Thai court lets pro-army lawmakers keep seats during probe

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court said Wednesday it would let 32 pro-military lawmakers keep their seats while it decides whether they violated election rules, in a decision criticized as unfair because the court earlier suspended an opposition leader over a similar allegation.

The Constitutional Court agreed to rule on a complaint that the 32 members of a coalition that elected 2014 coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister earlier this month had violated a prohibition on lawmakers holding shares in media companies. But it dismissed allegations against nine others, citing lack of evidence.

The court earlier suspended the leader of the anti-military Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, from Parliament until it rules in his case. It said it did not suspend the pro-military lawmakers because the complaints against them had not been filed and processed by an investigative committee.

The complaints against the 41 lawmakers were brought by the Future Forward Party and sent to the court by the speaker of the House of Representatives. The complaint against Thanathorn was processed by the Election Commission, a group chosen by a junta-appointed legislative body.

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If the 41 politicians had been suspended from their duties as Thanathorn was, it would have reduced the pro-military coalition to a minority in the elected 500-member House of Representatives.

Prayuth has served as prime minister since he led a military coup in 2014. The junta he headed introduced new election laws that gave him an advantage in a general election held in March.

Thailand’s military has seized power from elected governments twice in the past 13 years and the courts regularly issue rulings that critics say favor the conservative establishment, including the military.

Thanathorn has said he is not guilty of breaching the rule because the shares he held were transferred before he contested the election. However, the court said it suspended him because he could be guilty as charged, which would be an “obstruction to the important work in the meetings in the House of Representatives.”

If found guilty, he could be disqualified from office and barred from politics.

“I think it doesn’t make much sense at all,” said Nutchapakorn Nammueng, an officer of the legal monitoring group iLaw. “When the Constitutional Court accepts a case, it means the court has already deemed that the case is suspicious and worth looking into.”

Prayuth was elected prime minister by a vote of 500 against 244 for Thanathorn. Prayuth’s selection was virtually assured because the prime minister is chosen in a joint vote of the 500-seat House and the 250-seat Senate, whose members were appointed by the junta he led. Every senator voted for Prayuth apart from the Senate speaker, who abstained.

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