11 July 2024

Pita Limjaroenrat can rest assured that his old post as Move Forward leader is in safe hands as he temporarily steps aside from politics. Chaithawat Tulathon was elected as Pita’s successor at a party general meeting held last Saturday.

Chaithawat, 44, was quick to say that he and other newly appointed Move Forward executives would quit to pave the way for Pita’s return as leader after he wins his case at the Constitutional Court.

“Although this is just a temporary change in the [Move Forward] army, I will do my best as party leader while waiting for Pita’s return,” said Chaithawat, as Pita was appointed his chief adviser.

“On behalf of the new executive board, we will be glad to step down from our positions when Pita can resume his MP’s duties in Parliament,” he added.

The 43-year-old Pita, who was initially front-runner to become Thailand’s 30th prime minister, told party supporters to have confidence in the new leadership.

Temporary change for long-term goal

Observers say that Chaithawat is a man of his word who realizes that Pita’s popular standing among voters has the potential to catapult Move Forward to power at the next election. That explains why Chaithawat stressed his leadership role was only temporary.

The new leader told party members last week that despite changes in the executive board, Pita would remain Move Forward’s prime ministerial candidate.

By law, a party leader’s resignation automatically results in the entire executive board being vacated, followed by a general meeting to elect a new board.

Pita quit as Move Forward leader on September 15 after his court case and suspension left little chance of him being appointed as opposition leader any time soon. A ruling in the case is expected by December.

His decision to step aside has allowed Chaithawat to take the post as opposition leader.

Pita is suspended as an MP pending the court’s ruling on whether he contested the election while knowingly holding media shares – an offense under the law.

Long-lasting friendship

Born on October 15, 1978, in the southern province of Songkhla, Chaithawat earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Chulalongkorn University.

He became politically active in school, serving as secretary-general of the Student Federation of Thailand. After graduating, he began working at the Political and Electoral Development Institute.

Chaithawat is a childhood friend of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, with whom he set up the Future Forward Party in 2018.

The pair studied at Triam Udom Suksa School, where Chaithawat was a year ahead of Thanathorn. They continued to work together as student activists in university (Thanathorn studied engineering at Thammasat).

Back in 2002, the pair co-founded the Fa Diew Kan (Same Sky) publishing house, which is known for publishing books critical of Thailand’s political and social establishment. Thanathorn funded the publishing operation while Chaithawat served as its editor.

In 2010, Chaithawat joined street protests held by red-shirt supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra against Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government.

After 16 years as editor at Fa Diew Kan, Chaithawat entered politics in 2018 as co-founder of Future Forward with Thanathorn and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a law professor at Thammasat University. Their decision to found a progressive political party to challenge “old politics” was reportedly triggered by the May 2014 coup, led by then-Army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

From strategist to party leader

Chaithawat initially served as the new party’s deputy secretary-general. He did not contest in Future Forward’s debut at the 2019 general election.

The new party scored a stunning success on its electoral debut, coming third by winning 80 of the 500 seats up for grabs. However, it was dissolved by court order in February 2020 for receiving donations from its leader Thanathorn that were ruled to be illegal.

Thanathorn was also hit with a 10-year ban from politics but has retained his influence over Move Forward despite holding no executive post in the party.

Following Future Forward’s disbandment, its MPs switched to their new home of Move Forward, and Chaithawat became the party’s first secretary-general – initially working behind the scenes to craft strategy.

He won a seat at the May 14 election as Move Forward’s No 2 party-list candidate. The party came out top in the election with 151 MP seats but then failed to secure majority support in Parliament for its prime ministerial candidate Pita, which effectively ended its chances of forming a new government.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk