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Thailand’s Pita Limjaroenrat Faces Investigation for Potential Election Rule Violation

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Thailand's Pita Limjaroenrat Faces Investigation for Potential Election Rule Violation

(CTN News) – Thailand’s Election Commission has investigated Pita Limjaroenrat, the front-runner in the May general election, amid allegations of violating election rules that could disqualify him from becoming the country’s next prime minister.

The investigation centers on Mr. Pita’s ownership of shares in iTV, a company that transitioned from being a news broadcaster to focusing on advertising. According to Thai law, parliamentary candidates are prohibited from owning media shares.

Move Forward Party’s Progressive Agenda Challenged

The Election Commission has stated that it requires 60 days to certify the election results. Following certification, the House of Representatives and the military-appointed Senate are expected to jointly vote for the prime minister in August.

However, a month after the election, the fate of Mr. Pita as an elected leader remains uncertain, raising concerns about democratic principles. Activists view the case against Mr. Pita and his Move Forward Party as part of a broader effort to undermine the election results and erode democracy in Thailand.

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The May election witnessed a record turnout and was perceived as a strong expression of opposition to military rule. It also demonstrated widespread support for the Move Forward Party, which stands out as one of Southeast Asia’s few major political parties with a progressive platform.

The party seeks to reform long-standing power structures, reduce the military’s budget, end conscription, and challenge a law criminalizing criticism of the Thai monarchy. Additionally, Move Forward has advocated for the abolition of monopolies, threatening the interests of Thailand’s affluent aristocracy.

On June 20, a Senate committee will review the Election Commission’s order to investigate Mr. Pita. If at least 50 members of Parliament or 25 senators sign a petition against his bid for prime minister, the iTV case may be brought before the Constitutional Court.

Even before this investigation, Mr. Pita faced opposition from a Senate unlikely to support his candidacy. With the investigation underway, it is anticipated that more senators may refuse to back him.

If Pita Limjaroenrat fails to secure the prime minister position, Pheu Thai, the second-largest party in his coalition, may propose an alternative candidate.

Many speculate that Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister currently in exile, could be a potential contender.

There is also a possibility of Pheu Thai breaking away from Move Forward to form a new coalition aligned with conservative parties, although Pheu Thai has denied such plans.

The case against Mr. Pita resembles one involving his predecessor, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, in 2019. Thanathorn, the leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party (the predecessor to Move Forward), was disqualified by the Constitutional Court due to his shares in a media company.

Mr. Thanathorn argued unsuccessfully that he had sold the shares to his mother before running for Parliament.

Last week, the Election Commission dismissed several complaints aimed at disqualifying Mr. Pita as a candidate. However, the commission initiated its criminal probe to determine if Mr. Pita knowingly ran for Parliament while ineligible due to his ownership of iTV shares.

If found guilty, Pita could face severe penalties, including up to 10 years in prison and a 20-year voting ban.

Nevertheless, during a press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Pita expressed confidence in his legal standing, stating that the investigation would not hinder his path to becoming Thailand’s 30th prime minister.

In response to the investigation, politicians from the Move Forward Party have accused the conservative establishment and the military-appointed Senate of orchestrating a deliberate attempt to prevent them from forming a new government and reclaiming power. They view the case as a blatant act of political interference.

Adding to the controversy, a leaked audio recording from an iTV shareholders’ meeting held on April 26 has caused turmoil in Thailand. In the recording, the company’s president informs a shareholder that iTV is no longer involved in the media business.

However, these statements contradict the minutes of the same meeting, which refer to iTV as a media entity. The minutes have been submitted as evidence in the complaint against Mr. Pita.

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Mr. Pita addressed the issue on Facebook, stating that the shareholder’s question was raised just a few days before he applied to run for prime minister, insinuating that the inquiry was politically motivated.

The situation surrounding Pita Limjaroenrat’s candidacy and the investigation into his shares of iTV raises significant concerns about the state of democracy in Thailand.

Activists fear that the case and the broader efforts to undermine the election results may lead to the erosion of democratic principles and an attempt to suppress progressive agendas advocated by the Move Forward Party.

As the Senate committee reviews the Election Commission’s order, the future of Pita Limjaroenrat’s bid for prime minister remains uncertain.

The outcome of this investigation will have profound implications for Thailand’s political landscape and the aspirations of the Move Forward Party to bring about substantial change and reform to the country.

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