Thai Election Commission to investigate popular politician

BANGKOK - Thailand’s state Election Commission has agreed to investigate whether the leader of a popular new political party that ran a strong third in last month’s general election may not have been qualified to run as a candidate.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the progressive Future Forward Party, already faces several criminal complaints and protests to election authorities that could lead to his or his party’s disqualification.

The commission said Tuesday it found evidence that Thanathorn is a shareholder in a mass media company, which would disqualify him from serving in Parliament. His party has denied breaching the regulation.

Thanathorn’s supporters believe Thailand’s conservative establishment is trying to eliminate his party to boost the chances of their favoured candidate, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has served as prime minister since leading a 2014 military coup.

Future Forward, established just last year, positioned itself as youth-oriented and is deeply opposed to military rule. Its strong showing was one of the election’s biggest surprises. Thanathorn comes from a family that made its fortune in the auto parts industry.

No party won an absolute majority in the March 24 election, whose official results are supposed to be confirmed next month. According to the provisional results, the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party won the greatest number of popular votes, but its main rival, the Pheu Thai party — representing supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 coup — probably won the most number of seats in the House of Representatives.

Because the prime minister will be selected by a joint vote of the lower house and the appointed Senate, which will represent conservative interests, Prayuth should easily be able to return to office. However, if his rivals control the lower house, he will have a hard time passing laws and getting a budget approved. The Pheu Thai party claims it has already assembled a coalition holding a majority of seats in the lower house.

The Election Commission has come under heavy criticism for releasing delayed and confusing vote totals, and for tilting in favour of the military.
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