Thai citizens took to the streets in protest over the last week after military-appointed senators refused to vote for Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat as the country’s next prime minister.
MFP, which campaigned on a platform of restoring democracy, garnered the largest number of seats in the May election. Its active supporters include young activists who led pro-democracy protests in 2020 and called for the reform of harsh monarchy laws. During the pandemic emergency, the military-backed government used the anti-Royal Insult Law (section 112 of the criminal code) to detain critics and harass opposition members.
Thailand’s army grabbed power in 2014 and drafted a constitution that allowed it to appoint 250 members of the senate who would join other parliament members in selecting the nation’s prime minister. Military-backed candidates, including the party of the incumbent prime minister who led the coup, were defeated by MFP and other opposition parties.
Pita or any candidate needs 376 votes from parliament and the Senate in order to become prime minister. During the voting last week, Pita only got 324 votes, while 182 voted against him and 199 abstained. Only 13 senators voted for him, while 43 did not show up.
The voting angered many Thai voters. Pita is the only prime minister nominee from the coalition of parties that represent the majority in the parliament. As the majority in parliament, this coalition can form a government and nominate its prime minister.
It proved that the military continues to retain political influence and can still block the country’s transition to democracy and the push for social and political reforms.
A crowd is now gathering on Thahan Road, next to the parliament complex, while the combined House of Representative and Senate continue to debate Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat's nomination as candidate for Prime Minister. #โหวตนายก #ประชุมสภา #ม็อบ13กรกฎาคม66 pic.twitter.com/BayLkWT2kd
— Prachatai English (@prachatai_en) July 13, 2023
Public outrage led to protests in at least 11 provinces. The hashtag #ม็อบ16กรกฎา66 (#RespectMyVote) was used on social media to remind senators and other conservative legislators to uphold the decision of Thai voters. Some activists have called for a boycott of businesses owned by senators and their families.
Immediately after the parliament voting, protests were organized in Bangkok condemning the actions of senators.
Protesters are starting to gather at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre following the #carmob rally from the Democracy Monument.#Thailand #RespectMyVote #WhatsHappeningInThailand #ม็อบ16กรกฎา66 pic.twitter.com/QDRqsjY0ev
— Thai Enquirer (@ThaiEnquirer) July 16, 2023
Posters urging the removal of senators were distributed in the city center:
#Thailand @MFPThailand supporters gathered downtown #Bangkok & given posters demanding for @SenateThailand to be removed from parliament & have powers curbed because they continue the powers of dictatorship. 250 senators appointed by #military. Term ends May 2024 #ม็อบ14กรกฎาคม66 pic.twitter.com/u1tjsHX6Y7
— May Wong (@MayWongCNA) July 14, 2023
The iconic “three-finger” salute inspired by the popular United States movie series, “The Hunger Games,” which gained prominence during pro-democracy protests, was once again seen in the capital. Aside from being rejected by the Senate, Pita is also facing a disqualification case that could strip him of his seat in Parliament. The complaint is based on the claim that Pita owned family shares from a media company that is no longer operating. The law prohibits anyone owning a media company from running for public office.
#Thailand protest downtown #Bangkok is seeing the return of the 3 finger protest sign to show defiance, rejection & disapproval of @EctThailand & Constitutional Court considering to disqualify @MFPThailand @Pita_MFP as MP. No decision yet but citizens indignant #ม็อบ12กรกฎาคม66 pic.twitter.com/A5pxVrLNXc
— May Wong (@MayWongCNA) July 12, 2023
During the weekend, a protest caravan demanded the resignation of senators.
MFP supporters on Sunday are making it clear on Sunday that they're upset and the junta-appointed senators for not voting for Move Forward Party PM candidate Pita Limjaroenrat on Thurs. (Pics: Chalatip Roongbour.) #Thailand #WhatsHappeningInThailand ##พิธา#ม็อบ16กรกฎา66 pic.twitter.com/zgLxhqba7x
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) July 16, 2023
This political cartoon refers to the refusal of the military establishment to respect the choice of most Thai voters.
— stephff cartoonist (@stephffart) July 14, 2023
Interviewed by independent media outlet Prachatai, a citizen named Rat has a message addressed to senators:
Everyone loves this country the same. You [senators] must also love the people. You have to understand how much the majority of the people are struggling. Giving importance to the needs of a small group of people while a large number of people are constantly suffering no longer works for this country.
Thai Inquirer posted on Twitter about the unstoppable “winds of change” sweeping the country:
The winds of change are sweeping through the streets of Thailand, carrying with them the rustling whispers of an awakened populace. The tides have indeed turned, and the sentiment on the ground signals a robust craving for an unfettered democratic landscape.
Veteran journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk thinks that Pita has already lost and that the pro-democracy movement should accept this:
It may be over for “PM” Pita, but definitely not over for pro-democracy Thais. I know how disappointed, frustrated and angry you all must be since Thursday evening when your PM of choice was rejected by the unrepresented senators.
Thailand has been under direct and indirect military control for nine years – far too long so it is imperative that the pro-democracy camp tries its best to give government formation a chance in order to undo the poisonous and undemocratic legacies left by the military junta and steer the nation towards a new democratic transition.
The parliament will convene again on July 19, and Pita is expected to be nominated again as the only candidate for prime minister. If defeated again, Pita has vowed to support a new candidate of the majority coalition.