1 of 3 | Protesters turned out on Wednesday in Bangkok, demanding that the Thai government respect the will of the voters. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
BANGKOK, July 20 (UPI) -- Thailand's caretaker Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha called for calm Thursday, a day after military- and monarchy-aligned members of parliament blocked a vote on election winner Pita Limjaroenrat's prime ministerial bid.
"All parties are requested to express their political opinions appropriately under the law and adhere to peaceful and non-violent approaches, so as not to affect economic confidence and tourism," deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek said at a press briefing, quoting Prayuth.
Pita's Move Forward Party scored a shocking upset election victory in May, but the 42-year-old's bid for prime minister came up short in an initial vote last week after unelected, military-appointed senators denied support.
On Wednesday, lawmakers voted against allowing Pita to be nominated again, while Thailand's Constitutional Court temporarily suspended him from parliament as it considers a case alleging electoral violations against him.
Angry supporters rallied afterward in Bangkok, calling on the government to respect the will of Thai voters.
Prayuth, the former general who announced his retirement from politics last week after seizing power in a 2014 coup, "understands the feelings" of Move Forward's supporters, Rachada said.
"However, he asks them to express themselves and their opinions appropriately under the law," she said. "We don't want disagreements to turn into conflicts."
Thailand has a long history of military and judicial coups and large-scale protests -- most recently in 2020, when Move Forward's predecessor, the Future Forward Party, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court. Tens of thousands took to the streets in a student-led movement that called not only for greater democracy but also demanded curbs on the power of the monarchy, a once unthinkable position.
Move Forward galvanized these younger voters with an ambitious agenda that promised to rewrite the constitution, end military conscription and reform the lese-majeste law that makes it a crime to insult the king.
This focus on the royal defamation law, known as Section 112, has drawn fierce resistance from the political establishment and was a key factor cited by senators for sinking Pita's prime ministerial bid. Move Forward's main coalition partner, the populist Pheu Thai Party, has also come out against any change to the law.
On Wednesday, three student groups issued a joint statement calling for urgent action to save Thai democracy after "another shameful day in Thailand's already tumultuous and chaotic history."
"We urge every Thai citizen to rise and resist those in power through every means available to us," the letter, signed by groups at Thammasat, Chulalongkorn and Mae Fah Luang universities, said. "Let this be the final battle for democracy for all Thai people!"
Parliament is scheduled to hold another vote for prime minister next Thursday. While coalition partner Pheu Thai is expected to put forth its own candidate, Move Forward's deputy leader Nutthawut Buarathum said the party will renominate Pita, even after his rejection.