Thai court dissolves key pro-democracy party

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, looks on after a news conference at his party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, March 25, 2019. — Reuters pic
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, looks on after a news conference at his party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, March 25, 2019. — Reuters pic

BANGKOK, Feb 21 — A stridently anti-military Thai party was dissolved today and its key members banned from politics for a decade over a US$6 million (RM25 million) loan by its billionaire founder, a withering blow to the kingdom’s pro-democracy movement.

The Future Forward Party (FFP), fronted by the charismatic auto-parts scion Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, emerged from nowhere in March last year to become Thailand’s third biggest party in the first elections since a 2014 coup.

The party’s radical agenda — calling for full democracy, an end to conscription and the removal of the army from politics and business — pitched it against the powerful, conservative military.

But since their strong poll showing, Thanathorn and his 76 lawmakers have faced relentless rounds of legal cases in Thailand’s courts.

Today the nine-member constitutional court dissolved FFP, ruling a US$6 million loan by Thanathorn breached the law governing political parties.

The loan exceeded the US$315,000 limit on donations to parties by an individual, one judge said.

Panya Udchachon told the court that “party executives must have known that a loan of that amount would give influence (to Thanathorn) and he could gain advantage over the party.”

Sixteen party executives, including founder Thanathorn, were also “banned for running for political office for 10 years,” judge Nakarin Mektriarat added.

The ruling appears to end the political aspirations of Thanathorn, whose emergence on the Thai political stage has wowed millennials but frightened the country’s conservative establishment.

Thanathorn has been a fierce critic of military involvement in politics in a country whose history is peppered with coups.

Thailand’s current prime minister led the the 2014 coup against the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. — AFP

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