The legal troubles of Pita Limjaroenrat and the Move Forward Party (MFP) grew on Wednesday as the Constitutional Court accepted two cases on the eve of a vote on Mr Pita’s premiership bid in Parliament.
Hours after the Election Commission forwarded its recommendation that Mr Pita be removed as an MP for media shareholding, the court separately accepted another complaint accusing the MFP of “attempting to overthrow the democratic system with His Majesty the King as the Head of State”.
The second complaint, filed by activist lawyer Theerayut Suwannakaysorn, is based on the party’s declared aim to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese-majeste law. A ruling against the party could ultimately lead to its dissolution.
The Office of the Constitutional Court said the complaint from the EC arrived at 3.15pm on Wednesday. The poll body recommended that Mr Pita be stripped of his MP status because of his past shareholding in the inactive broadcaster iTV Plc. The constitution prohibits a shareholder of a media organisation from running in a general election.
The court acknowledged receipt of the case but did not indicate when it would start deliberating. Even if Mr Pita is suspended as an MP, he would still be able to stand as a prime ministerial candidate when parliament meets on Thursday.
Shortly afterward, the Office announced that the court had accepted the complaint from Mr Theerayut, who said Move Forward’s plan to amend Section 112 was tantamount to exercising rights and liberty to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, in violation of Section 49 of the constitution. The Constitutional Court can order such activities to stop.
Normally the charter court does not accept petitions from individuals, preferring that they be sent to a state agency first. But in this case it said the complainant was within his rights to file directly with the court.
The court ordered Mr Pita and the party to send their explanations within 15 days after receiving copies of the complaint.
Mr Theerayut is best known for representing Phra Buddha Isara, a monk who was a key agitator in the Bangkok Shutdown protests that led to the 2014 military coup. He was later defrocked and is now known as Suwit Thongprasert.
The two cases represent yet another hurdle for Mr Pita to surmount. Although he leads the largest party in the eight-member coalition, it is far from clear that he has enough votes to be confirmed as prime minister in a parliamentary vote on Thursday.
Even senators who might have been leaning toward supporting Mr Pita might be having second thoughts if they think the court will rule against him, political analysts have said.
Move Forward on Wednesday accused the Election Commission of “abuse of power” for not inviting Mr Pita to defend himself before it sent the case to the court.
Mr Pita said the process seemed rushed but added that he remained in good spirits and would be able to answer any questions parliamentarians have prior to the vote on Thursday.
Speaking earlier to Thairath TV, he said of the senators: “It’s not their job to prove my guilt in the media share case, that’s for the judiciary. They’re supposed to side with the people. In 2019 they said they’ll respect the side with the most seats and they did (confirm Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as PM). We expect the same now.”
Speakers take turns to voice their opinions on recent legal developments at a gathering promoted by the Move Forward Party, at the Pathumwan intersection in Bangkok on Wednesday evening. About 500 people turned out but many more are expected to rally near the parliament buildings on Thursday. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)