Jumping the gun aren't we?

Jumping the gun aren't we?

ABOUT POLITICS: The MFP leader has been criticised for acting like a prime minister before actually becoming one | New developments in the iTV shareholding case make it harder to predict whether Pita Limjaroenrat will emerge from it unscathed

Pita: Urged to hold his horses
Pita: Urged to hold his horses

The fate of the Move Forward Party (MFP) is hanging by a thread despite its best efforts to overlook the lurking dangers that could have seismic consequences in politics.

The party has refused to sit idle since it swept through many constituencies to emerge as the biggest party in the May 14 election, having toppled many "sure-bet" seasoned poll candidates in the process.

MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat, also a prime ministerial aspirant, has seen his appointment book full. He has been meeting the movers and shakers of the business sector and local administrative organisations, impervious to reminders from the outgoing government that it remains firmly in charge.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has advised Mr Pita to observe etiquette and wait until he actually becomes prime minister before acting like one.

A political source said the MFP might be trying to capitalise on an early honeymoon period when its leader and core members have campaigned hard to impress people by rolling up their sleeves and getting down to the business of running the country.

Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, an MFP list MP-elect, has been unrelenting in exposing highway police bribery while Mr Pita is busy forming a new government and discussing state affairs with relevant agencies.

The source said the sense of "normality" the MFP was trying to present might be a facade that is about to crumble in the weeks ahead.

Coming up on the calendar is the selection of a House Speaker in parliament scheduled for July 26, to be followed by what has been heavily speculated to be a co-election by MPs and senators of a new prime minister on Aug 3.

However, what precedes these crucial events may potentially burst the MFP's and its supporters' bubble. Before parliament can convene its first meeting to choose a House Speaker, it is requisite that the Election Commission (EC) endorse the election of at least 95% of the 500 MPs-elect.

The commission is also moving in to disqualify or suspend certain MPs-elect for violating the poll law and calling for a fresh election in the respective constituencies.

Alternatively, the EC is apparently opting to endorse the election of MPs-elect and take them down later.

Even though the EC has dropped the complaint over Mr Pita's iTV share ownership for the time being. It will first endorse Mr Pita's election as a list MP before considering whether to act or let at least 50 MPs support a bid to push for a probe against Mr Pita.

Ittiporn: Inquiry will consider clip

Mr Pita is accused of illegally holding 42,000 shares in iTV, an independent broadcaster founded in the 1990s.

A candidate is constitutionally barred from contesting an election if he or she owns a stake in a media company.

MFP supporters will be left holding their breath over what could transpire.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the government's legal expert, has said if the complaints against Mr Pita were directed at his status as an MP and a prime ministerial candidate, a ruling unfavourable to the MFP leader from the Constitutional Court, assuming the case goes that far, would strip him of his eligibility to become MP and premier.

However, the ramifications would be even more far-reaching. The source said that since Mr Pita, as the MFP leader, officially formalised the poll candidacy of members in the May 14 election, his ineligibility could invalidate their candidacy.

It would mean that the election of all 112 MFP constituency candidates is at enormous risk of being annulled. It would also see a knock-on impact on the nationwide party list tally shared by various parties, with the MFP currently claiming the lion's share.

According to the EC's calculation, the MFP captured 39 list seats based on the ratio of 370,000 list votes per MP. But any void left by the purging of MFP MPs would result in list candidates of other parties being moved up and taking their place.

The source said a by-election would most probably see the MFP reclaiming victory in all 112 constituencies. The party might even gain more list MPs from sympathy votes. Those who voted for the MFP in the constituency system and for another party in the list system before might cast both their ballots for the MFP this time round.

The source added that if the iTV investigation becomes admissible, it may be concluded later rather than sooner. In the meantime, Mr Pita has been urged to hold his horses and not rush to exercise power as premier prematurely.

Murky media muddle

It's anybody's guess as to how the media shareholding controversy involving Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat will play out, as the case is full of twists and turns.

The past week has seen a number of developments putting Mr Pita's supporters and critics on edge, according to observers.

Mr Pita, the sole MFP's sole prime ministerial candidate, stands accused of holding 42,000 shares in iTV, which could see him disqualified as an MP as the charter bars a candidate from holding shares in a media firm.

On June 9, the Election Commission (EC) decided to drop all the complaints related to media share ownership against the MFP leader on the basis that the petitions were not filed within the legal time limit.

The complaints were lodged by political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a former list-MP candidate of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), a few days before the May 14 election.

However, the poll agency, on the same day, resolved to initiate its own probe into Mr Pita based on details in those complaints that he contested the polls fully aware he was ineligible to do so, a criminal offence under Section 151 of the MP Election Act.

Those found to have violated Section 151 face 10 years in prison, a fine of up to 200,00 baht and a ban from voting in elections for 20 years, but the legal process may drag on and take about a year to be finalised.

While Mr Pita's supporters and critics were scratching their heads trying to determine if the EC move was good or bad for Mr Pita and coalition formation efforts being led by the MFP, a video clip of the annual meeting of iTV shareholders on April 26 was released.

In the clip, a shareholder asked: "Does iTV still operate media businesses?", to which Executive Director Kim Siritaweechai, who chaired the meeting, replied: "As of now, the firm doesn't do anything. It has to wait for a legal case to end."

The clip is said to contradict the official minutes of the meeting in question, which could see Mr Pita spared from legal troubles. The official minutes state that "Currently, iTV still operates in accordance with the company's objectives, and submitted financial statements and corporate income tax as normal".

According to political observers, the gist of the controversy lies with the status of iTV, an independent broadcaster founded in the 1990s. The status of iTV is not clear, pending a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court.

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.

In the meantime, the company that previously ran the iTV broadcast channel has gone into other media businesses to generate income to sustain its commercial operation.

EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong has already said the inquiry panel will take into consideration the clip as it proceeds with the probe that could result in criminal charges against Mr Pita.

So far, the MFP leader and prime ministerial candidate has put on a brave face in light of the investigation, saying his political opponents are on a crusade to stop him from taking power.

Mr Pita has suggested that there is an attempt to revive iTV in a bid to land him in hot water, and the party's legal team has information about those responsible who earlier tried to undermine Thanatorn Juangroongruangkit's bid to become prime minister.

Mr Thanathorn, then leader of the now-defunct Future Forward Party -- the MFP's predecessor -- was found to hold 675,000 shares in a publishing firm prior to running as a candidate in the 2019 polls, so was stripped of his MP status by the Constitutional Court.

MFP secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon also said the clip taken during the iTV shareholders meeting provides crucial information about attempts to revive the delisted iTV and portray it as an active media organisation.

However, several political observers agreed that Mr Pita's road to Government House will be long and winding. The share controversy just gives the military-appointed Senate a solid reason to shun him if and when he reaches the stage when his name is put up for election as prime minister.

If Mr Pita's bid to become prime minister is thwarted, property tycoon Srettha Thavisin, who is one of the Pheu Thai Party's prime ministerial nominees, will emerge as a strong candidate.

The Shinawatra family reportedly wants Paetongtarn Shinawatra, a 37-year-old political novice, to wait five years before vying for the post and lend support to both Mr Srettha and Mr Pita. She is also a Pheu Thai prime ministerial candidate.

It will be hard for the senators to find an excuse not to vote for Mr Srettha, considering his qualifications and the popularity of the party that vouches for him, according to observers.

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