Targeting FFP boss sets bad precedent
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Targeting FFP boss sets bad precedent

Future Forward Party supporters show up at the Election Commission office in Bangkok on Tuesday when FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit reported to the poll agency to defend himself the accusation that he violated the election law by holding shares in a media firm. PORNPROM SATRABHAYA
Future Forward Party supporters show up at the Election Commission office in Bangkok on Tuesday when FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit reported to the poll agency to defend himself the accusation that he violated the election law by holding shares in a media firm. PORNPROM SATRABHAYA

Here we go again. Another seemingly excessive and dubious use of law to bring down the rising political star Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The Election Commission (EC) has accused the Future Forward Party (FFP) leader of breaking the election law by failing to transfer his shares in V-Luck Media Co prior to running in the general election. If found guilty, he will be disqualified from serving in the Lower House.

But are there actually any strong reasons for the EC to believe that he could be guilty? For now, the poll agency does not seem to have much evidence against him. Taking a closer look at the allegations, it would appear that it is more a case of the commission's stubbornness in citing "the letter of the law" while overlooking key facts.

The case reflects the apparent obsession of our law enforcement agencies in resorting to "rule by law", not the rule of law, when it comes to charging many activists and politicians over the past few years. However, their veneration of "the letter of the law" does not mean that the agencies are highly litigious. Most of the time, their law enforcement looks decidedly discriminatory as it has targeted people in the anti-junta political camp.

The EC, whose commissioners are selected by lawmakers appointed by the military regime, has also done little to investigate allegations against pro-junta political parties. On the other hand, it has not hesitated to take action against those in the anti-regime camp, no matter how weak the cases have been.

In the media shareholding violation allegation against Mr Thanathorn, the EC does not seem to have based its case on the actual purpose of the legislation. The election law forbids politicians from holding shares in media companies and the intent of this was originally to prevent them from interfering in the work of the press and/or using their media outlets to serve their own political purposes.

But V-Luck Media has been inactive for more than a year after it earlier stopped producing little-known lifestyle and inflight magazines. It was in the process of closing down when Mr Thanathorn said he transferred his shares in the firm on Jan 8.

Mr Thanathorn insisted the company is now closed down. So why is there such a big fuss about this case? Why bother pursuing it?

The EC accepted the case following a complaint filed by activist Srisuwan Janya. It is understood that both the EC and the activist pursued the case based on "investigative" reports by Isara News Agency.

The news agency tried to prove that Mr Thanathorn did not transfer the shares on Jan 8 even though he has already shown his share transfer documents to the public. Under the law, he had to do this before registering for the March 24 poll contest in early February.

But the news agency questioned his claim, instead alleging that he transferred the shares on March 21, citing a shareholders' report that the company submitted to the Department of Business Development (DBD) on that date. Financial experts, however, tried to offer clarification by pointing out that such a report, known as an Or Bor Jor 5 form, is one that companies are required to submit to the DBD at least once a year under the Civil and Commercial Code's Section 1139. Under Section 1129 of the Code, there is no need for companies to report individual share transfers to the DBD every time they occur.

But the news agency went further by questioning the whereabouts of Mr Thanathorn on Jan 8, saying he could not have signed the share transfer document in Bangkok on time given that he was supposedly in Buri Ram in the morning. It also questioned why Mr Thanathorn did not take a flight back to Bangkok, but took a van. If this were a movie plot, such an absurd, unbelievable turn of events would probably make most people stop watching it.

If the FFP's political rivals were going after Mr Thanathorn in the share saga, it would be understandable that they would do whatever it takes to end his political career even if their arguments depended only on technicalities. But for a supposedly independent organisation like the EC and the news agency, pursuing it based on this kind of logic is simply not right given that they are supposed to remain objective and impartial.

And if the EC wants to disqualify party-list candidates such as Mr Thanathorn, it might be too late. Workpoint News pointed out that based on Section 61 of the election law, the EC can only disqualify party-list candidates before the election date, not after. Is the EC aware that it might not have a case at all?

The only merit of this case looks to be whether or not Mr Thanathorn lied about the date of his share transfer and faked the Jan 8 document to cover up for missing the deadline. If true, this could tarnish his political credibility and erode the public's trust in him. But such an accusation still needs strong evidence, which is lacking in this case.

Previously, Mr Thanathorn and his FFP colleagues were hit with criminal and other serious charges for allegedly breaking various laws. As with the media shareholding saga, the cases seem to be very weak.

Given his unorthodox policy ideas that challenge the status quo and the establishment along with his pledge to reform the armed forces, Mr Thanathorn is a thorn in the side of the military.

For many, the case appears politically motivated with the goal to prevent Mr Thanathorn serving in parliament. Thailand will become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world if the EC disqualifies him without solid evidence and a sound rationale.

By bringing legal cases against elected politicians based only on the letter of the law without taking into account its intention, we risk setting a bad precedent. If Mr Thanathorn can be disqualified so easily, others could easily face the same fate.

Surasak Glahan is deputy op-ed editor, Bangkok Post.

Surasak Glahan

Deputy Op-ed Editor

Surasak Glahan is deputy op-ed pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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