BANGKOK, June 6 (Bloomberg): Thailand’s prime minister front-runner Pita Limjaroenrat said he was prepared to fight a legal complaint over ownership of shares in a defunct media firm, which some analysts say can derail his bid to become the country’s next leader.
Pita, who heads an eight-party coalition of pro-democracy parties that swept the May 14 election, said on Tuesday that he had transferred the shares of ITV Pcl late last month to avoid them being used as a ground to disqualify him for the premier job as attempts were being made to revive the company.
The leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, which bagged the largest number of seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, said he had only managed the shares, which were part of an estate left behind by his late father to his family. ITV hadn’t operated in the media industry since 2007, when its government contract was ended and it lost access to telecommunications frequency, he said.
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Pita’s comment sought to reassure his supporters amid speculation that a pro-military administration may use the share ownership issue to scupper his chances of taking power. The Pita-led alliance - even with a clear majority of 312 lawmakers in the lower house - is still short of the threshold of 376 votes needed to ensure his win in a joint sitting with the 250-member Senate.
"I’m confident of my past legal compliance and evidence, but it’s possible that there will be efforts to revive ITV in the future, whether for business or political reasons,” Pita told reporters after a meeting with coalition parties on Tuesday. "So I’ve decided to transfer the shares.”
Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a political activist, last month petitioned the Election Commission to look into Pita’s alleged ownership of 42,000 ITV shares and if it was in violation of election rules.
The Election Commission, which has until July 13 to certify results, has yet to accept or dismiss the complaint. It can probe the allegation and refer the case to the Constitutional Court for a ruling.
Pita said in a separate statement on Facebook that the complaint was politically motivated to hurt his candidacy. He reiterated that he had declared the shares to the country’s anti-corruption agency when taking office as a lawmaker of now-disbanded Future Forward Party after the 2019 election.
The question over Pita’s share ownership is one of many legal challenges which can potentially lead to his disqualification or the dissolution of Move Forward Party. But the Harvard alumnus said for now, he’s focused on preparing for a transition of power and form a Move Forward-led government.
Read: Thailand’s Move Forward Faces New Legal Threat to Coalition Bid
The party is in talks with members of the powerful Senate, stacked with allies of the pro-military royalist establishment, to drum up support for Pita. A majority of the Senate opposes Pita as his party has pledged to to amend the lese majeste law, which punishes criticism against the country’s king by up to 15 years in prison.
"No one or no power dares to block the people’s consensus,” Pita said in the Facebook post. "Please rest assured and move forward to change the country together.” - Bloomberg