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Disbanding Future Forward Party, Banning Leaders a Blow to Democracy

Disbanding Future Forward Party, Banning Leaders a Blow to Democracy

BANGKOK: Thailand’s Constitutional Court decision to dissolve the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP) on Friday (Feb 21) on politically motivated allegations, seriously damages the country’s return to genuine democratic rule.

By Human Rights Watch

Monday 24 February 2020, 12:20PM

The censure debate against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and five cabinet ministers kicks off today (Feb 24) without key speakers from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party. Photo: Bangkok Post

The censure debate against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and five cabinet ministers kicks off today (Feb 24) without key speakers from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party. Photo: Bangkok Post

The court ruled that the party took an illegal loan from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and imposed 10-year political bans on 16 of its executive members.

“The Constitutional Court’s ruling to dissolve the FFP is a knockout blow for Thailand’s teetering efforts to restore democratic rule after a military dictatorship,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This decision seriously weakens the political opposition for the benefit of the military-backed ruling party and unjustly cancels the votes of over six million FFP supporters.”

The court stated that the Election Commission of Thailand, which brought a complaint in this case, could proceed with criminal action against Thanathorn and 15 other party executives. If convicted, Thanathorn faces up to five years in prison, and other party executives face up to three years.

The court also ordered confiscation from the party of 181.3 million baht (US$5.8 million), the amount of the loan considered to exceed legal limits.

Since its founding in 2018, the FFP has faced an onslaught of arbitrary legal actions and military intimidation that has raised serious doubts about the government’s commitment to the democratic process.

The dissolution verdict came just three days ahead of a no-confidence debate scheduled for Feb 24 to 26 against the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

The case, brought by the Election Commission of Thailand, contended that the funds Thanathorn loaned to the party fell under “other benefits” in section 66 of the Political Parties Act, which limits donations to 10 million baht per donor per year.

CMI - Thailand

The commission determined that the loan could give him undue influence on the party. After considering that the party and its executives violated the donation limits, the court concluded the money was from “an illegitimate source” as defined under section 94 of the law, thus invoking the penalty of dissolving the party.

The court proceedings raise serious fair trial concerns, highlighted by the court’s refusal to allow the FFP to present its case. The party had made a request to present evidence to counter the accusations against it, but the court ruled that it already had sufficient evidence to reach a verdict.

The ruling violates the rights of FFP members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.

Despite Thailand’s lack of significant progress toward respecting human rights since the March 24, 2019 general elections, there has been little concerted public criticism of the government from the United States, the European Union, and other countries.

“Thailand’s friends abroad should denounce this jarring setback to a return to political pluralism and democratic rule,” Adams said.

“When an up-and-coming political party that calls for reforms and represents dissenting voices can be dissolved on specious grounds, the democratic rights of all Thais are at risk.”

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Kurt | 24 February 2020 - 14:19:04

As long the general prime minister and the general ministers have not sworn a correct oath on their own designed new constitution, that long the democratic basics are not there. It is all just a choice. If no room for democratic voices, than you can expect problems. That ghost is out of the bottle.

Capricornball | 24 February 2020 - 12:42:05

What a shame.  I would expect this kind of action in Myanmar or North Korea, but didn't think Thailand had slid so far off the rails.  I feel bad for the people of Thailand, and hope they keep on the difficult path to democracy.

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