Former PM candidate’s fate hangs in the balance
All eyes will be on Wednesday’s Constitutional Court ruling on the media shareholding case against Pita Limjaroenrat, former leader of the Move Forward Party (MFP).
If the court finds Mr Pita ran for office while knowing he held shares in a media business — in this case, the broadcaster iTV — he could lose his MP status.
Komsan Phokong, a legal expert, said on Tuesday that if the court rules in favour of Mr Pita, he will be reinstated as an MP and eligible to be nominated as a prime ministerial candidate again.
However, Mr Komsan said he believed the court is likely to rule against Mr Pita, given its rulings on similar shareholding cases, such as the one against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the former leader of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP), a precursor to the MFP.
The Constitutional Court ruled in November 2019 to disqualify Mr Thanathorn as an MP over 675,000 shares he held in V-Luck Media Co when the FFP submitted the names of its party-list MP candidates to the Election Commission (EC).
Mr Komsan also said that the ruling could potentially lead to the dissolution of the MFP, which has its own regulations prohibiting party members from holding media shares.
“If Mr Pita is stripped of his MP status, this will mean that the MFP had been run by a leader not qualified to be a party member from the beginning,” Mr Komsan said.
In light of this, the MFP could be disbanded and its party executives banned for ten years under the organic law on political parties, he said.
The MFP on Tuesday released a video clip stating that Mr Pita, who is now the party’s chief adviser, will survive the media shareholding case against him and will be reinstated as an MP.
In the clip, the party cited the results of opinion polls, which suggested that Mr Pita and the MFP were very popular and claimed that a plot had been hatched to remove Mr Pita as an MP and prevent his bid for prime minister.
The party also insisted that iTV is now defunct as its contract was revoked by the government in 2007.
The EC brought the case before the charter court despite an EC sub-committee recommendation that it drop the charge that Mr Pita violated Section 151 of the Election Act.
Under Section 151, those who apply to run in an election knowing they are not eligible are liable to a prison term of one to 20 years and a fine of 20,000-200,000 baht. They are also banned from running in an election for 20 years.
Mr Pita stands accused of being ineligible to contest the election because he held 42,000 shares in iTV, which was believed by some critics to be a functioning media company when he registered his candidacy for the May 14 election.
Mr Pita denies the allegation, saying he only served as executor of the family’s inherited shares.
The constitution bars individuals with media shareholdings from running for public office.
Mr Pita has said the complaint was filed for political reasons.
The former MFP leader has argued that the 42,000 shares were part of his late father’s estate, which he managed as the executor. He said the shares have since been transferred to his relatives.
The court has suspended Mr Pita as an MP pending a ruling on his iTV media shareholding case.
iTV, an independent broadcaster founded in the 1990s, stopped broadcasting in 2007, and Thai PBS took over its licence.
The company was delisted from the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2014.
Furthermore, its business registration remains active only because it is embroiled in a dispute with the government over unpaid concession fees.