A dagger to democracy
Following the Constitutional Court ruling yesterday that disbanded the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP), Thailand's deeply entrenched political uncertainty has embarked on a new, but familiar, chapter.
Over the past two decades, the country has undergone endless political turbulence driven by corruption allegations, opposing political ideologies, military coups and so-called judicial activism. Over the years, conservative political factions have been accused of using judicial power to crush their foes, during which the Constitutional Court has been involved in solving several political conflicts seemingly disguised as "lawsuits" targeting anti-establishment factions. Many of its previous rulings have been disputed and questioned by academics and political observers.
FFP politicians, however, had never been part of that conflict until they entered politics one year and four months ago, offering a fresh and progressive agenda that challenged and upset the status quo.
Similar to its previous decisions, the rationale that provided for the FFP's dissolution appears to contradict interpretations of the same law, the 2017 Political Party Act, by law academics.
The case centres on a 191.2-million-baht loan to the party by its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The act does not specifically include loans as allowable party income, but in the past it was customary for political parties to take loans. Recently, many other parties in addition to the FFP have used loans as a means to fund their activities.
The FFP said its loan is legitimate because the law does not prohibit it.
The Election Commission (EC), which petitioned the case, argued that the FFP's loan is a breach of Section 72 of the act which bars political parties from accepting funding from illegal sources and called on the court to dissolve the party in line with Section 92 of the act. The EC claimed the loan was a donation in excess of the 10 million baht allowed from one donor.
But several legal experts, many of whom disagreed on certain legal disputes in the past, have mutually agreed that this is not a breach of the law because political parties are regarded as juristic persons and thus are entitled to the rule of "everything that is not prohibited is allowed". They also dispute that loans can be interpreted as income or donations.
However, the court reasoned yesterday that a party is a public organisation so what is not explicitly allowed in the law is prohibited. It also said the loan to the party amounted to a donation because it did not follow commercial lending practices, and the party executives should have known it falls under "other incomes" which can influence the party against the intention of the law.
The court viewed the loan as an attempt to evade the limit on donations under the Section 66 of the act, and thus disbanded the FFP and stripped the political rights of its 16 executives, 11 of whom are MPs for 10 years.
Some have predicted street protests and associated "violence" as likely consequences of the ruling. But the implications of this case will be far wider-reaching.
For a start, many will question whether the same logic will be applied to other parties which also have loans in their books. And having seen their political choice being buried, more than six million voters, particularly young people who elected the FFP en masse, will likely harbour resentments echoing those felt by supporters of other dissolved parties.
Even though this new wound has only just been ripped open, the country's political divisiveness has already grown larger and deeper.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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