The top candidate to become Thailand’s next prime minister said on Tuesday he has enough support from members of the army-appointed Senate to become PM next week.
The comments by Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat come a week before the country’s new parliament meets and begins formal procedures to decide who forms the new government.
Pita, the leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, faces an uncertain path to the premiership despite scoring a stunning victory in a May poll that saw Thais reject nearly nine years of military-backed government.
His eight-party alliance has a combined 312 seats in parliament. Under the constitution, to become prime minister, Pita needs at least 376 votes in a joint sitting of the bicameral legislature, including the 250-member upper house, most of whom were chosen by the military when it took power in 2014.
When asked on Tuesday how much Senate support he had secured, Pita said: “enough for me to become prime minister”.
Parliament to convene next week
His remarks will please many of the 14 million people who voted for his party in the election in May, however they may not fully dispel doubts on whether the young politician really does get the top job given comments about his party’s policies by conservatives appointed to the upper house.
The 42-year-old political maverick may also face legal challenges over issues such as his previous ownership of shares in a media company, which could have the potential to strike him out.
Doubts have lingered on whether Pita has enough support because of his party’s controversial proposal to amend Thailand’s strict royal insult law or lese majeste.
There has also been has a petition filed with the Constitutional Court claiming that Move Forward Party’s policy to amend this law contravenes the charter implemented by the previous military government.
Move Forward has said the law, which prescribes up to 15 years of jail for perceived offences against the monarchy, is used as a political tool against opponents of the current government.
The stance has antagonised country’s royalist establishment and old-money elite, including the conservative-leaning Senate.
The party was in the process of explaining its position to senators ahead of the July parliamentary vote, Pita said.
“Amending the law in keeping with society’s context is not something that will stop government formation,” he said.
After convening on July 3, parliament is expected to vote on a prime minister on July 13.
Recent weeks have also seen a tussle between Move Forward and its biggest partner, Pheu Thai Party, linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, over who should be allowed to nominate the Speaker of the new parliament.
This suggests the path ahead is strewn with mines that will test the new leader and his coalition government.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard