Pita wins the case amid uncertainty. The Move Forward Party’s fate still hangs in the balance. In a landmark ruling, the Constitutional Court cleared Pita Limjaroenrat on a media shareholding complaint. While supporters celebrated, the Move Forward Party is preparing for a critical decision on January 31, which will determine its survival.
Former Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat survived his day of destiny appointment to hear the verdict in the media shareholding case against him on Wednesday. The case last year saw him suspended from parliament. Simultaneously, it also effectively scuppered the Move Forward Party’s efforts to form a government. However, despite the carnival atmosphere at the Constitutional Court on Wednesday, celebrations were muted. Later, a case judgment scheduled for January 31st could decide the future survival of the party.
In a highly significant ruling today, the Constitutional Court declared that Pita Limjaroenrat, former leader of the Move Forward Party, did not violate the 2017 constitution. This prohibits MPs from holding shares in media businesses. In effect, the court affirmed Pita’s MP status as a party list MP for the Move Forward Party.
Judges held that iTV Plc, in which Pita held shares, ceased to be a media organisation in 2007.
The nine-member panel voted 8-1, with a dissenting opinion from Nakharin Mektrairat. Mr Nakharin was Secretary-General of the Constitution Drafting Assembly. Previously, this sat in 2014 and 2015 under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). It paved the way for the 2017 Charter.
Complaint to the Election Commission about an iTV shareholding. The shares held by Pita in the defunct firm were linked to his deceased father’s estate
Pita faced removal as an MP following a complaint to the Election Commission (EC), which alleged he violated election rules and the constitution.
Pita held 42,000 shares in iTV as the executor of his late father’s estate. Afterwards, he transferred the shares to a relative last year.
The court emphasised that even if Pita held a single share, it would still be a violation. However, only if iTV functioned as a media business.
The court made its judgement in respect of Section 98 (3) of the 2017 Constitution. In brief, this prohibits an MP from being the owner of a newspaper or mass media firm.
The ruling on Wednesday prompted Pita to express gratitude on Facebook.
The country’s most popular choice for PM is already looking forward. He pledged to ‘move forward and keep working’ at this time.
Meanwhile, there was instant speculation about him resuming leadership of the Move Forward Party. In short, Pita insisted that no leadership changes were planned presently.
Jubilant supporters at the Constitutional Court on Wednesday. One 60-year-old told reporters that Thailand needed a more modern Prime Minister like Mr Pita
The judgement came amid a large crowd at the Constitutional Court building in a cheerful mood. Some brought music. Many expressed their support for the young political leader.
One 60-year-old woman told reporters that Thailand badly needed a more modern Prime Minister like Mr Pita.
The court, in its majority judgement, emphasised that iTV lost its media organisation status in 2007.
In particular, when the government revoked its broadcasting licence. The judges clarified that iTV’s legal dispute with the government over unpaid fees didn’t constitute media activities.
Last year, a leaked video from an iTV shareholders’ meeting raised concerns. However, subsequently, investigations revealed no media-related activities or revenue.
Pita suspended as an MP on July 19th 2023, the day his bid to become Prime Minister in parliament also floundered amid strong opposition from the Senate
After that, despite an EC inquiry panel’s recommendation to drop the charge, the case was brought.
Later, the Constitutional Court suspended Pita as an MP in July 2023. It did so when it agreed to take up the case.
This was on July 19th, the same day that parliament rejected another attempt to vote on his election as Prime Minister.
Strong opposition from the Thai Senate or upper house made the bid impossible.
Later, this turned out to be the end of the Move Forward Party’s effort to form a government. It had created an ambitious alliance with the Pheu Thai Party after the May 14th General Election.
The Move Forward Party, despite winning the 2023 election, ultimately failed to form a government.
Pita’s suspension and subsequent rejection of his nomination as prime minister, added to dangerous political turmoil at that time. Now cleared, Pita’s return may impact the political landscape.
Another challenge to Pita and Move Forward looms on January 31 next. A case brought by an activist lawyer over the party’s efforts to amend Article 112
Nonetheless, the road is not clear yet.
While Pita celebrated his victory, the Move Forward Party faced another challenge on January 31.
The Constitutional Court will decide then if the party’s plan to amend the lese-majeste law or Article 112 of the Criminal Code constituted an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.
Significantly, a finding against the country’s largest party could lead to its dissolution.
Pita’s case, at the same time, raised questions about the criteria for media shareholdings held by politicians. The court’s decision, emphasising iTV’s non-functioning status, may set a precedent.
Critics, on Wednesday, referred to a similar case involving Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. They suggested potential legal implications for future cases.
For some years, there have been questions about the law in this regard. In particular, what constitutes an illegal media shareholding? A key problem is that most Thai companies are authorised to operate as media ventures.
Future Forward leader Thanathorn removed as MP by the Constitutional Court over a prohibited media link
In a judgement, in November 2019, the former Future Forward Party leader Mr Thanathorn was removed as an MP.
At length, the court then found that he held shares in a defunct publishing firm. It is not clear, at this time, why that case differed from today’s resolution.
Comparison between today’s judgement and the 2019 decision relating to Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit which removed him as an MP over a similar issue
On the one hand, the firm, V Luck Media Co., may still have been engaged in media activities. On the other hand, that case revolved around whether Mr Thanathorn had previously sold the shares to his mother.
Senator Somchai Sawangwang, on Wednesday, obliquely addressed the issue. At the same time, he praised the court’s decision, urging respect for its outcome.
The senator was an implacable critic of a proposed Move Forward Party government in July 2023.
On Wednesday he sounded a more amiable tone: ‘When the court decides, it’s over. As for the future facts, that’s the same. I must not interfere in the decision on this matter. When it is finished, I will be looking forward to the Move Forward Party’s case next week. I confirm that I intend no vendetta against Mr Pita. And congratulations on returning to serve in the House,’ Mr Somchai said.
He teased Pita about next week’s case involving the Move Forward Party’s policy on amending Article 112.
That case was filed against the Move Forward Party on July 12th 2023 by activist lawyer Thirayuth Suwannagasorn.
Future of Mr Pita is of interest to the public. He is, by far, the most popular choice as the country’s Prime Minister according to a December 2023 poll
There is every indication that Mr Pita Limjaroenrat may resume the leadership of the party after the case is dealt with. Despite Pita’s comments on Wednesday, current leader Mr Chaitawat Tulathon is known to be uncomfortable in the leadership role.
Certainly, there is a fear that the party could be dissolved. At the same time, there are reports that another ‘escape’ plan has been hatched should Move Forward be dissolved to create another political entity.
Much the same as the Move Forward Party emerged from the Future Forward Party in 2020.
Nevertheless, the key question will remain the fate of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat who is unusually popular with the Thai public. As well as dissolving Future Forward at that time, the Constitutional Court also banned its leadership from frontline politics.
A National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion poll before Christmas saw 39.4% supporting him as Prime Minister. In addition, the same poll showed 22.25% support for the current Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.