The Constitutional Court this afternoon ruled against opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and ordered his Future Forward Party dissolved.
For the fourth time since it was established in 1997, the court ordered an opposition party dissolved and its leaders barred from politics. Today’s verdict found billionaire Thanathorn guilty of violating election rules by loaning THB191 million in the run-up to last year’s election, when it made a strong third-place showing.
The verdict in the closely scrutinized and highly political case was read at 3:45 following a long summation by the presiding judges. Prior to that, observers were looking for clues to the verdict: Did the overly long preamble indicate not guilty? Did soldiers in the courtroom presage a finding of guilt?
Party executives will be banned from politics for 10 years under the ruling. The final verdict was read by the same Constitutional Court judge who delivered a similar verdict against another party last year.
Under Article 66 of election law, no one may donate cash, assets or other benefits worth over 10 million baht to a political party. The court was asked to rule on whether Thanathorn’s loan was tantamount to income for the party.
Thanathorn denied guilt, saying that a loan, by accepted definition, does not qualify as a form of income.
He asserted again yesterday that they had done nothing wrong.
“If we could turn back time, if we were blocked from doing everything to raise money like we were … we’d do the same thing,” he wrote Thursday on Facebook. “We would loan the money openly and verifiably like we did.”
Indeed, observers have questioned why other parties haven’t been punished for such loans, which are routinely made. Last month, transparency activist attorney Srisuwan Janya asked election officials to investigate 32 other political parties for doing the same thing.
#SaveFutureForward was trending today online, where Thanathorn enjoys wide support among the younger demographic disillusioned with Thailand’s retrograde politics.
Prior to the ruling, supporters had been tweeting their dismay over the possibility the party would be dissolved and denouncing the ruling coalition headed by Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who led the 2014 coup and narrowly secured the premiership through an election last year tilted in his favor.
“#SaveFutureForwardParty We believe in democracy, we believe in you Future Forward Party, even if today you don’t win this dictator, but today you win the hearts of those who believe truly in democracy,” user @PiyawatzK tweeted.
We believe in democracy, we believe in you Future Forward Party, even if today you don’t win this dictator, but today you win the hearts of those who believe truly in democracy. pic.twitter.com/AMOWGV3SKQ
— PiyawatZz13 (@PiyawatzK) February 21, 2020
The case against Thanathorn and his party was brought to the court’s attention by the Election Commission, itself a nominally independent body long accused of putting its hand on the scale to benefit the political establishment.
Future Forward would have been the first opposition party dismantled by the judiciary that was not aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It previously disbanded three such parties: Thai Rak Thai (2007), the People’s Power Party (2008), and last year voted unanimously to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party after it nominated the older sister of King Vajiralongkorn as its prime minister candidate.
Five years after the army seized power in a coup, Thanathorn’s new party rode a wave of frustration with continuing military influence and its erosion of civil liberties to place third in last year’s election. He vowed to remove its grip on power and introduce progressive reforms to return Thailand to full democracy.
Instead of pulling back, military brass have leaned into their assault on the party. Army commander Apirat Kongsompong has denounced the party in inflammatory terms and invoked Cold War-era rhetoric to paint them as enemies.
The legal troubles have piled up for Thanathorn. In November, he was found guilty of owning shares in a media company in violation of election rules at the time he registered for the 2019 election. One month ago, the court acquitted him in a bizarre case accusing him of being a member of a centuries-old conspiracy that exists only in the internet fever swamp.
Though he leads the party, Thanathorn was denied his parliamentary seat and later disqualified from serving entirely.
This afternoon’s verdict was met with disappointment and a sense of fatalism online.
“Another sad sad day for Thailand – land of injustice,” tweeted Prajak Kongkeerati, Thammasat University professor of political science.
Many said they were not surprised by the verdict. Others made rare criticism of the court, which was established in 1997 with authority over civilian politics.
“I’d like to call on the public to reconsider whether the Constitutional Court is still necessary,” student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak tweeted.
Taopiphop Limjittrakjorn, Future Forward MP, wrote that the verdict is an affront to the party’s more than 6 million voters.
“Dissolving the Future Forward Party is like breaking the hearts of those who chose the party, ruining the hopes of the entire country’s new generations,” he tweeted. “Today, I believe that they can dissolve only the party, but they cannot the ideology. I’ll walk on for the people.”
This is a developing story and may be updated without notice.