On solid foundations or shaky ground?
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On solid foundations or shaky ground?

The MFP alliance gives the impression it is a government in waiting, but various threats and scenarios could see what it has built so far collapse v Pita's shareholding controversy and Senate will see his bid to form a coalition fail, according to Jatuporn

Pita: Has work cut out to be PM
Pita: Has work cut out to be PM

The Move Foward Party (MFP)-led alliance is conjuring up the impression that it has already assumed control of the country's administration, according to a political source.

The surreality being created, which critics decried as counting chickens before they hatch, has given supporters a sense that a new dawn awaits the country.

Expectations surrounding the eight-party line-up were deliberately heightened to such an extent that people are being made to feel that if the parties cannot form a new government for any reason, huge and possibly unrestrained disappointment could descend into chaos on the streets, the source said.

Such a scenario could be exploited to pressure individuals or agencies, viewed by some supporters as being hostile to the MFP-led bloc, into curtailing their tough comments or impending actions.

Cases in point have to do with the Election Commission (EC) and the Senate, which hold the fate of the bloc in their hands.

The EC has yet to endorse the election of the 500 winners in both the constituency and party-list systems in the May 14 polls.

The poll regulator has made it known that it is looking into complaints filed against 20 MPs-elect who might be handed either a red or orange card. A red card means disqualification for a severe election law violation, whereas an orange card will see their election suspended for a lesser offence.

In the event of a red card, a by-election is called, with the disqualified MP-elect barred from running again. An orange card prompts a re-poll where the suspended MP-elect can enter the race.

The source said that if half, or 10, of the 20 cases saw the disqualification or suspension of MFP people and Pheu Thai, the second-biggest party, dodged a red or orange card, it would have a profound impact on the political landscape.

It could only mean the MFP, the biggest party so far, would be equal with Pheu Thai, with 141 seats each. It was reported that some MPs-elect from a big party, understood to be the MFP, failed to vote in previous local elections. As voting in elections is a duty, failure to do so incurs penalties, including their ineligibility to contest a general election.

In a tie with the MFP, Pheu Thai would be equally able to lead the formation of a new government and look for suitors, which might include parties from the current coalition, such as the Bhumjaithai Party, the Chartthaipattana Party and even the "uncle parties" namely the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party.

Pheu Thai is likely to be at ease doing business with Bhumjaithai and Chartthaipattana, parties they worked with in previous coalition governments.

The major stumbling block preventing the PPRP and UTN from being part of a Pheu Thai-led administration is Pheu Thai's vow never to work with the two parties while they are under the control of the two former coup-architect "uncles", a reference to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, chief adviser of the UTN, and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who leads the PPRP.

However, some observers think Pheu Thai's stand may not be as irreversible as many believe. If the "uncles" were to step down from their posts in their respective parties, a hook-up with the Pheu Thai Party might be less awkward.

The source said that despite the MFP-led bloc's best efforts to present a facade of "normalcy" in forming a new government, its path to Government House will be anything but smooth and leader Pita Limjaroenrat's aspiration to become prime minister looks far from being fulfilled. The EC's forthcoming endorsement of MPs-elect, expected soon, is the least of its worries.

The next significant hurdle is whether the MFP or Pheu Thai is willing to step aside and let the other get the coveted House Speaker post. Such a move would be an enormous concession on either party's part since they both have refused to yield.

Also, Mr Pita will have his work cut out defending himself before the EC and possibly the Constitutional Court against the iTV share ownership allegation. The law forbids a public office holder from possessing shares in media firms on the premise that they might exert control of the media outlet for political gain while in office.

Mr Pita acquired 42,000 shares in iTV, although questions were put forth as to whether it was still functioning as a media company. However, he is believed to have now transferred his shares to someone else in his family.

Some legal experts agreed that off-loading the shares now is not enough to save Mr Pita as the legal violation was a fait accompli.

His share ownership reportedly predates his signing, as MFP leader, of MFP candidate applications to stand in the May 14 election.

