Pro-junta bloc hit by shares storm

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Clouds gather as 41 MPs accused of violating rules on investment in media.

More than 40 MPs of the pro-junta coalition are being targeted in cases related to media shareholding after their names were submitted to the Constitutional Court yesterday. Meanwhile, the coalition has made little progress in establishing a government even though its only candidate, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, has been named prime minister. 

Should these MPs be suspended or disqualified, the pro-junta bloc’s narrow House majority could be undermined and it will find itself struggling to pass any legislation in the House of Representatives, including the national budget bill. House speaker Chuan Leekpai submitted a petition with the Constitutional Court yesterday, asking it to investigate if 41 members of the chamber could have qualification issues.

Of the 41 MPs under investigation, 27 are from Phalang Pracharat, 10 from the Democrat Party and one each from Action Coalition for Thailand, Bhumjaithai, Chartpattana and Prachaphiwat.

The submission follows complaints lodged by Future Forward Party MPs, after their leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was hit by the same allegations and ordered by the Constitutional Court to take a break from his work as MP until the case against him reaches a conclusion. 
The Constitution prohibits MP candidates from holding shares in media companies, and if found guilty, they can be disqualified, face a jail term as well as a fine. 

It is now up to the Constitutional Court to decide if it will take up the 41 MPs’ cases, and if it does so, whether it will be consistent in suspending them from Parliament as it did with Thanathorn. Phalang Pracharat registrar and MP Vichien Chavalit, whose 27 colleagues were among those named in the petition, told the press that the party had already prepared testimony in relation to the cases.

Vichien said it was up to the court to decide if the MPs should be suspended, adding that the party had checked every candidate’s qualification before the election. 
The opposition, led by anti-junta Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties, has been looking for ways to eliminate more MPs from the rival bloc.
Pheu Thai’s legal expert Chusak Sirinil is urging Future Forward Party to lodge a complaint with the House speaker to scrutinise whether MPs from smaller parties were qualified, considering their controversially small share of votes. The junta-appointed Election Commission’s decision to give seats to 11 smaller parties raised eyebrows, with some experts and politicians pointing out that these small parties had failed to gain the minimum votes required to cross the threshold of the House of Representatives. 
The original calculation based on the Constitution suggests that each party is required to win 71,000 votes to get one MP seat. 
However, the EC came up with a new calculation that landed these micro parties in the House of Representatives despite them having only between 30,000 and 60,000 votes. The parties returned the favour by voting Prayut in as prime minister and joined the pro-junta bloc.
In a related development, the pro-junta bloc was tipped to reach an agreement over contentious portfolios soon, but it was still unclear when Prayut will formally establish a Cabinet.
Despite previous tension, insiders have said that coalition partners will be given the ministries they want. The Democrat Party is likely to get the Agriculture, Commerce and Social Development ministries, while Bhumjaithai expects to land the Transport, Public Health and Tourism ministries. 
The parties are currently considering which of their members should be given the ministerial positions. 
Prayut said yesterday that he could now start discussing the issue after being endorsed as PM on Tuesday, adding that he will try to fill the positions as soon as possible. However, he wouldn’t say if his close colleague, General Prawit Wongsuwan, will continue as defence minister or if he will personally hold the portfolio along with being a PM.
Prayut also denied that there was a conflict within the Phalang Pracharat Party over the allocation of the political positions, saying this was merely media speculation.

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