The Election Commission (EC)'s decision to investigate Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat over whether he had violated the organic law on the election of members of parliament may lead to many senators voting against his bid for the prime minister post, according to a former commissioner.
The EC decided to conduct the inquiry on Friday over whether Mr Pita had applied as a list-MP candidate despite knowing he may not have been eligible to run for a House seat. It did so on the same day it decided to no longer accept complaints over Mr Pita's alleged iTV shareholding offence.
"The EC's decision to pursue this criminal case against Mr Pita, although it may not be made final in time [for the prime minister selection process], is enough an excuse for many senators who intend not to vote for Mr Pita to justify their move," said Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, former EC commissioner.
Worse still, he said, Mr Pita's share-holding case could still be filed with the Constitutional Court if at least 50 MPs or 25 senators signed a court petition against his premiership bid, he said.
"Heavier weapons are being transported into this warzone, meaning the 151 anti-aircraft guns are just the beginning," he said, apparently referring to the EC's inquiry into whether Mr Pita had violated Section 42 (3) and Section 151 of the organic law on the election of MPs.
Deputy Pheu Thai leader Sutin Klungsang echoed Mr Somchai's opinion that a number of senators will use the inquiry as a reason to not vote for Mr Pita when selecting a PM. "Those senators will cite uncertainties surrounding Mr Pita's future as the next PM as a reason not to support him," he said.
However, regarding speculation that Pheu Thai may form a coalition without the MFP should Mr Pita fail to win enough support to become prime minister, Mr Sutin said such a decision would have to be discussed among all eight potential coalition partners, not just Pheu Thai alone.
To prove whether Mr Pita is guilty of violating Section 151 of the organic law will be more difficult than deciding whether he is eligible to contest the election because of his iTV Plc shareholding, said Sodsri Sattayatham, another former election commissioner. The sentence for violating Section 151 carries a more serious penalty, she said.
Those found guilty face 10 years in prison, a fine of up to 200,00 baht and a ban from voting in elections for 20 years, she said.
Violating Section 151 is a criminal offence, and a final ruling may take about a year, she said. However, while awaiting the final ruling, Mr Pita's political opponents can still petition the House speaker to seek a Constitutional Court ruling on Mr Pita's alleged ineligibility to contest the election, she said.
Jade Donavanik, former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee, urged the EC and the court to speed up Mr Pita's case, saying if their decision is only known after he becomes PM, the situation will become even more complicated.
However, he admitted that deciding whether Mr Pita had violated Section 151 of the organic law is something new in Thailand's judicial process.
MFP list-MP-elect Rangsiman Rome also viewed the EC's inquiry into Mr Pita's alleged violation of the organic law as an attempt to prevent the MFP from forming a new government.
Ratsadorn leader Arnon Nampa warned that if Section 151 is used as a tool to derail Mr Pita's future as PM, his supporters will protest in the streets.