Thailand’s parliament blocked the prime ministerial nomination of the winner of May’s nationwide elections, Pita Limjaroenrat, on Wednesday, a blow to his progressive opposition party after nearly a decade of military-backed rule.
Out of the 715 members of parliament present, 395 voted to block the second nomination, 312 voted for it, eight abstained and one – Pita himself – didn’t cast the vote, according to the house speaker.
He was temporary suspended as a lawmaker by the country’s constitutional court after a complaint filed by the Election Commission against the Move Forward Party leader accusing him of violating election laws for allegedly holding shares in a media company.
Pita has denied he broke election rules and previously accused the Election Commission of rushing the case to court.
Move Forward Party had pledged deep structural reforms to how the Southeast Asian country of more than 70 million people is run: changes to the military, the economy, the decentralization of power and even reforms to the previously untouchable monarchy.
The May election, which saw a record turnout, delivered a powerful rebuke to the military-backed establishment that has ruled Thailand since 2014, when then-army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power in a coup.
The court and parliament’s decision will likely add fuel to the fire of Move Forward’s young support base, with the potential for mass street protests.
The party’s platform for change proved enormously popular with the party winning by far the largest share of seats.
A group of opposition parties then formed a coalition aimed at forming a majority government and put forward Pita as a prime minister candidate. Pita, a 42-year-old Harvard alumni, called the coalition “the voice of hope and the voice of change” and said all parties had agreed to support him as the next prime minister of Thailand.
Last week Pita failed to failed to secure enough parliamentary votes to become prime minister in a political system that was created by the previous junta and heavily favors the royalist, conservative establishment that has long held the levers of power in Thailand.
In Thailand, a party or coalition needs to win a majority of 375 seats in both lower and upper houses of parliament – currently 749 seats – to elect a prime minister and form a government.
But the conservative establishment has a head start. The unelected 250-member Senate was appointed by the military under a post-coup constitution and has previously voted for a pro-military candidates.
Pita received just 324 votes out of the 376 needed for a majority and the kingdom is still without a prime minister as the political jostling continues.
He addressed parliament on Wednesday to bid “farewell,” while the investigation is underway.
“Due to the Constitutional Court has ordered me to temporarily suspend my duty, I would like to use this opportunity to bid my farewell to Mr. Speaker, until we meet again,” Pita said in parliament.
“I would ask my fellow members to continue using the parliamentary system to take care of the people. I think Thailand has already changed and won’t turn back since May 14. The people have already come halfway, for another half even though I can’t perform my duty, I would ask my fellow members to continue taking care of the people.”
The court ruling now threatens his status as a lawmaker.
Thailand’s powerful conservative establishment – a nexus of the military, monarchy and influential elites – has a history of blocking fundamental changes to the status quo.
Over the last two decades Thailand’s Constitutional Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of the establishment, dissolving several parties that had challenged the political elite.
The military also has a long track record of toppling democratically elected governments and seizing power during moments of instability.
Thailand has witnessed a dozen successful coups since 1932, including two in the past 17 years.