Thailand held its general election on May 14, 2023, with 70 political parties and 6,679 candidates vying for the 500 seats in the House of Representatives. Notably, 63 prime ministerial candidates were nominated by 43 political parties. After the election, the pro-democracy coalition in parliament, comprising eight political parties, proposed Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party (MFP), to be prime minister. But Pita’s first attempt to win selection failed due to strong opposition from the 250 senators in the upper house. They disagreed with MFP’s contentious policy to amend Article 112 of Thailand's criminal code, commonly known as the lèse-majesté law under which anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent could be punished with up to 15 years in prison.
Although the MFP secured the most votes in the election, obtaining 151 seats, the amendment for Article 112 was not included in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) among the political parties in the pro-democracy alliance. MFP needed 375 votes out of a total of 749 in the Senate and House of Representatives, but they only managed to gain 324 votes of the 705 members present (182 votes against Pita and 199 abstentions). In the second vote for the prime minister on July 19, 2023, debates flared between the pro-democracy and conservative royal-democracy (royalist elites and the monarchy) sides over whether Pita could be nominated twice to be prime minister. Then, the Constitutional Court suspended Pita from his duties as an elected member of the House of Representatives, further heightening the tension.
The Office of the Ombudsman filed a petition with the Constitutional Court to reject Pita's renomination as the prime minister and requested that parliament postpone the next vote. Parliament president, Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, decided to suspend the vote pending the court's ruling. This gave the Pheu Thai Party (PTP), which holds the second most seats in the House of Representatives (141 seats), an opportunity to form a coalition government and nominate their own candidate to be prime minister, according to a prior agreement with the MFP. But PTP forged a new deal after negotiations with the Bhumjaithai Party (BP) and the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to secure support from the military and conservatives. The traditional backroom bargaining game of Thai politics was well and truly on.
BP, led by Anuthin Charnvirakul, and the PPRP, led by General Prawit Wongsuwan, insisted that they would not form a coalition government or support the PTP's prime minister candidate if the MFP remained in the coalition. This shift marked a change in the Thai political dynamic, shifting from the longstanding binary battle between the “red shirts” (groups aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra, the tycoon-turned-populist-politician who served as prime minister from 2001 until he was ousted in a military coup in 2006) and the “yellow shirts” (pro-monarchy forces) to a more complex conflict with the MFP and the PTP, two parties striving for greater democracy, vying for leadership.