Former Thai PM candidate Pita acquitted of violating election law

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Former Thai PM candidate Pita acquitted of violating election law Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat waves as he enters the Constitutional Court in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 24, 2024. (Thai News Pix/BenarNews)
Thai News Pix/BenarNews

Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that former prime ministerial hopeful Pita Limjaroenrat was not guilty of violating election law and can remain a member of Parliament.

Pita, whose Move Forward Party was the top vote-getter in the 2023 general election, was accused of knowingly applying to be an MP candidate while holding shares in media company iTV, which is prohibited under electoral laws.

In an 8-1 ruling, the court said although Pita owned shares in the company, it had no license to broadcast and was not operating as a mass media business when he registered.

“Since the State Enterprise Policy Office terminated its contract, iTV has not been operating any business related to mass media,” the court said in a statement, adding Pita’s position as a lawmaker could continue.

The lone dissenting judge in the case was Nakharin Mektrairat, the incoming president of the Constitutional Court.

After the verdict was delivered, Pita said he was ready to return to Parliament and fulfill his duties.

“I will continue to work for the people,” he said in the packed courtroom. “My first task will be to announce the annual work plan of the Move Forward Party.

“When I'll be able to return to Parliament will be discussed with the speaker of the house.”

Upon hearing the decision, hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Constitutional Court erupted into cheers and chanted “Prime Minister Pita.”

Supporters of Pita Limjaroenrat gathered in front of the Constitutional Court to hear the verdict read in a case accusing him of violating election laws in Bangkok on Jan. 24, 2024. [Nava Sangthong/BenarNews]

Move Forward won the highest number of seats in Parliament last year, but Pita’s bid to become Thailand’s first pro-democracy prime minister after nearly a decade of army-backed rule was thwarted twice by conservative MPs and senators. 

The party’s liberal campaign promises, which included plans to rewrite the constitution, reform the royal insult law and end business monopolies antagonized the country’s traditional ruling elite.

Pita was suspended as an MP in July while awaiting the Constitutional Court decision on the case, which was referred by the Election Commission. He resigned two months later to pave the way for another MP to steer Thailand’s opposition.

“Pita’s return to the legislature will be a significant boost to the party’s oversight efforts, as he is more popular and has a large following of fans who tune in to political news because of him,” said Nopporn Khunkha, an assistant professor at Rajabhat Rajanagarindra University. He added the ruling would establish a precedent for future cases.

Move Forward supporters had feared that Wednesday’s court decision could lead to criminal charges against Pita and, possibly, attempts to dissolve the party. 

The Constitutional Court disbanded Move Forward's predecessor, Future Forward, in 2020 and banned its leader from politics for a decade over a campaign loan issue.

Jon Preechawong and Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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