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Thai PM front runner claims enough Senate support for top job

BANGKOK (AFP) – The front runner to become Thailand’s next prime minister (PM), Pita Limjaroenrat, said yesterday he had secured enough support from the Senate to take the top job.

Pita’s progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) won the most seats at last month’s election as voters delivered a crushing rejection of military-linked parties that have run the kingdom for nearly a decade.

To become PM, Pita has to muster a majority across both Houses, including the Senate, whose 250 members were handpicked by the last junta.

His eight-party coalition has a total of 312 seats in the Lower House, but needs another 64 – from either House – for a majority.

Asked yeterday how many senators would endorse him, Pita told reporters at the Parliament building: “Enough to make me become PM.”

Thailand’s Parliament is set to sit next Monday for the first time since the election and a vote on the prime minister is due in mid-July.

Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat talks to the media in Bangkok. PHOTO: AFP

MFP’s determination to amend Thailand’s tough laws against insulting the royal family has spooked the royalist-military conservative establishment.

Pita dismissed speculation that his party’s stance on reforming royal defamation laws could be a barrier to forming a government.

Several senators have already said they will not vote for him as PM.

Earlier this month the election commission set up an investigation to look at whether Pita was qualified to run for office, because of his alleged ownership of shares in a now-defunct media company.

Legislators are not allowed to own media shares.

MFP and fellow opposition outfit Pheu Thai dominated the May 14 election, in which voters roundly rejected Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former army chief who came to power in a 2014 coup.

The coalition has announced ambitious plans to rewrite the constitution – scripted by Prayut’s junta in 2017 – as well as ending military conscription and allowing same-sex marriage.