The controversial Article 112 of the Criminal Code on lèse-majesté was debated openly in parliament on Thursday with Mr Pita Limjaroenrat arguing that reform of the law would help to protect the dignity of the Monarchy while Move Forward Party Secretary-general, Chaitawat Tulathon, said no one should be jailed for defamation. In reply, Senator Somchai Sawangkarn described the Move Forward Party as a dangerous cult with extreme views that threatened the peace of the kingdom as he launched a scathing attack on what he called attempts to coerce the Senate through online social media activism.

Thai politics took a step further into what could be a serious political crisis on Thursday when parliament failed to elect list MP Pita Limjaroenrat as Thailand’s 30th Prime Minister even after he was the only nominee before parliament supported by an eight-party coalition representing 72% of voters and 62% of seats in the House of Representatives. In an often ill-tempered and fiery debate, opposition to Mr Pita came from the Senate and MPs aligned with the outgoing government which decisively lost the May 14th General Election. With two serious petitions before the Constitutional Court against both Mr Pita and the Move Forward Party itself, taken up only on Wednesday, the day before the key parliamentary vote, there are fears that the situation may deteriorate further if the court subsequently acts against the prime ministerial nominee and the winning party in that poll.

Pita Limjaroenrat after the vote in parliament and a heated six-hour debate during which both sides of the political divide expressed differing points of view leading to 324 votes for the candidacy of the Move Forward Party leader and 182 against but still 51 votes short of the requirement under Section 272 of the Constitution.

The Thai parliament sitting in joint session on Thursday failed to elect Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat as Thailand’s 30th Prime Minister in a sometimes heated session in which many of the issues currently exercising the country were aired before Senators and MPs.

On Thursday morning, the majority required was reduced to 375 votes of the combined assembly including 498 MPs and 249 upper house members when Senator Renu Tunkachivangoon resigned her position from the body having been appointed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan Ocha in 2019.

Pita was the only nominee on Thursday and received 324 votes from the House and Senate, falling short by 51 votes to become the 30th Prime Minister

Senator Renu was a political aide to the outgoing PM before this.

On Thursday, Mr Pita’s nomination received the support of 324 members of the National Assembly, including 311 in the House of Representatives and 13 members of the Senate.

It was 51 votes short.

The 149 MPs who voted against Mr Pita’s nomination included the 25 votes of the Democrat Party despite some indications after the May 14th poll that some MPs would support his nomination.

The party, however, decided to vote unanimously against his candidacy on Wednesday over the Move Forward Party’s stance on Article 112 of the Criminal Code.

42 missing senators noted by the public

In all, 155 Senators abstained in Thursday’s vote in addition to the upper house member who resigned. This left 42 Senators who did not attend the meeting of the Joint Assembly.

Only 705 MPs and Senators out of 748 who were eligible turned up.

One of these was Senator Dirk Jenkronktaan, who had previously, it is reported, indicated that he would vote for Mr Pita as Prime Minister in the joint session of parliament.

Before the vote took place, the President of the Parliament, Mr Wan Muhamad Noor Matha had already scheduled a second vote for July 19th and a third vote on July 20th to consider the nomination of Mr Pita again.

Voting took two hours after six hours of testy debate which ended at 3.51 pm with contrasting opinions expressed and Article 112 discussed publicly

The debate in Parliament on Thursday finished up at 3.51 pm and the voting began at 4.05 pm with members of the combined session of parliament called in alphabetical order. 

The vote took two hours to be processed.

One of those who voted in favour of Mr Pita in the Senate was Senator Peerasak Porjit, the social and recreation activities committee chairman.

The popular senator said he did so based on the democratic principle that Mr Pita represented the will of the people.

He also addressed concerns held by senators related to Article 112 of the Criminal Code dealing with lèse-majesté, explaining that any change to the law would be something that would have to be passed by the House of Representatives, legally scrutinised and approved.

Senator who supported Pita said the House was responsible for screening any laws and that any change to Article 112 has to be passed there first

He said if any proposed law did not attain the support of a majority in the House then it would not pass. 

Significantly, Article 112 is not part of the Memorandum of Understanding between the eight-party coalition attempting to form a government with all other parties opposed to any change to it.

Senator Peerasak also addressed the issue raised by members of the Senate concerning separatism to do with the Southern Provinces, a key fear that emerged over the past few weeks, as Move Forward Party officials canvassed the Upper House for support.

Senator Peerasak said he did not believe there was a danger to the integrity of the nation. 

Addressing a potential deadlock that may develop linked Mr Pita’s candidacy, he said it would be a matter to be resolved by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Wan Muhamad Noor Matha in due course.

Pita exhorted political adversaries not to be afraid of the voice of the people and to bring Thailand into the fold of democratic countries in the world

In the course of the six-hour debate, which at times became quite ill-tempered, there were a few pointed exchanges.

