6 June 2024

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat is on the road to becoming Thailand’s next prime minister after his three-year-old progressive party’s shock victory in last Sunday’s general election.

The election results, which are awaiting endorsement by the Election Commission, show Move Forward in first after winning 152 of the 500 MP seats in the House of Representatives.

“Change has come to our country… The numbers show that people want change,” the 42-year-old declared after his party’s stunning victory.

“Thai people have delivered their decision through the ballot box,” Pita said, adding he was ready to be the “prime minister for everyone”.

Move Forward is working on forming a new coalition government with eight other political parties – an alliance that would muster 314 seats.

However, a Lower House majority alone is not enough for Pita to secure the PM’s post, since the PM candidate must win majority support in a combined vote by both Houses of Parliament. That equates to at least 376 votes from the 750 parliamentarians (500 MPs and 250 senators).

Securing that majority will be Move Forward and Pita’s best chance of gaining political power after the party’s former incarnation, Future Forward, was dissolved by the charter court in February 2020. Move Forward was established in January 2020 after inactive party Phung Luang was taken over and renamed.

However, Pita is also facing a legal challenge after political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana called on the Election Commission to investigate if Pita’s holding of 42,000 shares in media firm iTV Plc is against the law. The activist pointed out that the Constitution prohibits shareholders of media firms to contest elections.

Pita responded by saying that he was only holding the shares as an executor of his late father’s estate.

Key things to watch after historic Thai election

Youngest PM in 77 years?

If the 42-year-old Pita becomes the next prime minister (Thailand’s 30th), he will be the youngest to assume office since MR Seni Pramoj became the country’s 6th premier in September 1945 at the age of 40.

Born on September 5, 1980, to a wealthy Bangkok family, Pita completed high school in New Zealand before returning to take a bachelor’s degree in commerce and accountancy at Thammasat University. He then earned a master’s in public policy from Harvard University and another master’s in business administration at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

After graduating from Thammasat, Pita worked as a business consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. Upon returning from the US, the Ivy League graduate began his career in business by taking over his late father Pongsak’s rice bran oil company. He was 25 at the time and was credited with saving the family business from bankruptcy.

In September 2017, he left the family business to become an executive director at ride-hailing company Grab Thailand. He married actress-model Chutima Teepanart in 2012 and they have one daughter, but the couple divorced seven years later.

Political debut

Pita left Grab Thailand after just nine months, and joined Future Forward in 2018, shortly after it was founded in March that year. He began his political career in earnest when he was elected as a party-list MP in the March 2019 general election.

A year later, Future Forward was disbanded over illegal donations in a ruling that saw the party’s executives including leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul banned from politics.

Pita was later named leader of the party’s successor, reportedly with Thanathorn and Piyabutr’s blessing. As the leader of the second-largest opposition party in Parliament, Pita’s speeches attacking the government of General Prayut Chan-o-cha quickly earned him recognition as a rising political star.

Liberal govt led by Move Forward may be a pipe dream

Mudslinging or misleading accounts?

Pita was recently involved in controversy after telling TV news host Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda that he was unable to attend his father’s funeral in September 2006 because he was under military detention at the time.

Pita’s father died on September 18, 2006, one day before a military coup ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he was attending a United Nations General Assembly in New York. After the coup, Thaksin’s flight left New York and dropped the former PM off in London before landing in Thailand on September 22.

In a talk show in 2009, the young Pita had told the host that he had been questioned by military officers for four to five hours after the plane landed at the Don Mueang military airport, but did not miss his father’s funeral rites, held from September 18 to 24. This schedule was evident in a photo Pita posted recently.

In a recent interview, Pita told Sorrayuth that he had taken the special flight as a member of the team led by Thaksin’s economic tsar Somkid Jatusripitak. In the 2009 interview, he had said he was studying in Boston at the time of his father’s passing.

Pita’s uncle Padung was then a close aide of Thaksin.

The discrepancy in accounts prompted critics to question the politician’s integrity, with some calling him “Pita-chio”, in reference to the fictional character Pinocchio and his famous fondness for lying.

Pita dismissed allegations that he lied about being detained at the airport, noting that mudslinging is normal in Thai politics. He said he missed the first four days of the funeral rites but was able to attend the remaining three days and managed to bid his father a final goodbye.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk