Thailand’s Election Commission sought a ruling from the Constitutional Court on Wednesday to determine whether Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, should be disqualified from running for the PM’s office.
The Election Commission had established a special committee to investigate Pita’s eligibility as a Prime Minister candidate, citing concerns over his shareholding in a media firm, which technically makes him ineligible to run for the position.
Following its probe, the commission has concluded that Pita violated election law and urged the Constitutional Court to step in for a ruling on the matter.
In May, Pita Limjaroenrat, a 42-year-old businessman, gained support from eight parties to form a coalition government, after his party’s landslide victory in Thailand’s general elections. However, his path to prime ministership has been met with obstacles.
While downplaying the issue, the politician had earlier said that the shares in the media firm, iTV, have been transferred and asserted that the company is no longer an active media organization. Potential repercussions for Pita include disqualification, a jail term of up to 10 years, and a 20-year ban from politics if found in violation of election rules.
It is worth noting that even if Pita is suspended as a member of parliament, he remains eligible to run for the position of prime minister since the top post need not be held by a lawmaker. Supporters of the Move Forward Party have criticized the Election Commission for what they perceive as a rushed referral, arguing that Pita should have had an opportunity to address and refute the allegations.
According to Associated Press, Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the government’s top legal advisor, was reported saying that if party leader Pita was ruled unqualified to endorse his party’s candidates for the May election, the polls could be nullified and a new election called.
This is not the first time a progressive party leader faces a legal challenge. In 2019, the Constitutional Court disqualified Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the billionaire leader of Move Forward’s predecessor party, Future Forward, as a member of parliament. Such cases raise concerns about the future of progressive political movements in Thailand and the potential impact on democratic processes in the country.
In related news, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced his retirement from politics after serving nine years in office on Tuesday. His decision comes in light of his party’s poor performance in the recent general election. Prayut’s retirement marks the end of an era and signifies a transition of power for Thailand.