Thai polling authorities announced Wednesday they would pursue criminal charges against the leader of a now disbanded opposition party over allegations that he knowingly violated electoral laws by holding stock in a media firm while campaigning in last year’s general election.
The Electoral Commission’s move marks the latest action by Thai authorities to go after Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and his Future Forward Party (FFP), a pro-democracy and anti-military party popular with young Thais. It finished third in the 2019 election, the country’s first polls after five years of junta rule.
Thanathorn, the Election Commission alleged, was aware during the run-up to the election that he faced potential disqualification from the polls because he held shares in the firm, V-Luck Media Co. Ltd.
“[He] knew that he [could be] disqualified from participating in the election, thus contravening Article 151 of the Representative Act. Therefore the Election Commission will file a criminal suit with the police,” the commission said.
Thanathorn could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the new charge.
“The fact remains that Thai ‘democracy’ since the 2019 election is one constructed to favor the military. The ruling party, Palang Pracharat, is an informal military proxy party,” Paul Chambers, an expert on Thai politics and a lecturer in international relations at Naresuan University in northern Thailand, told BenarNews.
Last month, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered FFP dissolved and banned its top leaders from politics for a decade over allegations that Thanathorn, an auto parts tycoon, had illegally loaned money to his party during the campaign.
In November 2019, the same court stripped Thanathorn of his parliamentary seat after it found the politician had failed to divest himself of 675,000 shares that he held in V-Luck, when he filed papers to register as a candidate in the election.
However, when the court convicted him then, the panel of judges did not rule at the time whether Thanathorn had intentionally broken the law, Reuters news service reported.
BenarNews could not immediately reach Thanathorn or his aides in seeking their reactions to the latest move against him. He previously had rejected all allegations directed against him in both cases. In the V-Luck case, for one, he maintained that he had divested himself of those shares before registering as a candidate.
“The judges on Thailand’s constitutional court were informally selected (or had their terms extended) by the 2014-2019 junta. All current Senators were appointed by the junta,” Chambers told BenarNews.
Last Friday, a defiant Thanathorn said he planned to form a new grassroots movement with a name evoking his former party, and claimed he was no longer bound by regulations on political parties.
“I don’t possess any power to change laws … I can move more freely now. And with that in mind, I have announced the creation of the Future Forward Movement, soon after the party was dissolved,” he said in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.
“What is the Future Forward Movement? [It] is a network of like-minded people ... It has no legal identity. We will start with 6,000-stronger members of the former Future Forward Party,” Thanathorn said.
On Sunday, 55 MPs affiliated with FFP announced that they planned to join up with the Move Forward Party, a five-year-old opposition party.
In making the announcement, Pita Limjaroenrat, the 38-year-old MP who led the 55 lawmakers, vowed that they would carry on with FFP’s mission.
“I affirm to brothers and sisters that our views and ideology don’t change, though we certainly move on with integrity,” Pita said.
Chambers, the analyst, cast doubt that the move by Pita and the other FFP MPs to ally with the Move Forward Party would have much of an impact on Thai politics.
The ruling coalition is headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the former junta chief who led a military coup that toppled a civilian-led government in May 2014.
“[M]FP is without a doubt a weaker parliamentary force,” Chambers said. “Though Pita is a good choice for party leader, since he too is somewhat charismatic, none of this really matters.”