Mr Pita began by outlining his vision for the country and attempted to address concerns that had been raised concerning his candidacy to be Thailand’s 30th Prime Minister.

He candidly addressed his audience about efforts to thwart his bid for the job. He said he realised that there were groups of people who were attempting to block him from becoming Prime Minister.

‘They do not want to allow the establishment of a majority government because they are afraid of loss of benefits, whether concessions or business interests. They are deliberately pulling the monarchy into the question to protect their own interests,’ he said. 

PM nominee warned Article 112 is abused by vested interests to retain benefits or even business interests. New government would uphold the Monarchy

The Move Forward Party leader went further and described the abuse of the lèse-majesté law, Article 112, by conservative elements in Thailand as a danger and said that the Move Forward Party and the coalition that signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the government were committed to upholding the highest institution as a revered pillar of the country.

Mr Pita said his party’s policy was designed to preserve the monarchy and its power in the context of a modern democracy. 

‘By doing this, the monarchy will be able to maintain its dignity in Thai society,’ he declared.

Mr Pita said that what must be achieved is a united country with a society that is ready to accept diversity in gender, race, religion and indeed political opinions. 

He said his party and government would stand for a commitment to resolving conflicts through the democratic process and where conflict existed, airing it openly in Parliament.

Politicians in Thailand, at this time, must show courage to secure the future of the country where voices and differing opinions should not be silenced

He said that what Thailand requires is a fair process for making important decisions in society.

He described his candidacy for the top job in government as an opportunity to restore Thailand to normality and described the current situation as a crossroads for the Kingdom, which all depends now on the decision of its parliamentarians.

Mr Pita said it required courage and vision, at this moment, to secure the future of Thailand which put the people at its heart.

The young leader called on those present not to be suspicious of themselves, to refrain from silencing the voices and strong will of the people which should not be feared.

Mr Pita referred to Wednesday’s controversial decision by the Election Commission to refer a potential criminal case against him under Section 151 of the 2018 Electoral Act as one in which he was given no consideration but insisted before Parliament that he had perfect qualifications and was ready to be Thailand’s next Prime Minister and leader under a democratic system with the King as Head of State.

Sharp exchanges between Pita and outgoing government-aligned MPs and Senators who strongly opposed him in the Joint Session of Parliament

The debate, on Thursday, saw many intense and vexed exchanges.

In one case, Mr Chada Thaiseth, a Bhumjaithai Party MP, suggested that anyone insulting the king should be shot. 

‘Anyone who insults the King, just take a gun,’ he exclaimed.

Mr Pita responded in return that under Thai law there is a presumption of innocence and that in Parliament there can be no tolerance for those acting as vigilantes.

For the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party, Mr Sastra Sripan, the new MP for Songkhla, underlined the importance of Article 112 to the unity of the nation no matter what the economic cost, he emphasised.

He warned that the radical approach of the Move Forward Party could see Thailand reduced to division and ruin otherwise.

Scathing attack by a top Senator on the election-winning Move Forward Party describing it as an extremist cult controlling the minds of young Thais

In a scathing attack on Mr Pita, Senator Somchai Sawangkarn, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, Rights and Liberties and Consumer Protection, described the Move Forward Party as an extremist cult which was now dominating the minds of the youth of the country.

Senator Somchai spoke of online intimidation and social media pressure against his peers in the upper house linked with democracy. 

He said the Move Forward Party represented an extreme path in Thai politics and urged Senator Pita and members of his party to stop referring to the 14 million votes they received in the May 14th General Election.

He suggested that the Pheu Thai Party had achieved a somewhat similar result, while there was also an even larger number of voters that did not vote for Move Forward.

He described the Move Forward Party as going against the principles of democracy on this basis and said that the members of the Senate were interested in seeing a new generation of democracy in Thailand built around peace.

Move Forward Party Secretary-general says people in Thailand should no longer be jailed for defamation

In a lively address to the Parliament, Move Forward Party Secretary General, Chaitawat Tulathon, strongly defended the party’s plans for reform of Article 112 of the Criminal Code in relation to lèse-majesté suggesting that no one in Thailand should be jailed for defamation.

Mr Chaitawat said this was the law in most civilised countries.

Thursday’s result in Parliament will come as a blow to the Kingdom’s economic interests and the business community.

Business leader says campaign to thwart Move Forward and Pita forming the next government is bad for the country and the economy as things unravel

Already, on Thursday, the Vice Chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) Issares Rattanadilok na Phuket, acknowledged that there appears to be a political campaign to thwart Mr Pita’s path to the Prime Minister’s office.

He cited this as a negative factor for the country. 

On Wednesday, hopes of a smooth transition to power were dimmed when the Election Commission, in a last-minute move signed off by the Chairman of the body, Ittiporn Boonpracong, alleged in a petition to the Constitutional Court that Mr Pita held shares in a media company, in contravention of the law, and that he knowingly put himself forward for our election on this basis.

