October 4, 2023

The 43-year-old, who has been suspended from his MP duties pending court ruling, quits so party can name member to serve as parliament’s opposition leader.

Pita Limjaroenrat, who led his progressive party to victory in Thailand’s election in May but was blocked from taking power by conservative legislators, has announced his resignation as its leader.

The 43-year-old head of the Move Forward Party (MFP) is currently suspended from his MP duties pending a court ruling on whether he violated election law. This bans him from serving as parliament’s opposition leader as under the current rules, the person holding that position must be an MP.

Pita wrote on social media on Friday he had decided to step down because he has to comply with the court’s order so the party can appoint a new member to take up a role he described as “greatly important”.

“The opposition leader is like the prow of a ship that directs the opposition’s performance in Parliament, performs checks and balances in the government and pushes for agendas of change that are missing from the government’s policy.”

Pita said the party will select its new leaders on September 23. He also said he would remain closely involved, “no matter his role”.

Political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak said Pita’s decision, following his spectacular run as leader, showed the MFP was the “real deal”.

“It is not about personalities but about policy reforms and the modernisation of Thailand,” he told AFP news agency.

Stepping aside, he said, enabled the youth-led reformist party to move on and pursue its agenda as an effective opposition.

Supporters of the Move Forward Party hold a portrait of party leader Pita Limjaroenrat during a protest in Bangkok, Thailand [File: Sakchai Lalit/AP]

As Pita was seeking parliament’s support in July to be named prime minister, the Constitutional Court suspended him from holding his seat in the House of Representatives pending its ruling on whether he violated the law by running for office while holding shares in a now-defunct media company, a charge he has denied.

MPs are banned from owning media shares under the Thai constitution.

The violation is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 60,000 baht ($1,675). His party can be fined up to 100,000 baht ($2,793).

The Constitutional Court has yet to set a ruling date for Pita’s case. In late August, it allowed him a 30-day extension to prepare his defence.

The MFP won the most votes in the May 14 election but Thailand’s military-drafted constitution allows an unelected 250-member Senate to participate in the vote to appoint the prime minister. The conservative members of the Senate twice thwarted the MFP’s attempts to form a government because of its pledge to revise a law that shields Thailand’s monarchy from criticism.

The Pheu Thai Party came second in the polls but took over the formation of a government after conservative members of the unelected upper house blocked attempts by the youth-led progressive MFP from securing the top job for their candidate. The conservative legislators opposed the MFP because of its pledge to revise a law that shields Thailand’s monarchy from criticism.

Pheu Thai was able then to form a coalition acceptable to the senators after embracing military-supported parties that included members linked to a 2014 coup that removed a previous Pheu Thai government. One of its candidates, property tycoon Srettha Thavisin, was elected prime minister in late August.

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