one day ahead of the premiership voting, the Election Commission (EC) submitted Mr Pita's alleged iTV share ownership case to the Constitutional Court to rule if he is to lose his MP status. Apart from staunch opponents on the conservative side, the MFP may find itself forced out of the race by its allies, particularly Pheu Thai, which will likely cite political deadlock as the reason. The old powers seem to have decided to go to extreme lengths by interpreting the MFP's move on Section 112's amendment as a threat to national security which, if found guilty of by the charter court, could lead to the dissolution of the party.

This is a crucial point. In fact, analysts believe political difficulties will give Pheu Thai reason to escalate the pressure on the MFP so that the latter will step out of the way in the race, dropping Mr Pita's candidacy to pave the way for its PM choice. This is what had been anticipated by several observers. Lest we forget, Pheu Thai was a reluctant ally from the beginning, but as anti-junta sentiment rose strongly before the May 14 elections, the party had no choice but to jump on the pro-democracy bandwagon.

While the party realises it needs to keep its image shiny by not rushing to nominate Srettha Thavisin or Paetongtarn Shinawatra for the premiership, and would rather wait until the charter court disqualifies the MFP leader so it will have the legitimacy to propose a new candidate, the situation may not allow it to wait for long. It is reported that 10 parties in the old coalition have issued a threat to form a minority government, likely under Gen Prawit Wongsuwon who holds a tight leash over the Senate, in the next voting round. During the July 13 session, the anti-MFP senators made it clear that they would support Pheu Thai if it would abandon the coalition leader.

It's quite certain that Pheu Thai would be more than happy to grab such a contentious offer. Then it would justify the acceptance by claiming that if the coalition continues to nominate Mr Pita for the top job, the voting would go nowhere.

The coalition allies were to meet yesterday afternoon about their next tactics as the public watches with anxiety. In its strategic move, the MFP said it would submit a censure motion that would scrap Section 272 of the charter which gives the Senate the power to endorse a prime minister. The provisional power lasts for about a year.

It will soon be known how the prospective MFP-led coalition will decide in such a make-or-break situation. It's reported also that some elements in the MFP want the party out of the coalition, and back in the ranks of the opposition. However, several still think that by maintaining the partnership, albeit sidestepping the premiership in favour of Pheu Thai, the party will still be able to take hold of major ministries and pursue some of its flagship policies such as army and police reform as well as charter amendment. In that case, it may have a chance to secure a bigger victory in future elections.

But if the MFP chooses the first option of walking out of the coalition, Pheu Thai will have a big decision to make: shaking hands with the old powers which would represent a major risk for the party. Don't forget that Pheu Thai experienced a setback for being reluctant during the election campaign about whether to go fully democratic, turning its back on the junta, or to play a two-faced democratic advocate. Such reluctance came with a price, as it lost a large amount of loyalty from its supporters who instead turned to the MFP, making the latter the top poll winner.

It's too early to know if Pheu Thai will take the risk of dancing with the ex-junta parties. But if it does, there would be a price to pay. In that case, what appears as the MFP's loss, being left out of the coalition and resuming its opposition role, could just be a blessing in disguise as the line between parties that attach value to democracy or pseudo-democracy will be made clear for voters in the next election.

It's unfortunate that the old powers have failed to accept the results of the May 14 election and have not played by the rules to allow democracy to run its course.

As those on top want to maintain the status quo, we just have to hold our breath to see what will happen next.

After all, the people's patience is running thin.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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