Court suspends Thanathorn’s MP Status, impartiality questioned

On 23 May, the Constitutional Court ruled to suspend Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s MP status after accepting the Election Commission’s request to consider disqualifying him for holding shares in a media company.

9 judges of the Constitutional Court decided unanimously to accept a request by the Election Commission of Thailand, which accuses Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of violating the law by holding shares in V-Luck Media Company. In accepting the ECT request, the Constitutional Court also ruled 8-1 to suspend Thanathorn’s MP status until the case is settled.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, leader of Future Forward Party, denied the allegations saying that he transferred the stakes on 8 January, long before he registered to be a MP candidate on February 6.

In the news conference, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said the Election Commission was too quick to request his suspension. The Election Commission requested the Constitutional Court to suspend his MP status on 16 May, but on 17 May called for further evidence to be submitted by 24 May.  

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit in the news conference

On 29 April, the Pheu Thai Party, Future Forward’s ally, filed a complaint with the Election Commission to investigate if Chanwit Wiphusiri and Somsak Sukprasert, MPs of the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party, also hold stakes in media companies. However, the Election Commission still has not taken up the complaint.

“I would like to say that I, the leader of Future Forward Party, and 79 other MPs, still have not given up hope,” said Thanathorn. “Even though today I was suspended from acting as an MP by the decision of the Constitutional Court, I am still an MP, pending the Court’s verdict. I will continue to work with the people. When they refuse to let me enter Parliament, I will stand with the people as someone who has earned the trust of 6 million and 3 hundred thousand people nationwide.” 

After the suspension, #StandwithThanathorn topped twitter trending in Thailand.

Even though his MP status is suspended, he was allowed by the Parliament secretary to attend the opening ceremony on 24 May. King Vajiralongkorn presided over and gave the opening speech. 

The Constitutional Court, which earlier disbanded the Thai Raksa Chart Party for nominating Princess Ubolratana in March, has had its impartiality questioned again. The Ombudsman requested the Court to investigate if it is a violation of the Constitution for members of the Senate Selection Committee to appoint themselves to the Senate, including Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn (Deputy Head of the NCPO), Adm. Narong Pipatanasai (Deputy Head of the NCPO), ACM Prajin Juntong (Deputy PM and Deputy Head of the NCPO), and Pol. Gen. Adul Sangsingkeo. However, the Court announced on 23 May not to take up the case.

Under the 2007 constitution enforced after the coup in 2006, 9 Constitutional Court judges were appointed by King Rama IX on the recommendation of the Senate. Of the 150 senators at the time, 73 were appointed and 77 were elected. Even though their tenure is limited to one 9-year term, 4 of the judges were replaced under the 2007 constitution between 2013 and 2015, 3 as a result of retirement (at 70 years old) and 1 due to resignation.

The remaining 5 should have left the bench after they completed their 9-year terms in 2017, but the National Assembly—all members of which were appointed by the NCPO after the coup in 2014 – prolonged their tenure until the 2017 Constitution and the organic laws came into effect. With the 2017 Constitution in place, the term of office is shortened to one 7-year term and the age of retirement is 60.

However, the provisions of the new constitution were not applied to the Constitutional Court judges. So 5 of them, appointed in 2008, were allowed to remain until an elected parliament starts a selection process. The other 4, who were appointed between 2013 and 2015, were also allowed to stay until a retirement age of 70 under the 2007 constitution.

The 9 Constitutional Court judges

In other words, all the current judges were appointed with the approval of a semi-democratic or undemocratic legislature. In 2018, the National Assembly also increased their salaries along with those for other independent bodies. The President of the Constitutional Court got an increase from 125,590 baht to 138,090 baht per month and the other judges got an increase from 115,740 to 131,920 baht. The judges are bound by royalist culture as they have to swear an oath of loyalty to the King. Since its establishment in 1997, no woman has ever been appointed as a member of the Constitutional Court.