12 July 2023

“The Election Commission will send a case to the Constitutional Court...”

Election Commission of Thailand

This morning, on the eve of a parliamentary vote to select a new prime minister, the Election Commission of Thailand has referred its investigation into Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat to the Constitutional Court, and recommended that he be suspended as an MP pending the court’s verdict. In a press release, the ECT announced: “The Election Commission will send a case to the Constitutional Court for ruling”. The ECT’s decision, timed to cause maximum impact, will seriously undermine Pita’s chances of becoming PM.

The ECT had been investigating Pita’s small stake in the television company iTV, as political candidates are prohibited from owning media shares. However, iTV has been defunct since 2007, when it lost its broadcasting licence, making its status as a media company debatable. The ECT ruled last month that complaints regarding Pita’s iTV shares were submitted after the statute of limitations had passed, though it also began investigating whether Pita had concealed his ownership when standing for election, which is a criminal offence.

Constitutional Court

Even more ominously, the Constitutional Court announced today that it will investigate whether Move Forward’s manifesto commitment to amend the lèse-majesté law constitutes an attempt to overthrow the monarchy. (Move Forward is not a republican party. Its lèse-majesté policy merely calls for a reduction in the fifteen-year maximum sentence for offenders, and a restriction on who can press charges.) If the court ruled against Move Forward, it would lead to the dissolution of the party and could even result in charges of treason.

The Constitutional Court has a history of dissolving anti-military parties, namely Thai Rak Thai, People Power, Thai Raksa Chart, and Future Forward. Indeed, the case against Pita is a carbon copy of the events leading to the disqualification of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of Future Forward. Thanathorn was dismissed as an MP by the Constitutional Court for ownership of media shares; the similar charges against Pita demonstrate that the conservative establishment is using the same playbook—and that Pita was naive to imagine he could avoid the same fate.