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No big surprise: Thai Rak Thai party ordered to disband as Democrat party escapes unscathed

Updated On: Jun 01, 2007

The ruling of the Thai Constitutional Court on 30 May, Wednesday, on the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) and Democrat parties came as no surprise to many.

Despite fears of an outbreak of violence, the situation remained calm. PM Surayud Chulanont welcomed the "peaceful atmosphere and peaceful responses" to the court's verdicts, the Nation reported.

Earlier in the day at about 6pm, the Tribunal cleared the Democrats of their “four counts of electoral fraud” which included –“attempting to topple the Thaksin government and undermining democracy by urging voters to ‘'vote no vote’ in the April 2 election; hiring individuals to run under the Prachathipatai Kao Na banner to discredit Thai Rak Thai; obstructing elections in Songkhla; and hiring the Cheewit Tee Dee Kwa party to undermine Thai Rak Thai”, the Bangkok Post reported.

Six hours later, the Tribunal found Thai Rak Thai “guilty of paying unknown parties to contest the April 2, 2006 polls to avoid a requirement that a candidate standing unchallenged in a constituency must receive at least 20% of the eligible votes to win the seat and by altering their membership registrations in the Election Commission's database”. The Tribunal also severely reprimanded the TRT saying, “The acts by the party are considered extremely dangerous to the country. The party existed not for the well-being of the people but to strive for political power.” 

Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was elated with the verdict and declared, “The party would like to take this opportunity to work constructively for the country and the people. We must turn the party's victory into the country's victory… Now that the trial is over, I'd like to call on the authorities concerned to hold elections as soon as possible.”

Conversely, acting TRT leader Chaturon Chaisaeng announced his shock at the decision, the Bangkok Post noted. Chaturon insisted “the outcome of the trial was unexpected and it was unfair for the party. The verdict was based on the concept of might is right”, saying, “The people who seize power dictate right or wrong in society even though that power came from the end of a gun barrel” and that “people across the country found the verdict unacceptable. Today, the banned executives have even less rights than other people because they cannot even cast their votes in elections”. On the other hand, former premier and Thai Rak Thai ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra graciously accepted the ruling saying, “We have to respect the rules of the game. That is, the rule of the law. If the rules of the law are observed, we have to respect it.”

For now, the political landscape of Thailand remains uncertain. One thing that people are sure of is that the Democrat party will gain the upper hand in TRT’s absence. The Nation commented that “the road ahead looks rosy for Abhisit Vejjajiva to lead the Democrat Party into the next general election and become the next prime minister of Thailand in the foreseeable future”. This was echoed by the leaders of other political parties as well as Dr. Sombat Thamrong-thanyawong of the National Institute of Development Administration. Sombat said, “The Democrat Party has earned a two-step gain. First, it has escaped dissolution. Second, it won't face Thai Rak Thai as a rival in the election,”

Reactions from the people to the court’s verdict have been mixed. But political analysts remain by and large gloomy about the immediate prospects. The concern was also that the judges decision was more political rather than legal, taking into account prevailing mood and hence undermining its own role in the process.

Despite the generally calm atmosphere, the Council for National Security (CNS) chairman Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin said “the CNS would maintain the coup orders that ban political parties' activities for at least two weeks”, the Nation noted. In addition, the CNS is guarding against the “hardcore groups... trying to cause disturbances in Bangkok”. CNS spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsaeng said the Army would deal with all anti-junta movements with extreme caution and non-violent measures as ordered by CNS chairman and Army commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

These actions are backed by Surayud who “promised full government support and the execution of an emergency decree for the armed forces in case they were needed to control public disorder”, the Nation said.  (1 June 2007)

Sources:

Thai capital gloomy after ruling against TRT (Straits Times, 1 June 2007)

'Hardcore groups' being watched (Nation, 31 May 2007)

CNS to maintain coup orders against party's activities (Nation, 31 May 2007)

Abhisit's fortunes surge (Nation, 31 May 2007)

Bye-bye Thai Rak Thai (Bangkok Post, 31 May 2007)

Thaksin promises to accept ruling (Nation, 31 May 2007)