Political showdown for Pita

Political showdown for Pita

MFP leader’s chances in vote look grim

Thatchong Kaedam, a core protester, speaks to supporters outside the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BAAC) on Wednesday, criticising the Election Commission's (EC) decision to forward the iTV shareholding case against Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat to the Constitutional Court. (Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Thatchong Kaedam, a core protester, speaks to supporters outside the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BAAC) on Wednesday, criticising the Election Commission's (EC) decision to forward the iTV shareholding case against Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat to the Constitutional Court. (Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The much-anticipated prime minister vote occurs on Thursday, and the odds are not in favour of Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat emerging as the country’s next leader.

Backed by eight prospective coalition partners, Mr Pita, who is the MFP’s sole prime minister candidate, needs 64 votes to secure the premiership. But two major developments on Wednesday are believed to have dealt a severe blow to his bid to contend for the position.

The day began with the Election Commission (EC) deciding to forward Mr Pita’s iTV share-holding case to the Constitutional Court for a ruling. The poll agency also asked the court to suspend him from duty pending its ruling.

Mr Pita is accused of contesting the May 14 polls despite knowing he was ineligible as he held 42,000 shares in iTV, a media company. Under the charter, an election candidate is barred from running for office if they own shares in a media company.

In its decision, the EC said there was adequate evidence to prove that Mr Pita owned the iTV shares when he applied to contest the general election. The case was immediately lodged with the court after EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong signed the petition.

As the party and its supporters criticised the EC for its decision, the Constitutional Court later in the day accepted a petition filed against the MFP and Mr Pita over their controversial lese majeste law policy.

The petition, lodged by Theerayut Suwankesorn, claimed the policy breaches Section 49, which prohibits people from using their rights and freedoms to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

In response to the EC’s move, the MFP said the poll agency ignored the inquiry procedures and raised suspicions that a particular group was using the poll agency to thwart Mr Pita’s nomination.

The party alleged that the EC had rushed the process, which could potentially lead to a violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code.

MFP secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon insisted that no matter how the Constitutional Court decided on the case, the eight parties would band together and support Mr Pita’s prime minister bid.

“Tomorrow (Thursday) may be an opportunity or a fork in the road for Thai society. It will decide if the people’s voice will remain ignored or if normalcy will be returned to help make the country go forward,” he said.

A source in the Constitutional Court said the procedures would require the court to examine the EC’s petition before deciding whether to accept it for review and that it would likely be considered at the court’s next meeting.

According to the source, the Constitutional Court, which meets every Wednesday, would only consider what was on the day’s meeting agenda.

Mr Pita said on Wednesday that he was undeterred by the EC’s decision and expressed confidence that the senate would make the right call. The case does not affect his prime minister candidacy.

“I believe the Senate understands its role and duty. Moreover, the media outlet in question has been closed for ages, and I held the shares as the executor [of my father’s estate]. And it has nothing to do with my qualification as the prime minister candidate,” he said.

The MFP leader said he would attend Thursday’s joint meeting and present his vision before the MPs and senators ahead of the vote, which is scheduled at 5 pm.

Mr Pita also suggested that he was close to clinching the prime minister post, which would explain why the EC’s decision came on the eve of the prime minister selection.

He said the MFP and Pheu Thai did not have a second plan in case he could not secure the post after two rounds of voting when asked if Pheu Thai would take the lead in coalition formation if his bid failed.

Mr Pita also criticised the EC for not giving him the chance to defend himself against the allegation, saying that the inquiry was rushed with the probe being concluded in just 32 days.

The EC’s move also triggered protests by MFP supporters in various provinces on Wednesday, including Bangkok, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani and Nakhon Ratchasima.

Issares Rattanadilok na Phuket, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), said there was a campaign to thwart Mr Pita’s bid to become the prime minister, and described it as a setback for the country.

Meanwhile, military leaders will not join the prime minister vote on Thursday because they have other engagements.

All 25 Democrat Party MPs have unanimously agreed they will opt for a no- vote when deciding whether to elect MFP leader Pita as prime minister in parliament on Thursday.

The 25 MPs from the constituency and party list systems met at the parliament on Wednesday to set a common direction for their prime ministerial vote.

The MPs have settled for a no-vote at Thursday’s parliament session when Mr Pita’s bid for prime minister is put forth.

Mr Pita’s bid for prime minister is backed by a coalition of eight parties led by the MFP, with 311 MPs between them.

Emerging from the meeting on Wednesday, Sunatcha Lohsathapornpipit, a Trang MP and deputy chairwoman of the Democrats MPs, said the 25 MPs would take the no-vote option as the party will not support a party that pushes for amendment of Section 112 of the Criminal Code or the lese majeste law.

The meeting, however, did not discuss the latest decision by the Election Commission (EC) to forward its findings on Mr Pita’s iTV shareholding investigation to the Constitutional Court for deliberation, Ms Sunatcha said.

She said the court had not admitted the case yet.

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