BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's prime ministerial frontrunner Pita Limjaroenrat played down an effort to disqualify him over a stock ownership issue on Tuesday, insisting he violated no rules and that rivals were determined to keep him from the top job.
Buoyed by massive youth support behind its anti-establishment, anti-monopoly agenda, Pita's progressive Move Forward party were the surprise winners of last month's election, which saw army proxies thrashed in a resounding rejection of nine years of conservative, military-backed rule.
Some rival politicians have petitioned the election commission alleging Pita owned 42,000 shares in media firm ITV Public Company, which ran a mainstream television channel from 1998 before it lost broadcast concession in 2007.
Election candidates are prohibited from holding shares in a media company. Pita maintains, however, that iTV's loss of its concession means it cannot be considered a mass media organisation.
"There is an attempt to keep me out of politics," he told reporters on Tuesday, adding he transferred the shares to relatives last month.
"I am very confident that I am not unfit to run for office and to be a candidate for prime minister," he said, referring to candidate qualifications.
Pita, 42, has said the shares were part of his late father's estate, which he has declared to the anti-graft agency.
The election commission's chairman at the weekend said the complaints were being examined and further evidence was being gathered. It can either reject them, or forward them to the Constitutional Court.
The party's predecessor, Future Forward, was on the wrong end of two of the court's rulings in 2019 and 2020 on similar issues, with leader and prime minister candidate Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit disqualified for holding media shares and the party later disbanded over a campaign funding violation.
The issue underlines the challenges ahead for U.S.-educated Pita in delivering on his sweeping reform promises, which could put Move Forward on a collision course with the royalist military and a powerful, old-money business elite.
Pita has formed an alliance with seven other parties but faces an uphill battle to woo members of an unelected, conservative-leaning Senate to back him in a legislative vote on a prime minister, which is expected by August.
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)