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Thailand: Popular politician Pita cleared by top court

Cleared: Thailand's former prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat leaves court

Cleared: Thailand's former prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat leaves court

Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that former prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat had not broken election rules and lifted his suspension from the country's parliament.

Under reformist candidate Pita, the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) won the most votes in last year's general election, promising to reform Thailand's strict royal insult laws, reduce the power of the military and break up business monopolies.

But the 43-year-old was blocked from becoming prime minister and suspended as a member of parliament over claims that he had violated election law by owning shares in a media company while the MFP was excluded from the governing coalition.

The case revolved around shares in the defunct television station ITV, which Pita said he inherited from his late father, but Judge Punya Udchachon ruled that "ITV was not operating as a media company on the day the party submitted the respondent's name for election."

He concluded that "holding the shares did not violate the law. The court has ruled his MP status has not ended."

Pita: 'I will still be working for the people'

Outside the court in Bangkok, there were jubilant scenes as dozens of supporters wearing the orange colors of the MFP welcomed the ruling with chants of "PM Pita!"

Arriving for the hearing earlier in the morning, Pita had said he was confident of the outcome and thanked MFP supporters.

"No matter the result, I will still be working for the people," he said ahead of the court's decision.

After being written off by many experts, the MFP surprised the establishment during the 2023 election campaign as Pita struck a chord with young and urban Thais frustrated at nearly a decade of military rule.

The MFP beat the conservative Pheu Thai (For Thais) party of veteran political playmaker and former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra into second place, pledging to reform Thailand's strict lèse-majesté laws, combat business monopolies and take on the military's influence in politics.

But senators appointed by the previous ruling junta blocked Pita from becoming prime minister as Pheu Thai formed a coalition that included pro-military parties and shut MFP out of government.

Another challenge looms for the MFP next week when the Constitutional Court will consider a petition arguing that a pledge to reform royal insult laws amounted to an attempt to overthrow the democratic government with the king as a head of state.

Pita said he was "confident" in the second case and has not ruled out another tilt at the premiership in the future.

mf/sms (AFP, AP)