Legal experts criticise court loan ruling

Legal experts criticise court loan ruling

Money 'not from illegitimate source'

A group of 36 law lecturers at Thammasat University yesterday issued a statement voicing disagreement with the Constitutional Court's decision to disband the Future Forward Party (FFP) over a campaign loan.

In the statement, the lecturers said that a political party does not meet three legal criteria that constitute a public organisation and should thus be legally defined as a juristic entity. As a juristic entity, a political party can lawfully obtain a loan.

"We disagree with the court's opinions that a political party is not allowed to obtain a loan and that the [FFP's] loan was illegitimately acquired under the political party law," read the statement.

On the loan's low interest rate and late-repayment fee, which the court described as "unusual" business practice, the lecturers argued that a lender and borrower were free to agree on the rate. It is not unusual for a lender to charge low or no interest. The loan, therefore, did not qualify as a "donation or other benefits" as the court ruled, they said.

They added that Section 72, which was used to disband the FFP, did not apply in this case since it deals with money acquired from illegitimate sources or suspected illegitimate sources such as the drug trade or criminal activities.

"The loan money did not come from an illegitimate source, so Section 72 cannot be invoked to disband a political party," read the statement.

The law lecturers also said political parties are instruments in a democratic system and they represent the legitimate interests of various groups of people. As such, the Constitutional Court should only resort to dissolving a political party which is proven to have committed an extremely serious offence under the political parties law.

The lecturers added that the longstanding political conflict could be resolved if the laws were enforced fairly, while democracy would only survive if legal specialists do their jobs without bias and the people search for solutions using reason and patience.

The Student Council of Chulalongkorn University yesterday expressed concern that the Constitutional Court's loan ruling would provoke further legal questions and affect public confidence in the court.

In a statement, the council said a political party is a main channel of public participation in politics and that disbanding a party without a solid and warranted cause may pose obstacles to the country's democratic development.

The Constitutional Court earlier insisted it had not rushed the case, having taken 71 days to deliver its ruling.

It also explained that laws limiting the sources of parties' income are intended to prevent the wealthy from wielding undue influence over a party.

On the issue of whether a loan is a donation, the court said a party is a public organisation and thus governed by the relevant laws.

The FFP argued earlier that as a juristic entity rather than a public organisation, the party was governed by the legal principle that "everything which is not forbidden is allowed". Public authorities are instead governed by the rule that "everything which is not allowed is forbidden" -- a legal concept to limit state power.

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