Pita survives to fight another day

Pita survives to fight another day

But with another verdict to come this week, MFP fate still hangs in balance

Pita Limjaroenrat, advisory chairman of the Move Forward Party, talks to the media after the court clears him from holding iTV shares. His resuming duties as an MP has helped boost the morale and popularity of the party. VARUTH HIRUNYATHEB
Pita Limjaroenrat, advisory chairman of the Move Forward Party, talks to the media after the court clears him from holding iTV shares. His resuming duties as an MP has helped boost the morale and popularity of the party. VARUTH HIRUNYATHEB

Academics and political activists believe the Move Forward Party (MFP) will emerge stronger and proceed to win the next election after key party figure Pita Limjaroenrat survived a media shareholding case against him last week.

Mr Pita, the MFP's chief adviser, who was suspended from his MP duties on July 19 when the court accepted a case filed by the Election Commission for review, has now resumed those duties.

The court ruled last Wednesday that the iTV shares he held did not make him ineligible to run for a House seat.

The court's decision has brought relief to the MFP and its supporters, though they are still awaiting another ruling which, according to some political observers, could potentially lead to the dissolution of the party.

Another hurdle

The Constitutional Court will rule on Wednesday whether the MFP's policy on Section 112 of the Criminal Code, better known as the lese majeste law, was an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

The case was filed by Theerayut Suwankesorn, a lawyer known for his defence of Suwit Thongprasert, an ex-activist monk formerly known as Phra Buddha Isara.

Mr Theerayut claimed the MFP's intention to amend Section 112 breaches Section 49 of the constitution, which prohibits people from using their rights and freedoms to overthrow the monarchy.

However, Mr Theerayut previously said that he has not asked the court to dissolve the MFP.

According to observers, Mr Theerayut only asked the court to order the MFP to stop any actions deemed hostile to the monarchy, not dissolve the party. So, the court's ruling will be based on the petition and will not go beyond the petitioner's request.

This means it is unlikely the court will dissolve the party, according to observers.

If the court rules against the MFP, the MFP will be encouraged to abandon the policy. But if it rules in favour of the party, the party can go ahead with its move to amend Section 112, which will also be part of its campaign at the next election.

Morale boost

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University, told the Bangkok Post that Mr Pita's return to parliament will boost the MFP's morale and popularity.

"Mr Pita will now step back into the political spotlight and his popularity will surge back again after several months in which he was suspended.

"If he performs well in the opposition's role in keeping the government in check in parliament, this will also boost the party's prospects in the next election,'' Mr Olarn said.

"Now is the right time for the MFP to go on the offensive against the Pheu Thai-led coalition government, which is struggling to push its key policies [particularly the digital wallet scheme] whose fate still hangs in the balance.

"The party must also take the opportunity to recruit young members to expand its support base,'' Mr Olarn said.

Olarn: '112 case won't be fatal'

Party dissolution unlikely

Regarding the court's ruling on the Section 112 case, Mr Olarn said the MFP is expected to survive the case as the petitioner only asked the court to order the MFP to stop its policy seeking to amend the section, as mentioned above.

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, echoed that view, saying he believed the court will only prohibit the MFP from using its policy on Section 112 as part of its campaigning at future elections.

Mr Stithorn said the MFP is also expected to reinstate Mr Pita as party leader as the party will hold a general assembly to elect a new executive board in April.

After being suspended as an MP, Mr Pita stepped down as party leader to allow his successor Chaithawat Tulanthon to take over.

With Mr Pita as the party's leader and prime ministerial candidate, the party will have a clear direction to pursue and prepare for the next election, Mr Stithorn said.

He added the MFP will also focus on local organisation elections with the support of the Progressive Movement.

The movement emerged after the Future Forward Party (FFP), which Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit founded and led, was disbanded over a loan he extended to the party, which the Constitutional Court deemed to be illegal.

When the dissolved outfit re-emerging as the MFP, its key figures -- who were banned from politics -- came together to form the Progressive Movement, which helped the MFP campaign for the election.

Another major development is set to unfold in May when the military-appointed Senate's term expires, Mr Stithorn said,

The new Senate will have 200 members selected from social and professional groups. The elections will be held at the district, provincial and national levels where cross-voting is applied to prevent block votes and collusion among candidates.

Mr Stithorn said people who are aligned with the MFP, particularly members of the Progressive Movement, can also be expected to run for the new Senate seats.

Stithorn: 'New Senate on horizon'

Pita next PM?

Former red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan told the Bangkok Post that he believed that if Mr Pita treads carefully, he can become the next prime minister.

Mr Jatuporn said it is fortunate the MFP has never sat in government before so it is still free of accusations of corruption or mismanagement.

All it has to do now is to shoulder the growing expectations of its supporters, Mr Jatuporn said.

"Therefore, the MFP should be fully prepared for the next election. Still, a tough task that lies ahead is to win more than half the House seats or gather enough support from other parties to form a government. Mr Pita must do all he can to achieve this end and that is possible,'' Mr Jatuporn said.

He also said that if the ruling Pheu Thai Party fails to implement its key policies such as the digital-money handout scheme, Pheu Thai's supporters may vote for the MFP in the next election instead.

Jatuporn: 'Pita may still become PM'

Deputy MFP leader Pol Maj Gen Supisarn Bhakdinarinath told the Bangkok Post that the iTV share-holding case was an attempt by Mr Pita's rivals to discredit him.

But Mr Pita has now returned to parliament and he will continue to pursue party policies and push for legislative bills such as the "marriage equality" bill to allow same-sex marriages in the country.

The MFP also plans to table a no-confidence motion against the government and Mr Pita will play a leading role in the no-confidence debate, Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said.

He said the party will meet in April to restructure its party executive board with Mr Pita expected to be re-elected as party leader.

"The party will now have to go ahead at full steam. We have to perform and deliver [what we promised] so we can become the government after the election. We pursue new politics and are ready to present progressive ideas rather than resorting to old-style political mudslinging,'' he said.

"In the next election, we will try to win more than half of the House seats. The party seeks to bring as many people as possible together and move forward together,'' Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said.

Supisarn: 'Attempt to discredit party'

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