FFP fate hangs in the balance

FFP fate hangs in the balance

Poll agency rejects political bias claim

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit
Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit

The Future Forward Party's (FFP) fate hangs in the balance related to its loan controversy, now that the Election Commission (EC) has rejected the party spokesperson's claim that the case is politically motivated.

On Monday, FFP spokeswoman Pannika Wanich claimed the EC's handling of the case was politically motivated as she revealed a so-called leaked document.

Ms Pannika claimed the document recorded an opinion given on Sept 20 by a high-ranking figure at the EC, who tried to "sway opinions".

The document proposed that FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and other FFP executives be banned from politics for five years, Ms Pannika said, adding that the EC then sought the FFP's financial documents in October.

Ms Pannika went on to say that this document also puts the EC's transparency "into question".

However, the election agency issued a statement refuting this claim, saying it had followed the proper procedure and always gave the accused an opportunity to defend themselves.

The agency also insisted that there was no political motivation behind the case and that no opinion had been voiced on Sept 20 as alleged.

As for the "leaked" document, the EC said the commission's secretary-general had followed the regulations and put his opinion down on the probe report before forwarding it to the EC. This was not the act of swaying opinions as alleged, the EC said.

The poll agency also insisted it was not rushing the case, adding that the subcommittee handling the complaint had asked the FFP for its accounting and financial documents. However, since these documents were not released, the panel had no option but to gather what evidence it could and forward it to the EC.

The EC had asked for the required documents on Nov 18, but the FFP had only provided some and asked for an extra 120 days to come up with the rest.

On Nov 26, the EC gave the FFP until Dec 2 to come up with all documents, and threatened to go ahead with the case based on the documents available, according to the EC statement.

At this point, all eyes will be on the EC, which will decide today whether Mr Thanathorn extending a loan of more than 191 million baht to his own party was legal.

The inquiry was launched in response to activist Srisuwan Janya's request in May that the EC investigate whether Mr Thanathorn had violated the law by lending money to his own party. Both Mr Thanathorn and the FFP have maintained that since loans are not specified as a prohibited source of income for political parties under the law, this loan cannot be considered illegal.

A source close to the matter said the EC has to consider two issues -- whether the loan is a donation by an individual under Section 66 of the organic law on political parties, and whether it has been unlawfully obtained under Section 62 of the same law.

Section 66 bars any individual from donating and/or giving money, assets and/or interest to parties in excess of 10 million baht within any 12-month period. Section 62 allows parties to conduct fundraisers and/or receive donations, but it does not include loans as a legitimate financial source.

Another question that needs to be answered relates to the FFP's ability to repay the loan, as the law prohibits political parties from spending their income on loan repayments, the source said. The EC will also decide if the loan was FFP "income" or "expenses" and whether or not it constitutes a "hidden transaction", the source said.

If it rules against Mr Thanathorn and the FFP, the EC may ask the Constitutional Court to disband the party. The poll agency may also decide to formally charge Mr Thanathorn.

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