Disappointment after Thai court dissolves popular opposition party

The Future Forward Party, a popular Thai political party that was on the rise after the country's last elections, was dissolved on Friday after a court ruled it had taken an illegal loan from its leader.

The Future Forward Party, a popular Thai political party that was on the rise after the country’s last elections, was dissolved on Friday after a court ruled it had taken an illegal loan from its leader.

The Constitutional Court ruled that a 191-million-baht (6-million-dollar) loan the Future Forward Party received from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is considered a donation and gave him great influence over the party, which was deemed unconstitutional.

The court also suspended 16 executive party members, including Thanathorn, from politics for 10 years.

Thanathorn said after the ruling that he would continue to campaign for democratic values with a new Future Forward group.

“We will campaign on the political issues which the party had focused on with strength and determination and without giving up, no matter how many times they try to step on us,” Thanathorn said.

The Future Forward Party finished a strong third in an election in March. Now its 68 elected members of parliament must look for new parties to join.

The party’s supporters awaited the court ruling at the party’s headquarters and looked distraught after the verdict was read.

“I can’t accept this,” one supporter shouted immediately after the ruling.

Another supporter held up a sign that said “The people created FFP. Do not rob us of our future.”

A regional group of lawmakers, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights group, expressed their extreme disappointment in a statement issued immediately after Friday’s ruling.

“The penalty seems wholly disproportionate to the infraction, and when you look at the huge number of cases brought against the Future Forward Party and its members since it was founded, it is hard not to question whether they are being singled out because they pose a threat to the political establishment’s grip on power,” Abel Da Silva, a Timor-Leste member of parliament, said in the statement.

The European Union also condemned the move. “Today’s dissolution of Future Forward, one of the main opposition parties, is a setback for political pluralism in Thailand,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement.

“Dissolving political parties or banning members of Parliament runs counter to the process of restoring pluralism initiated last year. Political space in Thailand should remain open,” the EU said.

The party says it has been transparent about the loan it took from Thanathorn, which it says was necessary as the party needed liquidity to operate.

“We wanted to conduct our work in politics in a transparent manner, to show where the funds we are using for our daily operations were coming from,” the party’s secretary general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said after the ruling.

“Everything was accounted for, but we have in turn been dissolved for doing so.”

Piyabutr questioned how other political parties raised money for their election campaigns.

The new Future Forward Party is outspoken in its disdain for Thailand’s ruling military-aligned government, which has essentially held power since a coup in 2014.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha led the coup and retained his seat after the last election was conducted under new laws his military-government had introduced.

The Constitutional Court has routinely ruled in favour of the conservative establishment, which includes the military.

The court has dissolved several other parties during the past decade. Most of them have shown ideological tendencies that oppose the country’s traditional powers.

Friday’s ruling comes just three days before a no-confidence debate is scheduled to take place in parliament. Future Forward Party members were expected to play a key role there.

Party leaders said they would keep up their fight for democratic values.

“Me and Thanathorn will keep campaigning throughout the country tirelessly,” Piyabutr said on Friday. “This is not the end, this is the beginning because we are demons born to haunt those who still live in the past and hold onto the same old ideas.”

Thanathorn has said that he would not stage political demonstrations and paralyse Bangkok’s streets, as happened during protests which led to the 2014 coup. However, he has not ruled out political street protests altogether.

One party supporter held a sign that read: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

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