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Thai Court Suspends Anti-Junta Party Leader

Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2019-05-23
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Thai Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit salutes supporters as he leaves a police station in Bangkok, April 6, 2019.
Thai Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit salutes supporters as he leaves a police station in Bangkok, April 6, 2019.
Reuters

The leader of a pro-democracy party in junta-ruled Thailand denounced the Constitutional Court after it suspended him from his parliamentary seat Thursday, just a day before the king officially opens the new House of Representatives.

The court ruled on an allegation by the Election Commission that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, head of the Future Forward Party (FFP), improperly held stocks in V-Luck Media Co. Ltd. during the campaign for the March 24 general election, Thailand’s first polls since the military seized power in a coup five years ago.

“[The nine-judge panel] unanimously decided to take the case for consideration and has informed the accused to clarify the case within 15 days,” according to a press release.

It went on to state that Thanathorn would be suspended from parliament until the court ruled on the allegation. No date has been set for that ruling.

Later, the politician met with reporters where he challenged the decision and criticized the military government.

“I disagree with the Constitutional Court decision,” Thanathorn told reporters at his party’s headquarters in Bangkok.

“It’s not the time for despair, but it’s time to expose the evilness of dictatorship,” Thanathorn said, adding that he had “volunteered to stop the junta regime, to halt the dictatorship.”

A former tycoon of an auto-parts chain, Thanathorn, 40, took the Thai political arena by storm with his calls to cut the military’s political power and his promises to bring greater democracy to Thailand.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who was officially crowned earlier this month, and Queen Suthida are scheduled to preside over the opening session of parliament’s new lower house on Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, lawmakers are expected to hold a confidential vote to elect the house speaker and two deputies. The house speaker will then establish a session for the house, in conjunction with the 250-member senate, to elect the prime minister.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who appears to have enough votes to retain his post, took control of the government after leading a military coup on May 22, 2014 that overthrew the civilian government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

To be elected, the prime minister must have at least 376 votes – one more than half of the 500-member lower house combined with the senate. Because Prayuth’s government picked all the senators, they are expected to support him, meaning he needs only 126 additional votes to remain in office.

A deputy prime minister said he expected the new prime minister be named no later than the end of May.

Thanathorn’s FFP won 80 of the 500 seats in the lower house of parliament, finishing behind only Palang Pracharat Party, which supports Prayuth and won 115 seats, and the Phu Thai Party, which backs the Shinawatra family and won 136 seats.

Yingluck’s older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted from the prime minister’s office by an earlier military coup in 2006 and is living in exile.

Sedition charges

The decision to suspend Thanathorn was the second blow in as many days for the FFP.

On Wednesday, house member Rangsiman Rome was charged formally with sedition stemming from an incident in 2015 that marked the first anniversary of the coup.  He was one of about a dozen students who were arrested for participating in anti-government protests, violating a law imposed by the junta that limited political protests to five or fewer people.

In February, police questioned Thanathorn for his role in allegedly helping Rangsiman and others escape from the 2015 protest, claiming he used his mother’s van to aid in the escape. International diplomats and other observers showed up outside of a Thai police station in April when he was charged with sedition tied to the incident.

The action against Thanathorn was politically motivated, according to a Thai analyst.

“What happened reflects the use of the law as a tool to undercut Thanathorn. It is an unwise political move by the junta because it showed that the country has not returned to democracy,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, told BenarNews.

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