January 12, 2024
BANGKOK – With interest in Thailand’s political situation showing no signs of waning, pundits will be keeping a close watch on decisive events slated to take place in the first month of 2024.
The kingdom saw several noteworthy political developments in 2023, from the resignation of coup leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who remained at the country’s helm for eight years, to the rise to power of the ruling Pheu Thai party by joining forces with its old foes despite promising not to.
More pivotal movements are expected to surface this year. Among them are the senatorial elections after May, the country’s third constitutional referendum expected in April, and the purported launch of the digital wallet scheme in May.
In January alone, at least three significant events are set to take place, with two of them probably deciding the fate of the country’s most popular political party, Move Forward.
Bhumjaithai’s Saksayam has his day in court
The first of these involves the charge against former Ministry of Transport Saksayam Chidchob.
Thai Charter court is set to decide the future of Saksayam, who currently serves in the coalition Bhumjaithai party, on January 17, after he was accused of concealing his assets and allegedly using a nominee to hide ownership of a Buri Charoen Construction company to win ministry construction projects, worth over one billion baht.
The case was brought to the limelight by Move Forward MP Pakornwut Udompipatskul during a censure debate in Prayut’s administration in 2022.
On March 3, 2023, the constitutional court accepted a petition by a group of 54 opposition MPs against Saksayam and decided to suspend him from his duties. Saksayam has consistently denied the charges.
The member of the Chidchob family, an influential patriarchy in northeastern Buriram province, run the risk of breaching Section 187 of the Constitution, which stipulates that a minister cannot be involved in the management of a business. A ministerial position could be revoked for violating this provision.
If found guilty, he may face further charges of trying to file a false asset statement with the National Anti-Corruption Commission, with the penalties likely to include a minimum five-year ban from politics.
Some political observers have expressed the view that if he survives this legal battle, he will be a favourite alternative for the next cabinet reshuffle.
Pita’s fate to be decided on January 24
Former Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat will know if he can stay in Thai politics once the Constitutional Court issues its verdict against him in his media shareholding case on January 24.
Pita’s status as a party list MP was suspended on July 19, after the constitutional court accepted the case from the Election Commission for judicial review. The once-PM-in-waiting was accused of violating Article 101 and Article 98 of the charter that prohibit MP candidates from holding shares in a media firm.
The claim points to his being shareholder no. 6,121 of a now-defunct iTV media company, having 42,000 shares, worth five baht each.
In the event of a conviction, Pita’s MP status would be immediately revoked, and he could face a 20-year political ban if anyone brought a charge against him under Section 151 of the Election Act, which penalises candidates who are disqualified but nonetheless seek office.
Speaking after attending the hearing at the Court in December, the Harvard graduate expressed confidence he would prevail in his case and be able to resume working in the Parliament.
If he wins, he is expected to get back his Move Forward leadership and lead the opposition during upcoming parliamentary battles like the vote of no confidence.
Move Forward’s fate to be known on January 31
The first month of 2024 will end with an event that could decide the fate of Move Forward which is currently Thailand’s biggest political party in terms of MP numbers.
The election-winning party is accused of seeking to the overthrow the democratic system with the King as head of state owning to its campaign to amend the lese majeste law, or Article 112 of the penal code.
The party’s current head, Chaithawat Tulathon, expressed optimism that his party would not be dissolved, saying a petition filed by lawyer Thirayut Suwankesorn requests that Move Forward stop its activities rather than calling for the party’s dissolution.
Dissolution is not unfamiliar to Move Forward, as it previously faced disbandment when it was known as the Future Forward Party in 2020.