BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai court on Friday dissolved a high-profile opposition political party, the Future Forward Party, ruling that it illegally took a 191.2 million baht ($6.04 million) loan from its billionaire leader.
The court also banned party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, heir to an auto parts fortune and 15 other party executive board members from politics for 10 years. The party and Thanathorn have denied any wrongdoing.
The ruling strengthened the slim parliamentary majority of the ruling coalition under former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power from an elected government in 2014 and retained office last year when his pro-army party won elections.
WHAT HAPPENS TO FUTURE FORWARD’S LAWMAKERS?
Future Forward, which came in third in the general election last March, currently holds 76 seats of the 500 seats contested in parliament.
At least 65 Future Forward lawmakers can now join another political party or form a new party under electoral law.
But 11 seats held by the banned executives, including Thanathorn, will remain vacant until the next election. That represents a net gain for Prayuth’s ruling coalition.
WILL THERE BE STREET PROTESTS?
So far, there is no sign of the kinds of mass political demonstrations by rival parties that paralyzed the Thai capital Bangkok in past decades until the latest military coup in 2014.
Thanathorn, 41, said he wanted to break with that cycle when he founded Future Forward in 2018.
Last year he also rejected the idea of protests against the election results, which Future Forward and its allied opposition parties said were manipulated in favor of Prayuth’s party.
HAS THAILAND BANNED PARTIES BEFORE?
Yes. In 2007, following a 2006 military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Constitutional Court dissolved the Thai Rak Thai party that he had founded.
In 2008, the court dissolved another pro-Thaksin political party, the People’s Power Party, and two of its coalition partners that had won a post-coup election earlier that year.
Thaksin’s mostly rural supporters responded by paralyzing areas of Bangkok’s business district in prolonged mass protests in 2010, ending in a military crackdown in which 90 people were killed and thousands were wounded.
Ahead of last year’s general election, the court dissolved Thai Raksa Chart, another Thaksin-backed party.
Future Forward is separate from but allied with the remaining pro-Thaksin opposition party in parliament, Pheu Thai, which came in second in the 2019 election.
For now, Future Forward’s remaining members of parliament will work with their Pheu Thai allies and other opposition parties in parliament, Thanathorn said on Friday night.
The opposition has been planning a censure motion against Prime Minister Prayuth and key members of his cabinet and aim to at least subject them to public debate.
However, the loss of 11 Future Forward seats to the court ruling brings Prayuth’s coalition majority – which at times has been as slim as one or two seats – to a relatively comfortable margin of more than a dozen votes.
Thanathorn said on Friday night he plans to start a foundation for education and a committee to campaign for political reform.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Frances Kerry)