The leader of Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) announced earlier this week that he has off-loaded his shares in a defunct media company in an effort to surmount conservative petitions that could undermine his chances of becoming the country’s next prime minister.
At last month’s general election, Pita Limjaroenrat led the MFP to a stunning victory, clinching 151 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives. The party has since formed an eight-party that is hoping to form Thailand’s next government.
On Tuesday, the 42-year-old said on Facebook that he had transferred the 42,000 shares that he had held in the broadcaster iTV, which he said had been effectively defunct since 2007, the Bangkok Post reported. The transfer took place after a iTV shareholder meeting on April 26, Pita said he became concerned that some were attempting to portray iTV as an active media organization with the intention of undermining his political fortunes.
“From now on I will proceed with preparing the transition to the successful formation of the Move Forward government with Pita as the prime minister,” the MFP leader wrote, according to the Post. “No one and no power can block the consensus that fellow people expressed in the May 14 election through as many as 14 million votes.”
Pita faces several conservative complaints related to his possession of the shares, on the grounds that the Thai Constitution prohibits members of parliament form holding shares in media organizations. Days before the May 14 election, conservative activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana filed a complaint with the Election Commission (EC) seeking to disqualify Pita for failing to declare the media shares when he first ran for parliament in 2019. After giving testimony at the EC in late May, Ruangkrai, who is routinely referred to in the Thai press as a “serial petitioner” for his many complaints against anti-establishment figures, announced that if Pita forms the next government, he would file another complaint demanding the dissolution of his cabinet.
Pita previously claimed that iTV has been a holding company since 2007, and that his shares in it were part of a family inheritance, of which he was merely the administrator. In his Facebook post, Pita confirmed that he had transferred the shares to other family members after the petitions seeking his disqualification were filed.
The complaints related to Pita’s iTV shares are not the only ones facing him. Srisuwan Janya, another royalist “serial petitioner,” yesterday filed another complaint against the MFP leader, this time with the National Alcohol Policy Committee. Srisuwan alleges that Pita may have violated the law prohibiting alcohol advertising when he mentioned his preference for a local alcohol brand during a television program while promoting the MFP’s Progressive Liquor Bill.
Also this week, ultra-royalist zealots have filed a lese-majeste complaint against Pita for comments that he made about the Thai monarchy during a recent interview with the BBC. The BBC interview was blocked from being broadcast in Thailand.
The question of how the EC will act on these complaints is unclear. This week, EC Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said that the Commission is currently considering whether to accept the petitions against Pita regarding his alleged holding of iTV shares. But the brittle technical pretexts of these complaints call to mind a long history of legal manipulation that has overturned reformist and anti-establishment governments, or prevented them from running in the first place.
The most recent example, of course, is the February 2020 ruling that ordered the disbanding of the Future Forward Party, the MFP’s predecessor, on the grounds that the party violated finance rules. The party’s leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was also banned from politics for 10 years.
It also calls to mind the case of Thai prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, who in September 2008 was ordered to resign in the next 30 days after a court ruled that he had breached the Constitution by hosting four cookery shows after he took office. In a ruling of breathtaking pedantry, the court stated that the small amount of money Samak received for transport and the purchase of the ingredients for each of the four shows constituted a “business interest.”
Whatever the outcome of these various cases, they cast in stark contrast the undemocratic features of the current Thai system. In any democracy worth the name, Pita would already be prime minister, and would be several weeks into his first term in office. Leaving aside the fact that the military-appointed Senate will have an outsized effect on whether the MFP leader is able to become prime minister, the fact that he and his party are being forced to endure such a ludicrously protracted post-election period – the EC has up to 60 days in which to officially confirm the results of the election, and parliament will not select a new prime minister until early August – only increases the chance that their victory will be short-circuited by some sort of legal shenanigans.
As Thitinan Pongsudhirak noted in his column in the Bangkok Post on May 26, the creation of a 60-day delay between the election and the formation of the next government “was partly a deliberate move to sap the momentum and strong mandate in case any party emerged with a big win. It was also designed to give the EC the latitude and authority to manage the post-poll results.”