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Thai coalition inks deal, but silent on royal insult reform

MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat faces an uphill battle due to opposition within Senate to his plans to reform lese-majeste legislation

Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat (center) joins hands with coalition partners at the signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) amongst eight Thai political parties in agreement to form a new government, in Bangkok on May 22

Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat (center) joins hands with coalition partners at the signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) amongst eight Thai political parties in agreement to form a new government, in Bangkok on May 22. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 23, 2023 05:18 AM GMT

Updated: May 23, 2023 05:25 AM GMT

Thailand's government-in-waiting on Monday announced ambitious plans to rewrite the constitution, end military conscription and allow same-sex marriage, but made no mention of highly controversial proposals to change royal insult laws.

The eight-party coalition, headed by the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), inked a deal outlining nearly two dozen policies on which they all agree.

MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat said again on Monday that he was confident of becoming prime minister, but he faces an uphill battle because of opposition within the military-allied Senate to his plans to reform lese-majeste legislation.

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"It's another historic moment that shows we can transform the government to democracy peacefully," Pita told reporters, noting the deal was being signed on the ninth anniversary of the military coup that brought Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to power.

"The purpose of this MOU (memorandum of understanding) is to collect the agenda that all parties agree and are ready to push in government and parliament."

MFP and fellow opposition outfit Pheu Thai dominated the May 14 election, in which voters delivered a humiliating defeat to ruling conservative army-linked parties.

Monday's wide-ranging agreement -- which gives only broad policy topics -- includes a commitment to rewrite the 2017 constitution, which was drawn up by the then-ruling military junta headed by Prayut.

But it contains no mention of plans to reform the royal defamation laws that shield King Maha Vajiralongkorn from criticism.

Pita insists MFP will not back away from its campaign pledge to change the law, but the stance is spooking Thailand's conservative royalist-military establishment.

Even discussing lese-majeste reform was taboo until recently, and the issue could scupper Pita's chances of taking the top job.

His coalition has 313 of the 500 lower house seats -- a comfortable majority for day-to-day governing.

But the vote to choose a PM also includes the 250-seat Senate, whose members were all handpicked by Prayut's junta. Several have said they will not vote for Pita because of the lese-majeste issue.

Pita insisted he was confident he would become prime minister, saying the coalition was working to win senators over.

"We have a negotiation team and I think they are lessening their concerns," he said.

The deal also covers plans to tackle the monopolies and oligopolies that dominate some sectors of the Thai economy, notably in brewing and other alcohol production.

Plans to replace compulsory military service with a voluntary system also appear, along with a pledge to regulate cannabis more strictly after it was legalised last year.

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