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Thailand's opposition leader claims victory, voices readiness to become PM

Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, meets with the media members on the day of the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, May 14, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Thailand's opposition leader Pita Limjaroenrat has claimed victory in general elections, insisting on his readiness to become Thailand's next prime minister.

With most of the votes counted, Pita announced on Monday that he is prepared to be the prime minister of the southeast Asian country and form a new government following a landslide election victory, propelling his upstart Move Forward Party (MFP) with the most seats in parliament.

Speaking to reporters at the MFP headquarters, he said he would seek to build a coalition with five other parties, including Pheu [For] Thai Party led by the daughter of billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, which was on course to finish the Sunday elections in second place.

"Hopefully, the entire country will respect the results and the will of the people," Pita said after the conclusion of voting.

Pita further told reporters he would first seek to build a coalition with the other main parties in the House of Representatives, adding that in the formation of the new government he would use members of the five other parties who scored highest in the national election.

He also repeated a campaign pledge to reform the lese majeste law that imposes harsh prison terms for insulting the monarchy,  a taboo issue in the country and once deemed unthinkable in Thai politics.

Results of the Sunday elections indicate that Thai voters rejected an almost decade-long rule of junta-backed government.

The two progressive parties in the elections, led by Pita and Paetongtarn Shinawatra, were projected to win nearly 292 seats ( Moving Forward 151 seats and Pheu Thai 141) of the 500-member Thai parliament.The 42-year-old Harvard-educated former businessman, however, faces many hurdles to secure power.

First of all, he is facing a lawsuit related to his possession of shares in a media company.

In addition, rumors are already swirling that Pita’s party could be dissolved by court order -- the same fate that befell its predecessor Future Forward Party after it performed unexpectedly well in the 2019 elections.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission is not expected to officially confirm the final number of seats won by each party for several weeks.

According to the latest reports citing the Election Commission data,  MFP won 14.1 million in the popular vote, followed by Pheu Thai on 10.8 million.

United Thai Nation Party, led by current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army general who led the junta's last coup in 2014, finished way behind the other major candidates and is set to come in fifth place.

Third place is Bhumjaithai, a rural-based, more traditional party of patronage politics that had recently been the previous government’s coalition partner.

Palang Pracharat, headed by former deputy prime minister and army chief Prawit Wongsuwan, came in fourth place.

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