Thai prime minister hopeful says he’s open to let partner party contend for the job if his bid fails

Thailand’s rocky road to naming a new prime minister took a fresh turn Saturday as the candidate who led his party to first place in May’s general election said he is open to bowing out of contention if he cannot win a second round of voting in Parliament.

Pita Limjaroenrat, the 42-year-old leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, said he would be willing to let a coalition partner party field its candidate. However, he indicated the political battling could continue for weeks.

Lawmakers on Thursday failed to confirm Pita as prime minister despite his party’s surprising victory in the May polls, when it garnered 151 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives. It then assembled an eight-party coalition that together holds 312 seats, a clear majority in the lower house, giving it the right to nominate a prime minister.

To be elected for prime minister, a candidate needs to win a majority of votes in a joint sitting of the lower house and the 250-seat Senate. Thursday’s vote to confirm Pita won only 324 votes, significantly short of the 376 needed, largely because he failed to bring enough members of the Senate over to his side.

Move Forward’s coalition leans liberal, with strong support from pro-democracy activists. The Senate’s members, who are not elected but appointed by a military government, represent Thailand’s conservative royalist establishment. They and other opponents of Move Forward cited the party’s proposal for minor reforms to the country’s monarchy system as the reason for rejecting Pita.

A second round of voting is expected on Wednesday.

Pita, in a video posted Saturday on Facebook, said that if it becomes clear his party has no chance of getting its candidate approved, it will hand over the opportunity to the Pheu Thai Party, the second biggest in its coalition, with 141 House seats.

Pita was Move Forward’s only candidate while Pheu Thai has floated three names for a possible prime minister: real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin; Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daugther of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted by a 2006 military coup; and Chaikasem Nitsiri, the party’s chief strategist.

It remained unclear on Saturday which one Pheu Thai would nominate.

Pita said that while Move Forward is committed to form a government as the winner of the election, its struggle goes beyond the 14 million voters who backed the party and the 27 million in all who cast votes for the eight parties in its coalition.

“This is a fight of all people in Thailand,” he said. “The voice of the people must be the voice that shapes the future of this country.”

He called for political compromise and said: “We don’t have much time left, as I’m well aware that Thailand cannot go forward for long without a government of the people.”

On Friday, Move Forward announced it is seeking to change the law to take away the Senate’s de facto veto power over who can form a new government and submitted a draft amendment to the Constitution.

Pita said Saturday that if all fails, he will step aside to let Pheu Thai take the lead in nominating a prime minister. His coalition would remain intact, according to a memorandum of understanding its members agreed to.

In a statement released after Pita’s video, his party spelled out the next steps. If Pita fails to win outright in a second round, but gains “significantly” more votes, it will have him contest a third round of voting. At the same time, if the second vote does fall short, the party will continue to push for the amendment to get rid of the Senate’s role in selecting a prime minister.

If the amendment succeeds, Pita’s nomination for prime minister will be submitted for another vote, perhaps by September. If that fails, Move Forward will step aside — while remaining in the coalition — to let Pheu Thai submit its candidate for prime minister.

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