Share storm ruling threatens govt MPs

Share storm ruling threatens govt MPs

Charter court to decide today on petitions' validity

Future Forward Party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, centre left, files a petition on MPs' alleged media shareholding, at the parliament in Bangkok on June 4. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
Future Forward Party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, centre left, files a petition on MPs' alleged media shareholding, at the parliament in Bangkok on June 4. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

The Constitutional Court will on Wednesday decide on whether to accept petitions against 41 government MPs who are accused by the opposition of breaching the charter's rule on shareholdings in media firms.

On June 12, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai forwarded petitions initiated by MPs of the Future Forward Party (FFP) against the 41 government MPs to the court.

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

A source at the court said the court will also consider a request by Thosapol Pengsom, head of the legal team representing the PPRP MPs in the case, for the court to dismiss the petitions.

He argued that the petitions submitted by the FFP MPs were not composed correctly in compliance with the law governing the Constitutional Court's trial procedures.

The allegations against the 41 government MPs could turn the coalition, which already has a slim majority in the House of Representatives, into a minority if they are suspended as MPs, as was the case with FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

Mr Thanathorn was suspended from his MP duties on May 23, pending a court ruling on whether he had breached the same media-shareholding rules.

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.

FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said on Tuesday Mr Thanathorn was ready to defend himself against the charge after the charter court on Monday threw out his request to extend the deadline to submit his defence by another 15 days.

Mr Piyabutr also said that the court's decision to suspend Mr Thanathorn could set a precedent in the case against the 41 government MPs.

The FFP secretary-general added that the petitions against the government MPs are substantiated by evidence, in contrast with the EC's petition against Mr Thanathorn, which was only based on information from a news agency.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday said he was not concerned about the petitions against the government MPs. He was confident the court would ensure justice.

Gen Prayut said court rulings for particular MPs cannot be used as a precedent in other cases.

The media-shareholding row has also now reached the Senate after Pheu Thai's legal expert Ruangkrai Leekitwattana on Monday petitioned the EC to probe 21 senators' shareholdings.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who chaired the Senate selection committee, on Tuesday admitted that the panel did not check the qualifications of 400 candidates.

Only after their names were presented to the National Council for Peace and Order and the final list was whittled down to 194 names did the panel realise that some of them might have breached the media-shareholding rule.

However, Gen Prawit said that if those senators are disqualified by the Constitutional Court, there are reserve senators who could be chosen to fill the vacancies.

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