Thailand’s PM frontrunner Pita faces election commission probe

Commission will investigate whether Pita was unfit to register as a candidate due to his ownership of shares in a media firm.

FILE PHOTO: Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat attends a press conference to announce the party's agreement with coalition partners in Bangkok, Thailand May 22, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
The probe relates to Pita Limjaroenrat's ownership of shares in a now-defunct media company - prohibited under Thai election law [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Thailand’s prime ministerial frontrunner Pita Limjaroenrat will be investigated over whether he was qualified to run in last month’s election, a senior official has said, in another setback as he battles to win backing for his premiership.

Pita, the 42-year-old leader of the progressive Move Forward Party whose election victory stunned Thailand’s military-backed establishment, has faced multiple complaints from rivals, three of which the poll body has dismissed for late submission, while four others against the party have been thrown out.

But Pita is by no means in the clear, with Thailand’s Election Commission looking into whether he was knowingly unfit to register as a parliamentary candidate because of his ownership of shares in a media firm, which is prohibited under election rules.

Pita says he inherited the shares in the ITV television station, which has not broadcast since 2007, from his father. He says the shares in the firm, ITV, have since been transferred.

The candidate denies any wrongdoing and the party says it is not worried about the allegations.

He faces disqualification, up to 10 years in jail and 20 years banned from politics if found in violation.

“There is sufficient information and evidence to warrant further investigation into whether Mr Pita is qualified to run in the election,” Election Commission Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong told the AFP news agency.

“The Election Commission has set up an investigatory committee to investigate further.”

The opposition Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties thumped conservative opponents allied with the military in a resounding rejection of nearly nine years of government led or backed by the army since its 2014 coup.

They have formed an alliance with six smaller parties, but Pita’s bid to be prime minister and form the government is expected to face resistance in a conservative-leaning Senate that was appointed under the military. A bicameral vote on a prime minister is expected by August, with weeks of uncertainty ahead.

Move Forward’s anti-establishment agenda has put the party at odds with some influential, conservative business interests and institutions.

The party won huge support among the youth and in the capital Bangkok with a platform of institutional change, including reducing the army’s political role, undoing monopolies and reviewing a controversial law against insulting the monarchy.

Asked about challenges against Move Forward, its Secretary-General Chaitawat Tulathon on Monday said the voice of the people will be protected.

“The Election Commission may take action against Pita in the future,” he told a press conference.

“The party is confident that the allegations do not have sufficient evidence.”

Source: News Agencies