BANGKOK (AP) — Leaders of a popular Thai political party dissolved by the courts eight months ago warned Wednesday that a reported plan to charge them with a crime could inflame the country’s current political crisis.
Executives of the former Future Forward Party were responding to Thai media reports that the state Election Commission has decided to file charges with police alleging that they violated the Political Parties Act by accepting a large loan from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had been the party’s secretary-general, said at a news conference that the commission’s plan, if confirmed, would not stop the former executives from promoting progressive causes.
The party's reformist positions and popularity had been an irritant to the government and the conservative forces in Thai society that back the administration. It had won the third-highest number of seats in last year’s general election.
If the case proceeds to court, Thanathorn could be jailed for up to five years and fined 100,000 baht ($3,200) for making a loan over the legal limit, while his 15 executive colleagues could each be jailed for three years and be fined 1 million baht ($32,000) for accepting it.
The commission has refused to confirm or deny the reports, which were attributed to an unnamed source.
The commission’s reported decision came as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha faces a political crisis due to ongoing student-led pro-democracy protests. The protesters want Prayuth to step down, a more democratic constitution and reforms to the monarchy, which they believe is too powerful.
Some supporters of the government allege that Thanathorn, a millionaire, and his colleagues are manipulating young people to stage the protests. The former party executives deny this, and it is generally believed that the students are acting on their own accord.
The protest movement’s roots are in a February ruling by the Constitutional Court ordering the dissolution of the Future Forward Party because of the loan. The court also imposed a 10-year ban on the party’s executive members holding political office.
Student pro-democracy protests sprung up around the country which over the past few months have evolved into a popular political movement, with almost-daily large protests in recent weeks.
“If the directors of this plot think that by dissolving the Future Forward Party, by banning our political rights, they will put out the fire before it spreads, they are wrong. In fact, they are fanning the fire,” Piyabutr said at the news conference.
He said many analysts agree that the party’s dissolution eight months ago was one of the causes of dissatisfaction among young people.
Piyabutr also said the Election Commission’s reported action would allow people to judge whether it can fairly manage an election or if it serves as a tool for those in power to control their opponents.
In another development related to last year’s election, the Constitutional Court on Wednesday ordered that an opposition party lawmaker lose her seat in Parliament after finding that she violated a ban on lower house members holding shares in media companies.
The court issued rulings on 61 lawmakers — 29 from the ruling party coalition and 32 from the opposition — and found that only Tanwarin Sukkhapisit of the Move Forward Party had broken the rule.
She has holdings in an advertising company and a movie production company. The Move Forward Party was formed by former lawmakers of the Future Forward Party who were allowed to keep their seats if they joined another party.
Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn was kicked out of Parliament under the same rule in November last year. All such cases were forwarded to the court by the Election Commission.