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Thai opposition chief disqualified from Parliament in ruling

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Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit talking to the media after the hearing at the Constitutional Court.

Bangkok

A KEY opposition leader in Thailand who criticised the royalist establishment's grip on power was disqualified from parliament in a court ruling.

The Constitutional Court found Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit guilty on Wednesday of breaking rules meant to prevent politicians from owning shares in media firms. The court also disqualified him from being a member of parliament. He'd been suspended pending the ruling.

Mr Thanathorn, a telegenic former business tycoon, champions democratic reforms and opposes military influence in government in a country with a history of coups. He denied the charges and said the case was politically motivated.

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Charles Santiago, a member of parliament in Malaysia and chair of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement: "Today's ruling is another indication that despite the holding of elections this year, Thai authorities are not ready for an open and free democracy."

South-east Asia's second-largest economy held a disputed general election in March after almost five years of military rule.

A pro-military coalition led by former junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha took office in July with a razor-thin majority.

Future Forward became a key part of an opposition bloc that controls almost half the lower house of parliament, where the party has attacked the administration's policies.

"This could be the first step that will potentially lead to the dissolution of the party," said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an expert on Thai politics and a Fulbright scholar at Northern Illinois University.

"Many of the party executives are currently either facing legal cases or possible legal action."

The government's slim majority has put the spotlight on political risk in Thailand, where officials are struggling to revive the economy.

The administration managed to get the annual budget bill through an initial parliamentary vote in October, with more votes due in January.

Analysts remain divided on whether the outcome of the initial votes shows that the coalition will survive future tests. BLOOMBERG