Thai election winner appoints replacement party leader

BANGKOK: The Thai reformist political party which won the most seats at this year's election appointed a temporary leader on Saturday, a week after blocked prime minister challenger Pita Limjaroenrat resigned as party head.

Thai voters disenchanted with a near-decade of rule by military-linked parties backed the Move Forward Party at the May poll.

But there was a long political stalemate as conservatives thwarted Pita's bid to secure the prime minister's job and he was suspended as an MP.

Move Forward now sits on the opposition benches after Pheu Thai -- the election runners-up -- last month formed a coalition government with some pro-military parties while property mogul Srettha Thavisin was endorsed as prime minister.

Under current rules, the opposition leader must be an MP.

On Saturday, Chaithawat Tulathon, 44 -- who was previously the party's secretary general -- was elected MFP leader.

"This is a temporary restructure. For legal reasons Pita Limjaroenrat can not perform the duty of opposition leader and be an MP in parliament at the moment," Chaithawat told reporters.

"I am willing to step down once Pita resumes the position as an MP in the parliament again."

Chaithawat studied environmental engineering at university and has been involved in Thailand's progressive political movement for more than five years, co-founding MFP's predecessor party.

Pita will take on a chief adviser role for the party and vowed to travel the nation and meet with international stakeholders until he can resume as an MP in parliament.

"I ask everyone who believed in Move Forward, continue believing in us," he told reporters.

Pita was suspended in July while waiting for the Constitutional Court's ruling over his alleged ownership of shares in a now-defunct media company.

MPs are prohibited from owning media shares, under the Thai constitution.

The 43-year-old faced a barrage of political and legal challenges since the MFP's shock success in the May election.

He dropped out of the premiership race after his first bid faltered at the hands of the junta-appointed Senate, and his second chance was denied by parliamentarians.

Conservative lawmakers were spooked by the MFP's plans to reform the kingdom's strict royal insult laws.

The Constitutional Court has intervened in politics before, disqualifying the billionaire leader of the MFP's predecessor party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, as an MP in 2019.

On Wednesday, a Thai court banned Pannika Wanich -- a Move Forward Party figure -- from politics for life for breaching "ethical standards" with decade-old photos deemed disrespectful to the kingdom's revered monarchy. -- AFP

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