Unfazed by pending charter court verdict, Pita eyes return to political front

The former leader of the progressive Move Forward Party said the iTV shares were owned by his father and that he was only holding the shares as the executor of his father Pongsak’s estate following his death in 2006.

Chanapat Komlongharn

Chanapat Komlongharn

The Nation


File photo of Pita Limjaroenrat. PHOTO: THE NATION

January 24, 2024

BANGKOK – “I have done my best in whatever is within my control,” said the once-PM-designate, whose political future hangs by a thread over his media shareholding case.

His fate is in the hands of the Constitutional Court, which is scheduled to issue a verdict on Wednesday about his shares in the now-defunct media firm iTV.

Pita said the iTV shares were owned by his father and that he was only holding the shares as the executor of his father Pongsak’s estate following his death in 2006.

He said the shares were allocated to his brother before he entered politics.

“I had no influence over the media company. I had no political advantage by being a legal executor,” he reiterated.

The 43-year-old was accused of holding 42,000 shares in iTV worth 5 baht each when he registered to run in the May 14, 2023, general election.

Shortly before the election, serial complainer Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, who is linked to the current coalition member Palang Pracharat Party, called on the Election Commission to see if Pita’s iTV shareholding was against the law.

He contended that Pita violated the Constitution’s Article 98, which prohibits individuals from standing for election if they own or hold shares in any newspaper or mass-media business.

The Constitutional Court on July 19 suspended Pita from duty as an elected member of the House of Representatives pending its final verdict on the case. The same day, most parliamentarians, including junta-picked senators, decided that Pita could not be proposed again for the PM’s job.

Parit Wacharasindhu, an MP and spokesperson of the Move Forward Party, had told The Nation earlier that the party believes its former chief can pull through this legal impediment and return to Parliament.

“We [the party] are confident he can pull through and get a favourable, fair ruling,” he said, adding “We are confident, but not complacent”.

Several experts have also pointed out that they believe the former PM contender will survive this legal battle.

Worst case scenario

“I will still be a politician, but just outside the Parliament,” Pita said in response to the question: “What happens if the ruling is unfavourable?”

“I can give speeches, cast my vote, continue speaking on behalf of the people, develop progressive laws and provide checks and balances to the government.

“And then you will see me again in the next election as a PM candidate,” Pita said, smiling.

Parit also said that if Pita gets through, he will return to lead the party.

Even if Pita cannot serve his term as a member of Parliament, he will still be able to return as a politician and lead the party into the next election as a PM candidate, he said.

Statements from the leading opposition party, however, appear to be overlooking Article 151 of the Election Act, which penalises candidates who are disqualified but continue seeking office. The penalty for this violation is a 20-year ban from politics.

Stithorn Thananithichot, a political scientist at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, believes it is likely that someone will invoke this law and bring another charge against Move Forward.

Stithorn believes if Pita is charged by Article 151, it will take a long while before the case can be concluded.

He cited the lawsuit faced by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the former chief of Future Forward, Move Forward’s predecessor. He said Thanathorn’s case made little progress despite being filed in 2020.

Future Forward Party was dissolved and Thanathorn along with 16 of the party’s top officials were banned from politics for 10 years over what the court ruled was an illegal loan from its founder.

As for Pita’s case, the academic said the Election Commission could also be pulled up for neglecting its duties in verifying the qualification of political contenders.

With Move Forward also facing charges for its push to amend the draconian lese majeste law, Stithorn believes the legal cases against Pita and his party will not end any time soon.

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