Pita, who draws support from many younger voters opposed to the involvement of the royalist military in politics, now faces the possibility of protests organized by his supporters. This development could result in further turmoil in Thailand's already tumultuous political landscape, which has been marked by division over the past two decades.
The Constitutional Court announced that it had accepted a complaint filed by a lawyer against Pita and his party, Move Forward, which had won the recent elections. The complaint argues that Move Forward's plan to reform a law prohibiting insults against the monarchy is an attempt to undermine the democratic government with the king as the head of state.
This announcement came shortly after the election commission recommended that the same court disqualify Pita as a lawmaker. The commission found merit in a complaint alleging that Pita was ineligible to run in the May 14 general election due to his ownership of shares in a media company, which violates electoral rules.
At present, there is no immediate indication that either development would prevent 42-year-old Pita from participating in Thursday's vote. To secure enough support in parliament and become prime minister, Pita will need to win over conservative members of the Senate who oppose his party's anti-establishment agenda. The most contentious aspect of this agenda is the proposed amendment of article 112 of the criminal code, which currently imposes a penalty of up to 15 years in jail for insults against the monarchy.
Pita expressed his dissatisfaction with the electoral commission's recommendation for disqualification and questioned the timing of these actions. He stated to reporters, "This is a bit rushed, one day before the PM vote, it shouldn't have happened."
During a television interview, Pita emphasized that his party's proposal to amend article 112 was not an attempt to undermine the monarchy.
The court cases represent the latest chapter in Thailand's tumultuous battle for power over the past two decades. The struggle primarily involves conservatives aligned with the royalist military and influential affluent families, facing off against parties elected on populist or progressive platforms.
Leaders of a student-led protest movement, which called for the reform of article 112 and staged large-scale rallies against the outgoing military-backed government, urged their supporters to take to the streets in at least five cities, including Bangkok, later on Wednesday. Protest leader Anon Nampa, in a handwritten note posted on Twitter, declared, "There must be a retaliation to the effort to destroy democracy. Whatever the conclusion, let all know that the fight has begun."
Supported by an eight-party alliance controlling 312 seats in the lower house of parliament, Pita, a U.S.-educated former executive of the ride-hailing app Grab, is expected to run unopposed on Thursday. However, he still needs 64 more votes from rival parties in the lower house or the junta-appointed Senate, which may prove to be an even more challenging task now.
In another setback, Chaichana Dechdecho, a politician from the Democrat Party, informed Reuters that his party's 25 lawmakers would not support Pita in Thursday's vote due to Move Forward's plans to amend article 112.
Senator Jetn Sirathranon expressed concern that the commission's recommendation to disqualify Pita would undermine support for him. He remarked, "A prime minister of Thailand has to be dignified and untarnished.