Share storm threatens govt

Share storm threatens govt

MPs accused of breaching rules could upset slim majority

Members of the Future Forward Party file their petition on MPs' alleged media shareholdings at the new parliament in Dusit district, Bangkok, on June 4. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
Members of the Future Forward Party file their petition on MPs' alleged media shareholdings at the new parliament in Dusit district, Bangkok, on June 4. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

With just 254 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, the Prayut administration appears to be on even shakier ground after a group of 41 government MPs were accused of breaching the charter's rule on media shareholdings.

House Speaker Chuan Leekpai last week forwarded petitions initiated by MPs of the Future Forward Party (FFP) to the court, after party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was suspended from performing his duty on May 23, pending the court's ruling on whether he had breached the same media shareholding rules.

Of the 41 MPs facing eligibility reviews by the Constitutional Court, 26 are from the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), 11 from the Democrat Party and one each from the Bhumjaithai Party, the Action Coalition for Thailand Party (ACT), the Chartpattana Party and the Prachaphiwat Party.

The allegations against the government MPs could turn its razor-thin majority coalition into a minority if they are suspended from performing their job as Mr Thanathorn was.

In Mr Thanathorn's case, the Election Commission (EC) found that he held shares in V-Luck Media Co when he registered as an MP candidate in early February, an alleged violation of Section 98 (3) of the charter, which prohibits owners and shareholders of media and/or publishing firms applying to become MPs. The court accepted the case for consideration in seven days, at which point it suspended him from parliament pending a ruling.

Yutthaporn Isarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said if the court accepts the petitions and suspends all the 41 MPs from duty, the government should brace for a tough time.

First, their number of House seats will be reduced to 213 with Section 82 of the charter saying MPs suspended from duty do not constitute a quorum. This will turn the Prayut government into a minority coalition, according to the academic.

Next, some of these MPs are widely tipped to be part of the cabinet line-up. MPs and cabinet ministers share the same eligibility criteria and if they are eventually found to have violated the media shareholding rule, it could further undermine the stability of a government which is made up of 19 political parties, he said.

Mr Yutthaporn said the case against the MPs, however, is totally different from Mr Thanathorn's case and even if they are cleared, it will not set a precedent for Mr Thanathorn's case.

The MPs are accused of holding shares in companies whose memorandums state that media is one of the business objectives, even though the nature of their business is not media-related at all. Mr Thanathorn's case, on the other hand, involves the timing of the share transfer.

He said the case against the government MPs can be compared with another three cases involving election candidates from three parties who were disqualified by the Supreme Court for being associated with companies whose memorandum of association covers a broad range of businesses including media.

"But I don't think the court will suspend them from carrying out their job soon. There will be a witness and evidence hearing first. If the government's stability is to be affected, it is not happening soon," he said.

Disregarding the share case, Mr Yutthaporn said he is confident the government will be able to function for at least two years due to a number of elements in the charter. Section 143 allows for a budget bill to be forwarded to the Senate for consideration if the House fails to approve it within 150 days while a no-confidence vote is only allowed once a year.

A source in the Bhumjaithai Party yesterday played down the latest media shareholding case, saying it is not the same as Mr Thanathorn's.

Moreover, a ruling by the court will set a precedent on the issue of business objectives stated in a memorandum of association, which is a document stating the scope of its business used for registration with the Commerce Ministry, the source said.

According to the source, as long as government whips make sure the MPs show up and vote as agreed, the government should have nothing to worry about.

"A small margin doesn't matter. A win is a win."

Witthaya Kaewparadai, a former government whip, said the whips will have a tough job ahead but thought that the razor-thin majority coalition is unlikely to cause any instability.

"No one wants a House dissolution. They will come in force to vote. The government should be fine in its first year," he said.

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