Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of Thailand’s Move Forward Party, resigned as party leader on Friday, months after delivering a surprising electoral win on an anti-establishment reform agenda that threatened to upend the political status quo.
Move Forward was the big surprise of the May election, hammering parties backed by the powerful military and royalist establishment before being barred from forming a government by conservative parliamentarians.
Move Forward now represents the majority of the parliamentary opposition, but it will retain enormous political weight after capturing the majority of seats in and around Bangkok, as well as crucial urban centres and several conservative strongholds.
The Harvard-educated Pita, 43, was refused twice by parliament in his bid to become prime minister, as military-appointed senators closed ranks to oppose Move Forward, some over its contentious intentions to change a legislation that shields the monarchy from criticism.
“I want to give other lawmakers the opportunity to take on the role of opposition leader,” Pita stated on Facebook.
“However, in any position, I will work to the best of my ability with Move Forward and the people.”
The captivating Pita had led pre-election polls as Thailand’s top candidate for prime minister, but he faced a slew of judicial and legislative hurdles, which he claims were designed to keep him out of office.
He is now suspended from parliament owing to a court lawsuit involving his ability to run for office, which stems from shares he held in a media firm that violated election regulations. Pita has maintained his innocence.
“I will continue to work with Move Forward and fellow citizens with all of my strength to drive the change we hope for,” he stated.
Pita Limjaroenrat, a Prime Ministerial candidate, is the only Thai in Time magazine’s “TIME100 Next” list for 2023.
The US-based magazine unveiled this year’s list of emerging leaders from around the world who are influencing the future and defining the next generation of leadership on Wednesday, as part of an annual campaign that has been running since 2019.
The magazine splits the list into five categories: Artists, Phenomena, Innovators, Advocates, and Leaders, with Pita falling within the last.
“The only thing more stunning than Pita’s election victory was the radical agenda he ran on in order to achieve it,” Time’s Charlie Campbell wrote.
“The Harvard graduate’s upstart Move Forward Party won 38% of the vote in Thailand’s May 14 election by promising to rein in the country’s armed forces and revered royal palace, repeal the country’s contentious royal defamation law, and end military conscription.” However, due to the complexity of Thai democracy, Pita’s road to power has been obstructed by an unelected Senate and a flurry of judicial challenges,” he said.
Campbell cited one of Pita’s interviews in which he stated that his political awakening began when he was a child and sent to school in New Zealand.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” adds Pita. “And we can do a lot more in parliament to provide checks and balances and to speak on behalf of the people.”
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the now-defunct Future Forward Party, Move Forward’s precursor, also made the list in 2019.
Lalisa Manobal of K-pop group Blackpink and Kotchakorn Voraakhom, the creative architect behind the popular Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park, were also on the list that year.