This is a breach of Section 151 of the Organic Act on The Election of Members of the House of Representatives 2018, punishable by a potential jail term of up to 10 years on conviction.

He could also be, on this basis, barred from politics or elected office.

Constitutional Court takes up petitions against Pita Limjaroenrat and the Move Forward Party just hours before the vote in parliament for Prime Minister

This move has been condemned by the prime ministerial nominee for the Move Forward Party, Mr Pita who pointed out, on Wednesday, that the shares in question were related to a defunct concern and only held by him in his role as an executor of his father’s estate while he had also renounced any claim to the shares.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court at its weekly meeting indicated that it would review the petition next week but later confirmed that it had accepted a further petition from lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn under Section 49 of the constitution on the basis that the Move Forward Party’s policy dealing with reforming Article 112 of the Criminal Code amounted to an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

This complaint may prove a more serious one, since if upheld, it could lead, potentially, to the disbandment of the Move Forward Party.

Many legal analysts are also intrigued by the fact that the court accepted the petition from an individual while the constitution provides for complaints to be processed by no less than 10% of either the House of Representatives or the Senate or by the Election Commission considering a complaint made to it by a member of the public before it is forwarded to the Constitutional Court.

These developments, on Wednesday, sparked spontaneous protests with people wearing orange appearing in Bangkok, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani and Nakhon Ratchasima while progressive leaders began calling for the public to both monitor the situation and to make their views known peacefully.

Move Forward Party Secretary-general said that the eight-party coalition will stay united and keep proposing Pita Limjaroenrat no matter what happens

On Wednesday, Move Forward Secretary General Mr Chaitawat made it quite clear that the eight-party coalition was determined to pursue the nomination of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat as Thailand’s next prime minister, despite how the matter is ultimately processed by the Constitutional Court.

‘Tomorrow may be an opportunity for a fork in the road of Thai society. It will decide if the people’s voice will remain ignored or if normalcy will be returned to help make the country go forward,’ he said.

However, it is clear that if Mr Pita is potentially barred from politics, or even if the Move Forward Party is disbanded, this could provoke a significant crisis.

There is also concern that the unity of the Eight party coalition may be tested in the days and weeks ahead, with well-known Pheu Thai Party list MP Mr Sutin Klangsaeng, on Thursday, in the midst of the drama in Parliament, suggesting that next week or in the future, Parliament may be considering another MP besides Mr Pita.

On the other hand, sources within the Pheu Thai Party and other parties of the coalition are echoing the Move Forward Party secretary general, Mr Chaitawat when he suggested that it must maintain its unity in the face of what is looking like an increasingly difficult political challenge ahead.

Join the Thai News forum, follow Thai Examiner on Facebook here
Receive all our stories as they come out on Telegram here
Follow Thai Examiner here

Further reading:

Plan is to rally parliament behind the people’s will to elect Pita Limjaroenrat as Prime Minister

Move Forward leader says Pita will be PM despite the rumour mill and some vociferous senators on the right

Pheu Thai may face a terrible dilemma as outgoing government parties still aim for power in PM vote

Wan Noor elected unopposed as House Speaker, Move Forward Party nominee for deputy wins vote

King and Queen open parliament amid uncertainty as to Tuesday’s vote on the Speaker of the House

Breakthrough deal could see either Pita or Srettha take job as Thailand’s 30th PM on July 13th

PM’s soothing words for frayed nerves as he says he will continue his role up to the next cabinet

Baht falls to 7-month low as unease grows over chances of Pita Limjaroenrat being elected as PM

New PM in July a turning point for the Thai economy in 2023 which could still see 4% GDP growth recorded

Pita’s election as PM and political certainty would be a green light for new jobs and investment

79 new MPs face scrutiny as Election Commission says only 321 to be declared elected on June 21st

Way cleared for Pita’s election as PM but seeds sown for political conflict with criminal probe under poll law

Dangerous political flux in the aftermath of the General Election is growing and poses a threat

Pita shares cast a pall over historic May 14th Election, fears that the results may be nullified by a court

Compromise mooted between Pheu Thai and Move Forward on House Speaker job before key meeting

Kooky Palang Pracharat reports rejected on Tuesday by Prawit as Pheu Thai stands by Pita for PM

Move Forward’s ‘Government of Hope’ coalition delivers a programme promising a new charter

Jatuporn warns Pheu Thai may be turned as he predicts a political impasse. Should wait for 2024

Election vote for Move Forward may have been a cry for help from voters mired in short-term debt

Pita, Move Forward and eight other parties meet in Bangkok and come out smiling, ready to govern

Pita plots a new coalition government with Pheu Thai but open conflict has already raised its head in the Senate

Move Forward Party’s good election result leaves uncertainty as to who will form the government