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MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat escapes disqualification in 8-1 court verdict

Thai leader Pita Limjaroenrat avoids political disqualification as court dismisses case. Supporters celebrate, while future of his reformist Move Forward Party remains uncertain amid ongoing legal challenges and calls for constitutional review.

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BANGKOK, THAILAND – In a remarkable turn of events, Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of Thailand’s Move Forward Party, has successfully circumvented a potential disqualification from politics, following a decision by Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday (24 Jan).

This ruling comes in the wake of a historic electoral triumph that posed a significant challenge to the nation’s entrenched conservative powers.

Limjaroenrat, 43, faced allegations of violating election laws by retaining shares in the now-defunct media company iTV during his candidacy.

Under Thai law, parliament members are prohibited from owning or holding shares in media entities. However, in a decisive 8-1 verdict, the court sided with Limjaroenrat, emphasizing that iTV’s cessation of operations since 2007 — well before his party-list candidacy — did not constitute a constitutional breach.

This court ruling is one of two critical verdicts awaited by both Limjaroenrat and the progressive Move Forward Party, which dominated the last election. The party’s future, including potential dissolution and criminal charges against its leaders, still hangs in the balance.

Post-verdict, a relieved Limjaroenrat expressed his eagerness to resume his parliamentary duties, reflecting his unwavering commitment to public service. His supporters, rallying outside the court, celebrated the outcome as a victory for justice, with chants of “PM Pita” signaling their support for his prime ministerial aspirations.

The controversy centred on iTV, a company inactive for nearly two decades, lacking both a media license and any operational capacity. Limjaroenrat, in a Facebook post, clarified that the shares, inherited from his late father, were economically worthless and that the company was delisted from the Thai Stock Exchange in 2014.

Suspended from his legislative duties since July amidst investigations, Limjaroenrat has remained steadfast, prepared to counter both professional and personal attacks, as he mentioned in a May interview with CNN.

The Move Forward Party, under Limjaroenrat’s leadership, garnered immense support among young Thais in the 2023 general election.

Their reformist platform, advocating structural changes, including military reform and amendments to the lese majeste laws, resonated strongly with the electorate. Despite winning the most seats and the popular vote, the party’s path to governance was obstructed, mainly due to its stance on royal reform, leading to Limjaroenrat’s resignation as party leader and the party’s transition to the opposition.

The popularity of Limjaroenrat and his party, particularly among younger demographics advocating for political and royal reform, is evident. A January poll by the National Institute of Development Administration indicated Limjaroenrat’s leading popularity among politicians.

However, the party’s fate remains uncertain, with a forthcoming Constitutional Court ruling on 31 January. This decision will address allegations of the party’s attempts to overthrow the monarchy through its campaign for amending the lese majeste law.

In light of the recent verdict, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) Board Member and Philippines Member of Parliament Arlene Brosas expressed cautious optimism.

She applauded the court’s rejection of the politically charged petition while simultaneously lamenting the prevention of the Move Forward Party from forming a government.

“It is nevertheless disappointing that Pita and the Move Forward Party, which won the largest number of seats in the 2023 elections, was blocked from forming a government by unelected Senators, in what was a clear affront to democracy and the will of the Thai people.”

Brosas added, “We reiterate our call for the Thai government to conduct a full review of the current junta-drafted constitution, which has been designed to protect the military’s role in politics and governance, and make the amendments necessary to pave the way for true democracy in Thailand, one in which human rights is respected and upheld for all.”

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