BANGKOK: Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled on Friday (Feb 21) to dissolve opposition Future Forward Party over an election loan from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to finance its political campaign.
The verdict came after the Election Commission filed a court case alleging the party violated Section 72 of the 2017 Political Party Organic Law.
The section prohibits political parties or individuals holding a position in any political party from receiving donated money, assets or other benefits with financial value when they know or are expected to know it was acquired illegally, or suspect it was obtained from an illegal source.
The allegation came after the party accepted a 191 million baht (US$6 million) loan from its leader Thanathorn to fund its election campaign ahead of the general election on Mar 24 last year, which concluded with a victory for pro-military party Palang Pracharat.
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According to the verdict, 16 executive members of the Future Forward Party have been banned from political activities over the next 10 years, starting from Feb 21. They cannot run in future elections, register a new political party or take part in any new political party until 2030.
The affected members include party founder and leader Thanathorn and co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.
"TOO SOON TO CRY"
"I and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit will continue our political campaign across Thailand without feeling tired. This is not the end. It's just the beginning because we're monsters created by time to haunt people from the old era and old thoughts," said Piyabutr on Friday.
"The Future Forward Party has come to an end," said Thanathorn, adding "it's not time to be sorry and it's too soon to cry".
He also vowed the party may be dissolved but its people cannot be destroyed. He said he will create a foundation to continue his work and focus on local politics. "Let's walk together," he added.
The Friday court verdict has brought down the number of Future Forward Party MPs from 76 to 65. The remaining MPs have to find a new political party within 60 days after their party’s dissolution.
However, party leader Thanathorn expressed confidence they would continue the party's ideology.
"I believe our remaining MPs will continue the Future Forward Party's policies, and that their fire will not be put out," he said.
Founded two years ago, the Future Forward Party came third in the 2019 general election, which it claimed was manipulated to favour the Palang Pracharat Party, which pushed General Prayut Chan-o-cha to become Thailand's current prime minister.
General Prayut led a military coup to topple the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.
Following the party's dissolution, General Prayut urged the public to respect the court's verdict.
"In democracy, political parties are an organisation that is crucial to the country's administration, whether they are ruling or opposition parties. Political parties have the responsibility of connecting the need between the public and the state. I would like to encourage you to respect the court's verdict," he tweeted.
"I believe people who voted for the Future Forward Party will manage to find other mechanisms to examine the government's work."
The Friday dissolution of the Future Forward Party came days before a no-confidence debate against six Cabinet ministers, including General Prayut.
The court ruling has drawn criticisms from several rights activists in Thailand.
"Constitutional Court's decision on politically motivated case to disband #Thailand's main opposition @FWPthailand and slap party executives with 10 year-ban from political activity is knockout blow for electoral pluralism after 5 years of military rule," Human Rights Watch's senior Thailand researcher Sunai Phasuk said in a tweet.
"The votes of more than 6 millions Thais, who support @FWPthailand, are cancelled. Their rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and democratic participation are violated as a result," he added.