24 January 2024

Pita Limjaroenrat ‘not guilty’

Democracy Monument

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled that former Move Forward party leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s ownership of shares in iTV did not violate the constitution. The verdict allows Pita to resume his position as an MP, though it’s a Pyrrhic victory as his suspension from parliament last year prevented him from being renominated for the position of prime minister.

Article 98 of the constitution forbids MPs from holding shares in media companies, and Pita inherited a small stake in iTV from his father. His ownership of the shares was not in question: the dispute centred instead on the legal status of iTV itself. The TV station lost its broadcasting licence in 2007, and Pita argued that it should not, therefore, be deemed a media company in its current form. Today, eight of the nine Constitutinal Court judges agreed with him.

As leader of the party that won last year’s election, Pita was nominated as PM, though on the eve of the vote, in a decision timed to cause maximum impact, the Election Commission of Thailand referred the iTV case to the Constitutional Court. Then, on the morning of the second prime ministerial vote, the Constitutional Court suspended Pita from parliament pending its investigation. Again, the timing was hardly coincidental, and it prevented Pita from being renominated as PM.

Move Forward is a reincarnation of Future Forward, whose leader was also accused of illegally owning media shares. In that case, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was found guilty of owning a stake in V-Luck Media. Future Forward was ultimately dissolved by the Constitutional Court, and Move Forward may yet face the same fate: the court will decide on 31st January whether Move Forward’s manifesto pledge to reform the lèse-majesté law was itself unconstitutional.