Thai court says popular politician Pita Limjaroenrat didn’t violate law, can remain a lawmaker

BANGKOK, Jan 24: Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that popular progressive politician Pita Limjaroenrat, who was blocked from becoming prime minister even though his party placed first in last year’s election, did not violate the election law and can retain his seat in Parliament.
Pita had been suspended from the legislature pending the court ruling on whether he violated the law by owning shares in a media company. He was the executor of his father’s estate which included stock in ITV, a company that is the inactive operator of a defunct independent television station.
The court agreed with Pita’s contention that ITV was not an operator of a media business.
By law, political candidates are prohibited from owning shares in any media company when they register to contest an election.
Pita was forced to step down as leader of the progressive Move Forward Party when he was suspended from Parliament.
The party’s election victory last year reflected a surprisingly strong mandate for change among Thai voters after nearly a decade of military-controlled government. But the party was denied power by members of the conservative unelected Senate.
The Senate, whose members were appointed by the military, joined the elected lower house in casting votes to choose a prime minister under a constitution that was adopted in 2017 under a military government. The Move Forward Party now heads the opposition in Parliament.
The nine-member panel of judges ruled 8-1 in Pita’s favour on Wednesday.
“ITV did not operate any newspapers or media businesses, therefore, the shareholding didn’t violate the Constitution’s Article 98. According to the above reasoning, the accused member’s parliamentary status isn’t suspended,” the ruling said.
“I’m happy and will keep working as planned,” Pita said after the verdict.
About 40 supporters who had gathered outside the court with signs and flowers cheered Pita as he walked out.
“There is justice for the people. At first, I didn’t trust the court but now I see justice,” said Jiraporn Bussawaket, 76.
Pita still faces another serious legal challenge this month.
On Jan 31, he is to appear again in the Constitutional Court in another case in which he and his party are accused of attempting to overthrow Thailand’s system of government by proposing an amendment to a law that makes it illegal to defame Thailand’s royal family, an offense known as lese majeste.
Critics say the law, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison, is often abused as a political weapon.
The monarchy is considered by many people to be central to Thai identity, and conservative Thais insist that it must be protected.
While the complaint only calls on the party to stop promoting an amendment, its current leader, Chaithawat Tulathon, has said an unfavorable ruling could be used in future cases against the party that could lead to its dissolution. Move Forward’s predecessor, the Future Forward Party, was dissolved by a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020.
Move Forward’s supporters have criticized the cases as dirty tricks similar to ones that have long been used by the ruling conservative establishment to oust political rivals using the courts and nominally independent state agencies such as the Election Commission as legal weapons. (AP)