On May 14, when Pita Limjaroenrat’s Move Forward progressive party secured a win in the general election, it was one for the history books.
It was also a breathtaking blow to the military establishment led by incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha—also a former military general—who has been in power since the coup he conducted in 2014.
But who is the 42-year-old businessman-turned-politician Pita “Tim” Limjaroenrat—and how did he emerge as a favorite to become Thailand’s next prime minister?
Read on to get insight into the man who has the country’s standing military government on edge.
1) He is the leader of the Move Forward political party
As its name implies, Move Forward is a progressive political party that is in fact, the de facto successor of the dissolved Future Forward Party.
The social democratic party vehemently opposes the remaining influence of the military junta which ruled Thailand from 2014 to 2019.
The party was founded in 2014 and called the
Ruam Pattana Chart Thai Party. This was later changed to the Phung Luang Party.
After the general election in 2019, the party reverted back to its original name. The current name of the party came in 2020 after becoming the de facto successor to the dissolved Future Forward Party.
When Move Forward was formed three years ago, most people didn’t pay much attention. If anything it was dismissed as simply another party aiming to appeal to Thailand’s younger generation of people.
Few could have predicted that the political party’s rise would see Move Forward become the largest party in the lower house of parliament.
2) If he wins, he will become Thailand’s 30th prime minister
Limjaroenrat is on track to win the largest share of seats and the popular vote, according to unofficial results.
This makes him far ahead of the Prime Minister Chan-o-cha — a stunning upset that could end nine years of a military-backed coup and takeover of power.
“This will prove that the ballot is stronger than the bullets,” he said.
3) Even though his party won the popular vote in the general election, the power is still up for grabs
This is because 250 unelected senators appointed by PM Prayuth Chan-ocha still have a say in who becomes the next prime minister.
Limjaroenrat is hoping to form a coalition of six parties that will add up to 309 seats in the lower house. This is still well short of the 376 votes necessary to endorse him from both houses in parliament.
It remains to be seen if he can win some seats from senators or the backing from parties in the outgoing coalition to make the numbers work out in his favor.
4) During his first 100 days in office, he would prioritize a number of bold reforms—from rewriting the Constitution to ending military conscription
Many see Limjaroenrat’s brand of politics as one of hope and change.
“People are really thinking about the inequality of the country, whether it’s a choice between profit and progress,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in April. “We are challenging the status quo and fighting the inner…system. We have proven our worth to the people.”
Limjaroenrat also wants to tackle marriage laws and marriage inequality as well as reform laws relating to Thailand’s monarchy.
He wants Thailand to reclaim what he calls “the lost decade” under the incumbent military government. This especially applies to the country’s economic growth which is lagging behind the Philippines who have a 9% GDP growth, for example.
“We’re number six in terms of GDP growth. We used to be number one and number two,” he said. “Thailand needs a new face and a new future.”
One of Limjaroenrat’s main policy assertions is that he wants to decentralize the government so that everything doesn’t rely on Bangkok. “During COVID when we had to lock down Bangkok, [that meant that] 50% of our economy was gone.”
He said that his policy priorities will be to “demilitarize, demonopolize and decentralize” Thailand. This would be the focus of his 100-day agenda.
He also wants to rewrite the constitution. “We would do a referendum within the first 100 days. We will ask the people if we should amend the constitution and what that amendment should be,” he said.
“This time it will be a constitution of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
5) He describes himself as the “American product of public policy schools”
After graduating high school in New Zealand, Limjaroenrat went back home to Thailand to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in finance from Thammasat University where he graduated in 2002 with first-class honors.
He then got a scholarship to study at the University of Texas at Austin. Later, he would receive an international student scholarship from Harvard University—becoming the first Thai student to accomplish this.
He pursued a joint Master of Public Policy degree at Harvard, as well as a Master of Business Administration at MIT, simultaneously.
6) He rescued his family’s agriculture company from a staggering 100 million-Baht debt
While he was at Harvard and MIT, Limjaroenrat’s father passed away while he was setting up Agrifood.
Not only was he thrust into the family business, but it was also left up to the junior Limjaroenrat to pay off the huge 100-million-Baht debt (today the equivalent of $2, 920, 560 USD).
His bold streak paid off and the company has turned into one of the largest rice bran oil producers in the region.
Limjaroenrat branched out into the high-tech industry and became the executive director of both the regional and global digital startups.
7) He was named as one of Thailand’s “Most Eligible Bachelors”
CLEO Thailand, a monthly women’s magazine, named Limjaroenrat as one of the country’s “50 Most Eligible Bachelors” in 2008.
8) By Thailand’s societal standards, he is a modern man in more ways than one
Limjaroenrat is both a divorcé and a single parent.
He was married to local television actress Chutima Teepanart from 2012 to 2019. They have a daughter named Pipim, who is being raised by Limjaroenrat after he was granted sole custody.
His key message:
“Good politics, good economy, good future.”
We’ll be watching to see what happens.