Progressive Politician Pita Limjaroenrat Cleared of Election Law Violation, Retains Parliament Seat

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of progressive politician Pita Limjaroenrat, allowing him to remain in Parliament. Limjaroenrat had been prevented from becoming prime minister despite his party winning last year’s election. The court found that he did not violate election law by owning shares in a media company.

Limjaroenrat had been suspended from the legislature while awaiting the court’s ruling. The allegations against him centered on his ownership of shares in ITV, a defunct independent television station. As the executor of his father’s estate, Limjaroenrat inherited stock in the company. However, he argued that ITV was not involved in media business operations.

Thai election law prohibits political candidates from owning shares in any media company when registering for elections. Because of the suspension, Limjaroenrat was forced to step down as leader of the progressive Move Forward Party. Despite the party’s electoral victory, power was denied to them by the conservative unelected Senate.

The Senate, appointed by the military, collaborated with the elected lower house to choose a prime minister under the 2017 constitution enacted during military rule. As a result, the Move Forward Party now holds the role of the opposition in Parliament. However, the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling in favor of Limjaroenrat is seen as a significant victory for him and his supporters.

The nine-member panel of judges voted 8-1 to uphold Limjaroenrat’s parliamentary status. According to the ruling, his shareholding in ITV did not contravene Article 98 of the Constitution as the company was not actively involved in media operations. Upon hearing the verdict, Limjaroenrat expressed satisfaction and confirmed his commitment to continuing his planned work.

Outside the court, around 40 supporters greeted Limjaroenrat with signs and flowers, celebrating what they perceived as justice served. One supporter, Jiraporn Bussawaket, 76, expressed trust in the court after witnessing the ruling, stating, “There is justice for the people.” However, Limjaroenrat still faces another legal challenge this month.

On January 31, Limjaroenrat is scheduled to appear before the Constitutional Court in a separate case. In this matter, he and his party are accused of attempting to overthrow Thailand’s system of government by proposing an amendment to the law that criminalizes defamation against the royal family, known as lese majeste. Critics argue that this law is often exploited for political purposes.

While the present complaint merely calls for the party to cease promoting the amendment, party leader Chaithawat Tulathon has expressed concerns that an unfavorable ruling could lead to the dissolution of the party. The Constitutional Court had already dissolved Move Forward’s predecessor, the Future Forward Party, in 2020, further raising concerns among supporters of the progressive movement.

Critics have denounced these cases as underhanded tactics often used by the conservative ruling establishment to eliminate political rivals. They allege that the courts and supposedly independent state agencies, such as the Election Commission, are weaponized for this purpose. These ongoing cases highlight broader issues of power struggles and political maneuvering in Thai politics.