BANGKOK — The Constitutional Court on Friday dissolved a key opposition party for violating election laws by accepting an illegal loan from its billionaire founder.
The Future Forward Party was found guilty after the court considered the 191 million baht loan it received from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to be a donation, which is forbidden by the voting laws. It was the fourth anti-military party to be disbanded by the same court in the last 13 years.
Apart from disbanding the party, the court banned 16 executives of the party from politics for 10 years including its founder Thanathorn, ending his short-lived career as a maverick politician who stunned the political landscape by placing third in the March 2019 poll, his first-ever election.
Read: Our Person of the Year 2019: Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit
Because 11 of the executives also serve as MPs, the ruling subsequently shrank the number of the party’s seats in Parliament down to 65.
The rest of the MPs must find a new party within the next 30 days to keep their lawmaker status.
Speaking after the verdict, Thanathorn apologized to his supporters for failing to keep the party intact, but pledged to carry on campaigning on their behalf outside the Parliament.
He said now is not the time to cry, but to unite and take up the struggle for liberty and justice.
“Our goal is to plant the flag of our ideology onto the land,” Thanathorn said. “The only solution that is left for this country is to amend the Constitution.”
Writing in an online post, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha sought to extend an olive branch to the opposition by suggesting that Future Forward supporters can still resort to other methods to hold his government accountable.
“Having a good and responsible opposition will benefit the country and the people as a whole,” Prayut said.
Income, Not Loan
The Election Commission filed the complaint in 2019 based on the evidence brought forward by transparency activist Srisuwan Janya, who accused the party of breaking election laws by accepting the loan from Thanathorn.
The loan was first mentioned by Thanathorn himself, who admitted at a forum held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in May that he handed the money to his newly founded party.
Election regulators said the loan counts as a donation forbidden by voting laws, which prohibits a person from donating more than ten million baht to a political party within a year. The party denied the allegation, saying that a loan cannot be counted as a donation since the party agreed to pay back the debt to Thanathorn.
In its ruling today, the court said there was a clear intent that the loan was a donation by its own party founder.
No Future For You
The demise of the upstart party came less than two years after it was founded by auto parts tycoon Thanathorn who pledged to campaign on progressive policies, like reforming the military, promoting human rights, and decentralizing the government.
The party later proved to be extremely popular, coming third in last year’s general election and dethroning even the pro-establishment Democrats from their traditional strongholds in Bangkok.
Its popularity was highlighted when thousands joined a rally called by Thanathorn to protest the court case, distinguishing the protest as the largest political demonstrations since the 2014 coup.
But the party also came under legal challenges nearly as soon as it began to make its bid for power, including a bizarre lawsuit that accused Thanathorn of drawing inspiration from the Illuminati and attempting to overthrow the Thai monarchy in favor of a New World Order.
Thanathorn himself had his MP status suspended just days after the parliament convened due to a legal challenge by election regulators. He was later stripped of his MP seat on allegations of violating a voting law.
In the wake of today’s verdict, the Future Forward joined the rank of other anti-military parties dissolved by the Constitutional Court, starting from the Thai Rak Thai Party back in 2006 to the Thai Raksa Chart Party last year.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra
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