Pita Limjaroenrat Found Not Guilty of Violating Election Law

Pita Limjaroenrat Found Not Guilty of Violating Election Law

Pita Limjaroenrat, the popular politician who was blocked from becoming Thailand’s prime minister, cleared a legal hurdle on Wednesday after the country’s Constitutional Court found that he was not guilty of violating election law, allowing him to be reinstated as a lawmaker.

But Mr. Pita’s legal troubles are far from over — he and his political party, the Move Forward Party, are accused of violating the country’s constitution because they have called to weaken a notoriously harsh law that criminalizes criticism of the Thai monarchy. A decision against them could lead to a ban on Mr. Pita from politics and the dissolution of the party.

Mr. Pita and his party stunned Thailand’s royalist-military establishment last year by winning first place in the general election, as voters sent a clear signal that they wanted an end to nearly a decade of military rule. But the establishment prevailed in preventing Mr. Pita from becoming the prime minister, using legal maneuvers that his supporters say were part of a broader effort to roll back the results of the election.

On Wednesday afternoon, after the verdict was read out, supporters of Mr. Pita who had gathered outside the Constitutional Court broke out in cheers and chanted repeatedly: “Prime Minister Pita!”

“Thank you for all your encouragement. Stepping forward to work, no more waiting!” Mr. Pita said in a post on X, the social media website.

The ruling on Wednesday settled a case that Mr. Pita had called “intentional political persecution.” He had been accused of running afoul of a law that prohibits candidates for public office from holding shares in media companies.

Mr. Pita had said that he had informed the authorities of his connection to iTV, a onetime broadcaster, and owned such a small stake — less than 0.1 percent — that he had no influence on the company. He also said that shares were part of his late father’s estate, which he managed as executor. He has since transferred those shares to a relative.

But the Constitutional Court suspended Mr. Pita from the House of Representatives for months while it deliberated the case. In September, Mr. Pita stepped down as leader of the opposition, saying his suspension prevented him from fulfilling his duties as a member of Parliament. But he said he would continue working for Move Forward.

Mr. Pita, a 43-year-old Harvard graduate, campaigned on a platform of change, saying he wanted to overhaul the old power structures that have dominated Thailand for decades, shrink the military’s budget, eliminate conscription, abolish monopolies and soften the strict lèse-majesté law that forbids defamation of the king and the royal family.

Thailand was left without a prime minister last summer as the challenges against Mr. Pita piled up. The military-appointed Senate blocked him from becoming the prime minister in an initial vote. Hours before the second vote, the Constitutional Court suspended him from Parliament, pending a review of the case that culminated in Wednesday’s verdict. In September, Parliament chose Srettha Thavisin as the country’s next prime minister, after he broke off an alliance with Mr. Pita’s party and teamed up with conservative and military-backed parties.

The ruling in Mr. Pita’s other constitutional case is expected next week.

Mr. Pita remains very popular in Thailand. A survey in December by the National Institute of Development Administration, a policy research institute, found Mr. Pita was the most favored choice for prime minister, beating Mr. Srettha. The same poll found that Move Forward remained the most popular political party.

The election law case against Mr. Pita echoed one filed against another former leader of the opposition, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who was disqualified in 2019 from elected office because he was found to have held shares in a media company.

Mr. Thanathorn was the leader of the Future Forward Party, which was disbanded in 2020 by the Constitutional Court and was the predecessor of the Move Forward Party. That decision prompted tens of thousands of Thais to take to the streets and, for the first time, led to public calls for checks on the power of the monarchy.

Pirada Anuwech contributed reporting.

Steven Tyler

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