If he loses the share ownership battle and is removed as MFP leader, anything he has signed as leader, including the party candidate applications, could be declared null and void, and the respective MFP MPs-elect could be red-carded as a result.

The alliance 'is doomed'

Winning 151 seats in the general election has put the Move Forward Party (MFP) in pole position to form a coalition and its leader Pita Limjaroenrat the front-runner to become the country's next prime minister.

Jatuporn: Thinks Pita's legal fate is sealed

But the controversy surrounding Mr Pita's ownership of 42,000 shares in iTV, an independent broadcaster founded in the 1990s, has thrown a spanner into the works, threatening his chances of setting up the next government and leading the country.

The shareholding issue was brought to the attention of the Election Commission (EC) by political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a former Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) list-MP candidate, who asked the poll agency to investigate the shares on May 10, a few days before the polls.

The constitution prohibits an election candidate from holding shares in a media firm, and if found guilty, Mr Pita, who contested the polls under the party-list system, will be disqualified.

In his defence, Mr Pita argues that he held the shares in his capacity as the manager of his late father's estate, and, more importantly, iTV is not actively engaged in media operations anymore.

It stopped broadcasting in 2007, and its licence was taken over by Thai PBS. The company was delisted from the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2014. Its business registration remains active because it is embroiled in a dispute with the government over unpaid concession fees.

While insisting he did not break any laws, Mr Pita announced that the transfer of shares to other heirs early this week was to thwart any attempts to revive iTV as a mass media organisation to attack him.

He pointed to an iTV shareholders meeting on April 26 in which one shareholder asked if iTV was still a media organisation.

"Was the question politically motivated?... Was it an attempt to revive iTV as a mass media organisation?" Mr Pita posted on Facebook to explain the share issue.

While observers are split on the issue, with several arguing that there is still legal room for Mr Pita to challenge the share complaint, veteran politician Jatuporn Prompan believes Mr Pita's fate is sealed.

According to Mr Jatuporn, who is familiar with lawsuits and the legal process, the April iTV shareholder meeting report leaves no room for doubt that iTV is a media firm.

A number of politicians were disqualified after the 2019 general election for holding media shares. One of them was Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of the Progressive Movement.

Mr Thanathorn, then leader of the now-defunct Future Forward Party, was found to hold 675,000 shares in a publishing firm prior to running as a candidate in the polls, and he was stripped of his MP status by the Constitutional Court.

The red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) chairman reckons Mr Ruangkrai's information source was the firm's top management and his move is part of a plot to ensure that Pheu Thai will be the core party in forming a coalition.

However, as things stand, the eight-party alliance can muster only 312 votes among themselves and needs 64 more from other parties or senators for the coalition to materialise.

According to Mr Jatuporn, without support from one of the two "uncle" parties, the bloc cannot set up a government even if Pheu Thai became the core party.

The uncle parties refer to the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as chief strategist and the PPRP headed by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon. The UTN and the PPRP won 36 and 40 House seats, respectively.

In his view, the eight-party alliance cannot turn to the Senate for support due to Mr Pita's questionable qualifications and the MFP's policy on the lese majeste law.

"If Pheu Thai doesn't switch camps and proceeds to nominate one of its own prime ministerial candidates for a vote in parliament, I believe the Senate won't vote for that person, and they will have an explanation for that.

"It's just not the time to say it now because the candidate of the hour is Mr Pita," said Mr Jatuporn.

Pheu Thai will have a price to pay if it decides to ditch the MFP and bring in one of the uncle parties in exchange for senator votes, according to the former red-shirt leader.

Pheu Thai should expect a worse election performance in the future as those who voted for both parties to get their "dream" MFP-Pheu Thai government will seek to punish it at the next polls, Mr Jatuporn warned.

"Will Thaksin take the risk?" he said, referring to ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the alleged de facto leader of Pheu Thai.

According to Mr Jatuporn, the prospect of a Pheu Thai-PPRP alliance does not look so remote given the limited choices, and street protests may also follow if the MFP is pushed into opposition.

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