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Thai Election Commission Seeks to Disband Anti-Junta Party

Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2019-12-11
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Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (left) gestures to supporters before hearing the Constitutional Court rule that he cannot serve in parliament, Nov. 20, 2019.
Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (left) gestures to supporters before hearing the Constitutional Court rule that he cannot serve in parliament, Nov. 20, 2019.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

Thailand’s Election Commission said Wednesday it would ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve the opposition Future Forward Party, after ruling FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit had loaned millions of dollars to the party, a violation of the nation’s political laws.

Speaking to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in May, Thanathorn said he had loaned 191.2 million baht (U.S. $6.3 million) to his party, which registered officially in October 2018 in preparation for the March general election.

“Allow me to reveal how our party manages its funds – the FFP owes me, I lent the party money because it could not raise funds in time for the election,” Thanathorn said at the time.

The statement led activist Srisuwan Janya to file a petition with the EC seeking an investigation.

“Today, the Election Commission considered the petition, evidence and political party registrar officials’ opinions about the Future Forward Party receiving loans from Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit,” it said in a news release, adding “the loan deal violated the 2017 Political Party Act.

“With a majority decision, the EC is asking the Constitutional Court to dissolve the party in line with articles 92 and 93 of the Act,” it said without giving more details.

A former election commissioner told reporters that political parties are prohibited from receiving any loan of more than 10 million baht ($330,500).

“The EC must interpret the law, which prohibits parties from receiving ‘any money,’ carefully. In this case, the loan is not allowed and it can’t be interpreted as a donation either because it is over the 10 million baht limit,” former election commissioner Sodsri Sattayatham said.

She said if the court decides to dissolve FFP, its leader and executives will be banned from politics for 10 years while those elected to parliament could join other parties.

Thanathorn already is banned from serving as a member of the parliament because the court ruled he illegally held media stocks while running for office in the March 24 election.

The FFP proved popular with young voters for its stance against Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who was installed as prime minister after he toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.

Prayuth was elected by parliament to serve as prime minister following the election, amid criticism that the military-sponsored constitution all but assured he would retain power.

“Who ordered (the outcome)? ... Do you mean me?” Prayuth responded to a reporter’s question that he ordered the EC to fix the result. “I never interfere in anyone’s matter. I know my role, trust me.”

Party response

FFP’s secretary general questioned the announcement.

“I totally disagree with the decision of the EC,” Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said at a news conference Wednesday evening.

“We have doubt in the EC’s decision and are concerned that it has become a political tool to distort the facts,” he said. “The question is what is wrong with taking a loan from the party leader? The EC statement lasts five lines and contains no details.”

Meanwhile, an analyst said a court decision to get rid of FFP would not be wise as it could popularize anti-junta factions.

“It is not a smart move. Even if the FFP is eventually disbanded, it will be able to maneuver politically in many forms,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, political science dean at Ubon Ratchathani University.

“The disbanding of Thai Rak Thai Party or People’s Power Party did not make the popularity of Thaksin Shinawatra subside,” Titipol said.

Thaksin, the former prime minister who was toppled in a military coup in 2006, remains popular in Thailand even as he lives in exile. His younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was toppled by the Prayuth-led junta in a similar coup in 2014.

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