Thailand’s monarchy looms over battle for PM

BANGKOK: The role of the monarchy in Thailand is at the core of a looming deadlock that could tip Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy into crisis, with reformers once again trying to dislodge the grip on power of the royalist military establishment.

Despite a stunning victory with its allies in a May 14 election over pro-military parties, the progressive Move Forward party led by Pita Limjaroenrat faces an uncertain path to government.

The main reason is that part of Move Forward’s political platform is the once-unthinkable proposal to amend Thailand’s “lese majeste” law, Article 112 of the criminal code that punishes insulting the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison.

In a country where reverence for the monarch has for decades been promoted as central to national identity, the idea is so radical that minority parties and many members of the appointed Senate have vowed to block Pita from becoming prime minister.

According to Reuters, Sentor Seri Suwanpanoon said that “the proposed amendment is disrespectful and is offensive to the monarchy”.

The military has for decades invoked its duty to defend the monarchy to justify intervention in politics, and used the lese majeste law to stifle dissent, critics say.

In parliament, a giant portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn hangs over the chamber where on Thursday members will vote for a prime minister.

But the battle over who gets the job could lead to weeks or even months of deadlock thanks to the votes of a 250-seat Senate, appointed by a junta, that could block the election-winning progressive alliance from securing its choice in a combined vote of both chambers.

The system was set out in a constitution drafted after a 2014 coup led by then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister whose party lost badly in the May election.

Much depends on whether Move Forward’s main ally, second-place winner Pheu Thai, sticks with it or seeks other coalition partners if Pita’s bid looks doomed.

King Vajiralongkorn, 70, who has no role in choosing a government, has remained silent on the lese majeste issue since the election. Reuters.


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