By Idowu Abdullahi,
For its staunch critic of the military rule in Thailand, the country’s Constitutional Court dissolved an opposition political party, the Future Forward Party, a development that has attracted international condemnation.
Following the dissolution of the party for being critical of the military establishment in the country, the court also banned the party leadership from politics for ten years, over a bad loan it gave the party.
The development came less than a year after Thailand held an election to end direct military rule, and strengthens the Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha-led coalition parliament.
Opposition party leader, billionaire heir Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who came third during the parliament election, winning 81 out of the 500 seats contested, has been critical of the military rule, which warranted dissolution.
Prayuth’s pro-army party came first in the March 2019 election but opposition parties argued that the electoral laws written by the junta were designed to give the military establishment control over politics.
The court ruled that the party broke the law by taking a $6 million loan from Thanathorn.
In its ruling on Friday, the court maintained that loan to the party amounted to a donation as it did not follow commercial practices in lending. The election law limits donations from an individual to $318,167.
While delivering his ruling, the Judge, Panya Utchachon, said: “The party is ordered to be dissolved according to the 2017 political party law.”
Aside from the major opposition party, the court also banned Thanathorn and 15 other party executives from politics for 10 years.
While addressing the party supporters, the party and Thanathorn denied any wrongdoing, saying they the ruling elites were only seeking backdoor to destroy the opposition, while advising party faithful to remain stronger, stating that the party will appeal the ruling.
“They want to destroy us but this is the time to prove that they cannot destroy us. We have to be stronger. Future Forward is more than a party. You can dissolve the party but you cannot dissolve its people.” Thanathorn told supporters at party headquarters after the ruling.
Despite the court’s judgement, most of the party’s members of parliament will retain their seats and can form a new party but the ban on its leaders will reduce the opposition’s votes and its ability to block Prayuth’s agenda.
Meanwhile, while condemning the court ruling, the European Union (EU) described the dissolution of the opposition party as a setback to the country’s democracy’s growth.
The EU in a statement said dissolving political parties or banning Members of Parliament runs counter to the process of restoring pluralism initiated last year, adding that political space in Thailand should remain open.
In the same vein, a group of parliamentarians from members the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in a statement knocked the judgement saying the military is still pulling the strings in both politics and the judiciary.