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Thailand’s Pita vows to run for PM again

BANGKOK (AFP) Thwarted Thai election winner Pita Limjaroenrat vowed Thursday to run for prime minister again, defying conservative forces that blocked him from the job earlier in the year and despite a looming court case.

The 43-year-old led his Move Forward Party (MFP) to a shock first-place finish in May’s general election, buoyed by young and urban Thais weary of a near-decade of military rule — only to be prevented from becoming premier by royalist and pro-military blocs opposed to his reformist agenda.

Former Thai prime ministerial candidate and ex-Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat poses for a photograph during an interview with AFP in Bangkok on November 9, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

MFP’s former allies Pheu Thai then formed a coalition government with army-linked parties, leaving the progressive challengers back on the opposition bench — and Pita perhaps in the political wilderness.

He also faces a legal challenge thrown at him in the wake of the election, which could see him banned from running for years.

But in an interview with AFP, he vowed to take another tilt at the premiership.

“Of course. I’m not giving up, and it’s just a matter of time,” he said when asked if he planned to run again.

But there are a number of roadblocks in his way — not least his current suspension as an MP.

MFP won the most seats in the May 14 poll, but fell short of an outright majority and joined forces with Pheu Thai.

But a prime minister candidate needs a majority across both houses of parliament, and Pita could not muster enough votes to overcome opposition in the junta-appointed Senate.

He lost a first vote, then was blocked from running in a second ballot for the premiership and suspended as an MP by the Constitutional Court over his ownership of media shares, prohibited for lawmakers under Thai law.

Pita denies any wrongdoing and said he was “very confident” about the case, which could see him banned from politics for years.

“I found out that it could be intentional,” he said of the media share case.

“It was the old guard, someone who found a loophole that they can use constitutional hardball.”

The father-of-one was a hugely popular figure during the campaign trail, drawing huge crowds and ecstatic supporters.

Educated in Thailand and the United States, where he studied at Harvard, the former Grab executive was drawn into politics in 2018 when he joined MFP predecessor Future Forward.