Thai PM frontrunner not worried about media share complaint

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok and Chiang Mai
Thai PM frontrunner not worried about media share complaint Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, at a press conference in Bangkok on May 18, 2023.
Nava Sangthong/BenarNews

The leader of Thailand’s top vote-getting party on Tuesday denied any wrongdoing over a stock ownership matter in a defunct media company, following an electoral complaint that could derail his bid to become the country’s next prime minister.

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, which is trying to form an eight-party coalition after winning the May 14 election, faces the risk of disqualification if he is found to have violated electoral laws.

Before polling, activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana filed a complaint with the election commission challenging Pita’s qualification for office over ownership of shares in media company ITV Plc.

Ruangkrai, a party-list candidate from the junta-aligned Palang Pracharath Party, claimed that Pita held 42,000 shares in the company, noting that owners and shareholders of media businesses are prohibited from running in national elections.

Pita, however, has denied breaking any rules. He has said the shares – which he no longer owns – were part of his late father's estate, and were declared to the anti-corruption agency.

“I am confident that before I proceeded with the transfer of ITV shares, the company was not engaged in any media business,” he said in a Facebook statement, without specifying when he sold the stock.

“I am certain of past facts but can't predict future developments, such as whether ITV will be revived as a media entity or not. The transfer of shares to other heirs was not done to escape any wrongdoing.”

Pita said he was fully prepared to explain the situation to the electoral commission and was not worried about the case.

On Tuesday, Ruangkrai submitted additional evidence to electoral authorities, saying that Pita was an ITV shareholder for 16 years and sold his shares after Move Forward nominated him as a prime ministerial candidate.

“The evidence is clear and unalterable,” he told the media.

The election commission did not immediately reply to a request for comment from BenarNews.

Move Forward Party's prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, waves in appreciation to party supporters after receiving preliminary election results on May 14, 2023. [Surin Pinsuwan/BenarNews]

Whether Pita violated section 98 of the Constitution is a matter of debate among observers.

Former election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said Pita might have been ineligible to run because Move Forward registered candidates on April 4, before he is believed to have sold his shares.

But Thouchanok Sattayavinit, a lecturer in the political science and law faculty at Burapha University, said there was substantial legal room for Pita to challenge the complaint.

“If Pita and the coalition government can negotiate with key power holders in the country, I believe the ITV share issue would virtually have no effect,” said Thouchanok, who has a doctorate in philosophy. “This needs to be addressed as a political issue, not as a matter of legal process.”

If found guilty of breaking the electoral law, Pita could be disqualified as an MP, potentially damaging his party’s ability to form a government.

A similar complaint following the 2019 general election resulted in Move Forward’s predecessor Future Forward being taken to court, with leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit losing his seat in parliament over his ownership of shares in the V-Luck Media Co. Ltd.

The court later disbanded Future Forward over a loan Thanathorn made to the party, leading Pita and other members to establish Move Forward ahead of this year’s election.

The electoral complaint is one of a number of hurdles Pita faces in his bid to form a government. Chief among them is winning over at least 63 votes in an unelected Senate dominated by conservatives.

Move Forward’s alliance of eight parties is short of the 376 required to govern in the 750-seat bicameral legislature.

While the opposition has been given a strong mandate to govern, a minority government formed by pro-military parties, which were trounced in the election, is possible if the 250 senators vote in a bloc.


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