Pita Limjaroenrat, Thailand’s Harvard educated prime ministerial favourite, will be probed over whether he was qualified to sit in last month’s election, according to a top official, in yet another setback in his quest for support.
Pita, the 42-year-old leader of Thailand’s progressive Move Forward Party, whose election victory stunned the country’s military-backed establishment, has faced multiple complaints from rivals, three of which the poll body dismissed for late submission, while four others against the party were dismissed.
However, Pita is not out of the woods yet, with Thailand’s Election Commission investigating whether he was deliberately unsuitable to register as a parliamentary candidate due to his holding of shares in a media corporation, which is barred under election laws.
Pita claims he inherited his father’s ownership in the ITV television station, which has not broadcast since 2007. He claims that the shares in the company, ITV, have since been transferred.
The candidate has denied any misconduct, and the party has stated that it is unconcerned by the claims. If found in violation, he faces disqualification, up to ten years in prison, and a 20-year ban from politics.
“There is sufficient information and evidence to warrant further investigation into whether Mr Pita is qualified to run in the election,” said Election Commission Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong, according to Reuters.
“The Election Commission has formed an investigation committee to look into the matter further.”
In a resounding repudiation of nearly nine years of administration headed or backed by the army since its 2014 coup, the opposition Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties pounded conservative opponents linked with the military.
They have forged a coalition with six minor parties, but Pita’s attempt to be prime minister and form a government is likely to face opposition in a conservative-leaning Senate nominated by the military. A bicameral vote on a prime minister is due in August, after several weeks of uncertainty.
Move Forward’s anti-establishment platform has pitted the party against certain powerful, conservative business interests and organisations.
With a platform of institutional change that included lowering the army’s political involvement, dismantling monopolies, and revisiting a contentious legislation prohibiting insulting the monarchy, the party earned massive support among the youth and in Bangkok.
When asked about Move Forward’s issues, its Secretary-General Chaitawat Tulathon emphasised on Monday that the people’s voice will be safeguarded.
“The Election Commission may decide to take action against Pita in the future,” he said at a press conference. “The party is confident that the allegations do not have sufficient evidence.”