Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ordered a temporary suspension of prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat from parliament after accepting a case against him alleging he was unqualified to run in the country’s May 14 election.
The decision on Wednesday came after the court accepted a case that alleges Pita, leader of the election-winning Move Forward Party, was unqualified to run in a May 14 election because he held shares in a media company, in violation of electoral rules. Members of parliament are banned under Thai law from owning stock in media companies.
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Pita, who was due to contest a parliamentary vote on the premiership on Wednesday, has argued his ownership of the shares was not in violation of election rules as they were inherited from his father.
He now has 15 days to respond, the court said in a statement.
Pita’s Move Forward Party said the suspension ruling by the court should not affect his nomination for Wednesday’s vote, which rival politicians had been seeking to block him from.
According to Thai law, Pita is still eligible to stand as a candidate for prime minister, but he must leave the lower house and will be unable to vote.
The 42-year-old, Harvard-educated Pita lost his initial bid for the premiership in a parliamentary vote last week and needs the backing of more than half of the bicameral parliament to become the next prime minister.
Conservative opponents in Thai politics vehemently oppose Move Forward’s economic reform platform and its pledge to soften the kingdom’s strict royal defamation laws.
Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from Thailand’s capital Bangkok, said Pita and Move Forward’s progressive social and economic agendas are deeply disliked by Thailand’s “conservative establishment”.
“The conservative establishment really do not want to see Move Forward as part of government because of what it stands for, and that is sweeping reforms. They want to protect the status quo,” Looi said.
Pita’s party has ridden high on the hopes of young and urban Thais wearied by nearly a decade of army-backed rule, but its efforts to form a government have stumbled since the May polls.
Pita’s first attempt last week to become prime minister fell short of the vote required and few expect his party to have made up the shortfall on Wednesday.
Legislators aligned with the military immediately forced a debate on whether the law allowed Pita to be considered a second time. Thailand’s senate is stacked with military appointees, with only 13 of 249 serving senators voting for Pita last week.
Those who did not support him last week were unlikely to be “brave and courageous enough” to change their minds on Wednesday, Napisa Waitoolkiat, a political analyst with Naresuan University, told the AFP news agency.
Pita, who remained in the chamber immediately after his suspension was issued, has promised to step aside to make way for a coalition partner to form government if his second attempt at becoming premier fails.