Thai Court Reinstates Reformist Ex-PM Candidate Pita as MP

Bangkok (AFP) – Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of Pita Limjaroenrat, the former prime ministerial candidate and leader of the Move Forward Party (MFP), reinstating him as a Member of Parliament (MP) and clearing him in a case that could have barred him from politics.

Although Pita led the progressive MFP to secure the highest number of votes in the 2021 general election, he was prevented from becoming prime minister after being suspended as an MP in July. Following his suspension, his party was excluded from the governing coalition due to concerns from the establishment over the MFP’s calls for the reform of strict royal insult laws, military influence, and business monopolies in Thailand.

In an eight to one ruling, the Constitutional Court determined that Pita did not violate regulations that prohibit parliament members from owning shares in media companies. The case focused on shares in the now-defunct ITV television station, which Pita claimed to have inherited from his late father.

Judge Punya Udchachon, while reading the court’s verdict, stated, “ITV was not operating as a media company on the day the party submitted the respondent’s name for election. Holding the shares did not violate the law. The court has ruled that his MP status has not ended.”

Outside the court, there were scenes of celebration as dozens of MFP supporters, donning the party’s orange colors, cheered and chanted for “PM Pita.”

Expressing confidence in the outcome, Pita had earlier stated that regardless of the ruling, he would continue working for the people and running for office again.

Pita’s case has similarities to that of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a popular progressive politician who was disqualified as an MP in 2019 for holding media shares. Thanathorn’s Future Forward party, the predecessor of the MFP, was later dissolved by the courts, triggering large pro-democracy protests.

During the 2023 election campaign, Pita revitalized young and urban Thai voters who were disenchanted after the decline of the protest movement and tired of nearly a decade of military rule. Defying expectations, the MFP surpassed veteran politician Thaksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party, securing second place in the elections.

The MFP’s promises to reform Thailand’s strict royal insult laws, tackle business monopolies, and fight against the military’s political influence alarmed the nation’s elites, leading to behind-the-scenes actions to prevent Pita from becoming prime minister. Although he was blocked from the position, Pheu Thai formed a coalition with pro-military parties, excluding the MFP from the government.

Having been involved in politics since joining the Future Forward party in 2018, Pita, who is educated in Thailand and Harvard, has expressed his determination to continue his political career and has not given up on his aspirations for the premiership. In September, he stepped down as the leader of the MFP.

His former party still faces another challenge as the Constitutional Court is scheduled to consider a petition next week that argues the MFP’s pledge to reform lese-majeste laws amounts to an attempt to overthrow the democratic government with the king as the head of state.