THE CONSTITUTIONAL Court will today make a decision on whether or not it will accept the petition to disqualify Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit following a controversy over the timing of his handing over of media shares – which could result in the court barring the anti-junta politician from entering Parliament tomorrow.
The development came after the Election Commission (EC) submitted the case to court, asking it to rule on whether Thanathorn had breached the Constitution and electoral laws prohibiting MP candidates from holding shares in media companies.
If found guilty, he will not only lose his MP seat and be banned from politics for 20 years, but can also face a jail term of up to 10 years.
If the court decides to accept the case today, it is also possible that Thanathorn will be prohibited from entering Parliament tomorrow as an MP. It is within the court’s jurisdiction to ban the politician from office until the case is settled.
Future Forward secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who previously taught law at Thammasat University, questioned if the process was just as he compared Thanathorn’s case with that of Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.
Don had been accused of a similar wrongdoing, when his wife held shares in a media company.
In Don’s case, the EC had taken more than 400 days to submit the case with the Constitutional Court, while in Thanathorn’s case, it took less than 60 days, Piyabutr noted, asking whether the two politicians had been treated equally by the agency.
The Election Commission was appointed by the junta-led government.
The former law professor also slammed the poll authority for trying to disqualify Thanathorn as an MP, saying the EC had no authority to do so as the law only allowed for it to check candidates’ qualifications up until the last day before the elections. In this case, he said, it would have been March 23.
The complaint about Thanathorn holding media shares taken to the EC two days after the election, Piyabutr said. He also pointed out that the agency had endorsed Thanathorn as an MP candidate before the elections, and it was impossible for it to now turn around and try to disqualify his candidacy.
“According to law, his status as an MP began on the day of the election,” the law expert explained. “The EC has absolutely no authority to disqualify him now. He is no longer just a candidate.”
However, since the case is already with the court, Piyubutr said the only thing the court can do today is accept or dismiss it.
If the court does decide to take on the case, it cannot suspend Thanathorn from his work as an MP just yet, Piyabutr said, adding that Don had been given a whole month to explain himself in court before any decision was made.
“After that the court decided not to suspend Don from office, reasoning that the case did not affect the administration,” he said, adding that the very same standards should be applied to his party’s leader.
The professor also pointed out that Thanathorn did not lack qualifications when it came to the election race, adding that he had transferred all his shares in January and held no media shares on the day he applied to contest in the election.
Thanathorn’s disqualification threat is among the many cases Future Forward is facing after its successful debut in the March 24 election. The party did much better than the pundits predicted, winning over 6 million votes and more than 80 seats in the lower house, and also attracting votes in Democrat strongholds in Bangkok.
In a latest case, a complaint was filed with the EC earlier this week that the party may have illegally taken a loan of Bt110 million from its leader. Pro-junta figure Seri Suwannapanon said if the complaint is successful, it will result in the dissolution of Future Forward.