Meanwhile, activists continue the relentless campaign against Mr Thanathorn and the radical Future Forward Party. The firebrand young leader is also facing further probes by the Election Commission with calls now to have him criminally prosecuted after the finding of the Constitutional Court that he violated the electoral laws governing the March 24th election. Such a move could see him jailed or banned from politics for up to 20 years.
Days after the Constitutional Court’s ruling that nullified the election for Future Forward Leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit as an MP, the decision of the court is having a ripple effect as many other MPs are reported to be exposed to similar proceedings based on links with companies with media-related activities or operations.
On Friday, Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich had a complaint lodged with the Election Commission asking for an investigation into Palang Pracharat MP Watanya Wongopasi and her shareholding in the Nation Multimedia Group.
The fallout from the decision this week to nullify Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s status as an MP appears to be only just beginning.
The court ruled that the when the Future Forward Party submitted his candidacy on February 6th last, he was a shareholder of specialist trade magazine publishing company V-Luck Media Co.
The court dismissed evidence from the company that the share transfer to Mr Thanathorn’s mother had been completed on January 8th last and pointed to the first official evidence that the shares were transferred as being a March 21st notification to the Department of Business Development at Thailand’s Commerce Ministry.
Reported to be 64 MPs in a similar situation
The judgement of the court and its strict view has however left a lot of Thai MPs nervous.
Last week, it was suggested that there may be as many as 64 MPs from across all the political parties in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber, who are in a similar position.
Future Forward MP ledges complaint against Palang Pracharat MP with the Election Commission
On Friday, outspoken Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich, through her legal representative, submitted a request to the Election Commission to investigate her fellow MP Watanya Wongopasi of the Palang Pracharat Party.
The Election Commission had originally brought the case against Mr Thanathorn, Ms Pannika’s party leader in May this year, just over a week after the formal election results were announced.
Ms Tannika sued for libel this week by the Palang Pracharat MP over her comments
Ms Pannika herself was sued this week by Ms Watanya for libel.
In the libel suit, Ms Wattanya accuses the Future Forward MP of falsely and malignly suggesting that she had caused the Nation Multimedia Group to report negatively on the opposition parties in Thai politics.
Husband Chai Bunnag involved in the take over of the Nation Media Group after a protracted battle
Ms Watanya’s husband, the wealthy investor Chai Bunnag, was one of the prime movers behind the takeover of the Nation Multimedia Group in 2018 by a consortium of news agencies and a company called News Network Corp Public Co. Ltd.
This followed a protracted shareholder battle.
Ms Watanaya is also reported to be a former director of News Network.
Constitution and electoral laws prohibit media shareholdings and influence
The Thai constitution and electoral laws specifically forbid any links or influence with the media for elected MPs. This was the underlying basis for the disqualification of Mr Thanthorn’s candidacy and therefore his election as an MP.
MP calls for a colleague to be investigated by the electoral body on the same basis as Mr Thanathorn
Now in her submission to the Election Commission, Ms Tannika is reportedly asking for the Palang Pracharat MP to be investigated on the same basis.
Ms Tannika suggested this week that both Ms Watanya and her wealthy husband held shares in the Nation Multimedia Group.
Reports suggest that the shares were transferred to a third party but not registered with the Department of Business Development at the Commerce Ministry until September this year.
Ms Pannika holds that based on last week’s ruling from the Constitutional Court and the criteria set by it for the disqualification of Mr Thanathorn, then the law should similarly apply to Ms Watanya.
Constitutional Court placed weight solely on submissions to the Ministry of Commerce in its judgment in the Thanathorn case
In its decision last week, the Constitutional Court pointedly sidelined and ignored all documentation from V-Luck Media Co. on the basis that the only official evidence of the transfer of the shares to Mr Thanathorn’s mother was on March 21st.
This was when the share transfer was registered at the Department of Business Development of the Ministry of Commerce.
Called for suspension of Palang Pracharat Party MP
Ms Pannika is calling for the suspension of the Palang Pracharat MP but of course, this is a matter first of all for the Election Commission to establish the facts and then to rule on before a court does if the matter is progressed.
The two MPs from rival political parties have a history of exchanging sharp words on a variety of issues.
Indeed, a notable feature of this parliament has been the bitter exchanges between female MPs illustrating clearly the depth of the divisions and animosity that exist in Thai politics.
Relentless pressure on Mr Thanathorn
At the same time, the relentless pressure on Mr Thanathorn has not eased after the court ruling with several complaints already filed with the Election Commission notably in relation to loans provided by Mr Thanthorn and his family to the Future Forward Party.
Activists call for Thanathorn to be held in contempt
Mr Thanathorn himself has also recently made statements in which he claims to be innocent in relation to the media shareholding case describing the court’s decision as based on assumptions and not facts.
This has further drawn the ire of conservative activists who have called for him to be held in contempt of court.
One of those pushing for this is activist Srisuwan Janya. The persevering activist has already lodged a petition with the Constitutional Court.
Activist wants Thanthorn to face criminal prosecution
Mr Srisuwan has also asked the Election Commission to escalate its investigation into Mr Thanathorn’s shareholding to have him prosecuted for violation of the election law.
A conviction on such grounds could open the Future Forward leader to a sentence of imprisonment for up to 10 years, fines and leave the 40-year-old politician barred from Thai politics for up to 20 years.
Warned to keep off the streets
Meanwhile, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has warned against Future Forward or Mr Thanathorn resorting to street protests in the aftermath of the Constitutional Court’s decision last Wednesday.
Asked about that party’s ongoing campaign for constitutional changes and a bill to end military conscription, Deputy PM Prawut defended Thanathorn’s right to campaign but warned that it must be within the bounds of the law.
‘Let them campaign as long as it is not against the law,’ he told reporters.