The Constitutional Court has accepted a petition by the Future Forward Party against 32 MPs out of 41 for holding shares in media companies, but they are not suspended as MPs.
9 judges of the Constitutional Court
Source: Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court says 32 MPs accused of holding shares in media companies must respond within 15 days. 20 are from the Phalang Pracharat Party, 9 from the Democrat Party, and 1 each from the Action Coalition for Thailand, Chart Pattana, and Prachaphiwat parties. The other 9 MPs, 6 from Phalang Pracharat and 3 from the Democrats, have been dismissed from the case.
The petition was filed by the Future Forward Party as retaliation after Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the party’s leader, was accused of holding shares in V-Luck Media Co. – an act which, under Section 98 of the 2017 Constitution, prohibits him from running for election as an MP and could result in the termination of his MP status, according to Section 101. His MP status was also suspended by the Court as requested by the Election Commission.
However, the 32 government MPs have not been suspended. What is the difference? The Court claims that Thanathorn’s case was received after an investigation by the Election Commission of Thailand, but the case of the 32 MPs has not gone through such scrutiny because it was Future Forward which filed a petition through House Speaker Chuan Leekpai. Both cases invoke different clauses of the Section 82.
A day before the ruling, Future Forward Party Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said in a press conference that Thanathorn had already transferred his shares in V-Luck Media Co. to his mother on 8 January 2019 – a month before registration of candidates in the 2019 election opened. The company itself is also no longer active. On the contrary, the 41 MPs are holding shares in active media companies.
The case against 32 MPs can be of great political significance. The cabinet has yet to be appointed after parliament voted Prayut Chan-o-cha to be the prime minister. In the House of Representatives, the majority is as thin as 251 out of 500 (based on the number of MPs who voted for Prayut to be the Prime Minister). If the Court disbars 32 MPs from the House, the House majority will change hands.
However, this is very unlikely considering that 9 judges of the Constitutional Court had their tenure prolonged and were given salary upgrades by the junta last year. The Court also has a long record of pro-junta policies. Since 2006, the Constitutional Court has intervened at least 9 times in Thailand’s major political crises and in every case, they overthrew an elected government.
When the Court suspended the opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, its impartiality was also questioned by the general public. But the 2018 Organic Law on the Constitutional Court also has a section on violations of the court’s authority, prohibiting any criticism of court rulings which is ill intentioned, or uses derogatory or threatening language. Violations this section can result in a prison sentence of up to 1 month or a fine of up to 50,000 baht, or both.