The Constitutional Court of Thailand on Wednesday, July 19th, ruled to suspend Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat from performing MP’s duties pending an investigation into his media shareholding case.
Seven of the nine judges at the Constitutional Court voted to accept a petition from the Election Commission (EC) against Pita for judicial review.
Last Wednesday, the EC voted unanimously to seek a court ruling on Pita’s eligibility as an MP on suspicion that he held 42,000 shares in media firm iTV Plc when he applied in April to be a candidate for the May 14 election.
Under the Constitution, politicians are barred from holding shares in media companies, to which Pita constantly argues that he held them only as a successor for his late father, plus the company has already ceased its operation as a media firm before he applied to take office. The issue now is not so much the shares but if Pita knowingly ran for Prime Minister and a MP knowing that they could disqualify him.
The suspension of Pita occurred just as the House and Senate convened today to elect the next prime minister in a second round of voting. Pita was nominated again for the PM position although he failed to gather sufficient votes in the first voting last Thursday.
Pita walked off the Parliament after being handed the court order, saying Thailand has drastically changed since the May 14th election and wishing his fellow MPs to take care of the country. He is to stop performing MP duties until the court delivers its verdict. He has 15 days to testify and submit evidence to the court in his defence.
Meanwhile, Parliament is expected to consider deliberation for the Prime Minister and possibly consider other candidates and options.
Protesters angry at the ruling gathered outside the Parliament and some threw fireworks and small flares. Overall, however, the gathering was peaceful but emotional. The Move Forward Party won the most seats and popular vote in the last Thai election but it increasingly looks like their charismatic and popular leader Pita Limjaroenrat will not become Thailand’s next Prime Minister.