Thai anti-junta party leader faces possible disqualification

BANGKOK • The billionaire leader of an anti-junta party which scooped up millions of votes in Thailand's election last month faced fresh legal woes on Tuesday after the authorities accused him of illegally holding shares while running for office.

The March 24 election remains in dispute after Palang Pracharath - backed by the junta that has ruled Thailand since 2014 - and its main rival Pheu Thai - linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra - both claimed victory.

The youth-oriented Future Forward, meanwhile, became the third-most popular party, garnering six million votes, thanks to the telegenic appeal of its billionaire leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. But legal assaults have trailed his success at the ballot box and could affect the final results expected next month.

The Election Commission announced on Tuesday a fresh probe into the party chief for allegedly holding shares in a media company during the campaign.

The punishment could be a disqualification for Mr Thanathorn and members of his party, commission secretary-general Jarungwit Pumma said.

Mr Thanathorn, who is travelling in Europe, said on Twitter the case was "political sabotage" and he would return soon. He has a week to respond to the complaint.

His deputy Piyabutr Saengkanokkul on Monday said the shares in V-Luck Media had been legally transferred in January before Mr Thanathorn's run. "This issue is not a problem whatsoever," he said.

But it could wind up in the Constitutional Court, which experts say is a highly politicised body that last month ordered a ban on Thai Raksa Chart, a Pheu Thai splinter.

Mr Thanathorn has been hounded by cases and complaints since the election. Earlier this month, he was charged with sedition in a case dating back to 2015. He is also being investigated under the Computer Crimes Act for criticising Thailand's military rulers in a Facebook Live discussion last year.

After the election, Future Forward joined a six-party anti-junta bloc that said it had a majority in the Lower House and the right to form a government.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2019, with the headline 'Thai anti-junta party leader faces possible disqualification'. Print Edition | Subscribe