By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um

BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand’s election commission on Wednesday recommended the Constitutional Court disqualifies prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat as a lawmaker, dealing a major blow to the election winners on the eve of a vote on the premiership.

The commission said in a statement it found merit in a complaint alleging Pita, the leader of the progressive Move Forward Party, was unqualified to run the May 14 election because of his ownership of shares in a media company in violation of electoral rules.

A source from the commission, who declined to be identified, told Reuters it would also request Pita be suspended as a parliamentarian pending the court’s ruling.

There was no immediate indication the commission’s recommendation would prevent Pita from contesting Thursday’s vote, where the 42-year-old faces a challenge to win the required backing of more than half of the members of parliament, including conservative members of the upper house Senate opposed to his party’s anti-establishment agenda.

Move Forward chided the poll commission for what it said was a rash decision made without giving Pita the chance to refute the allegations.

“Pita still 100% has the right to go to the vote for PM,” the party’s secretary-general, Chaithawat Tulathon, told a press conference.

“We want to send out a message to all these agencies not to forget the people’s mandate.”

Buoyed by massive support from young voters for its bold reform plans, Move Forward pulled off the surprise of the election, beating the populist favourites Pheu Thai by 10 seats and coming within a few votes of a sweep of the capital Bangkok.

The two opposition parties thumped rivals allied with the royalist army, in what was widely seen as an overwhelming public rejection of nine years of government led or backed by the military.


The Constitutional Court referral is the latest twist in a turbulent, two-decade battle for power in Thailand that broadly pits conservatives allied with the military and influential old money families against parties elected on populist or progressive platforms.

Leaders of a student-led protest movement that held massive rallies against the outgoing military-backed government issued calls for supporters of democracy to take to the streets later on Wednesday in at least five cities, including Bangkok.

“There must be a retaliation to the effort to destroy democracy,” protest leader Anon Nampa said in a hand-written note posted on Twitter.

“Whatever the conclusion, let all know that the fight has begun.”

The election commission has been investigating a complaint alleging Pita’s ownership of 42,000 shares in media firm iTV at the time of his registration made him ineligible to stand in the May 14 election.

Pita has maintained no rules were violated because iTV has not been an active mass media organisation for many years.

The U.S.-educated former executive of ride-hailing app Grab is backed by an eight-party alliance that controls 312 of the seats in the lower house of parliament.

He is expected to run unopposed on Thursday but still needs 64 more votes, either from rival parties in the lower house or the junta-appointed Senate, a challenge that could now be even more difficult.

“This issue affects the decision on whether to vote for Pita as prime minister,” Senator Jetn Sirathranon told Reuters, referring to the commission’s recommendation that Pita be disqualified.

“A prime minister of Thailand has to be dignified and untarnished.”

(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Robert Birsel)

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