Thai court clears former PM hopeful of violating election law

Pita Limjaroenrat survives the first of two cases targeting the anti-establishment opposition Move Forward Party

Panu Wongcha-umPanarat ThepgumpanatReuters
Published : 24 Jan 2024, 08:24 AM
Updated : 24 Jan 2024, 08:24 AM

A Thai court on Wednesday ruled former prime ministerial hopeful Pita Limjaroenrat had not violated election law and could remain a lawmaker, surviving the first of two cases targeting the anti-establishment opposition Move Forward Party.

The Harvard-educated Pita, 43, whose bid to become premier was thwarted by lawmakers allied with the royalist military, was cleared of wrongdoing as the court deemed the company he owned shares in had no broadcast concession and should not be considered a mass media organisation.

The decision will be a boost for the progressive Move Forward, which was the surprise winner of last year's election, courting young and urban voters with its bold agenda to end business monopolies and reform a law that punishes insults of the monarchy with long prison terms.

As the biggest party in parliament, Move Forward remains a long-term threat to the status quo in Thailand, maintaining appeal among liberal and young voters through its charismatic politicians and creative use of social media.

The same court will next week decide whether Move Forward's plan was unconstitutional and tantamount to an attempt to "overthrow the democratic regime of government with the king as the head of state".

The two cases, brought by conservative politicians, are part of a two-decade battle for power in Thailand that broadly pits a nexus of royalists, military and old money families against parties elected on populist or progressive platforms.

Move Forward's predecessor, Future Forward, was on the wrong end of two Constitutional Court rulings from 2019 to 2020, with then leader and prime minister candidate Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit disqualified, also over a shareholding violation, and the party disbanded for breaching campaign funding rules.