Rush to disband Thaksin-linked party evokes memories of Thai bloodshed

Published Thu, Feb 14, 2019 · 09:50 PM
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OPPONENTS of Thailand's exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra are rushing to disband a party made up of his allies, a tactic that in the past led to deadly street clashes.

The Constitutional Court on Thursday accepted a case calling for the party, Thai Raksa Chart, to be dissolved for hostility towards the constitutional monarchy. The accusation reached the court five days after King Maha Vajiralongkorn sunk the party's shock bid to make his sister a candidate for prime minister.

Thaksin-linked parties have previously been broken up during his more than decade-long tussle for power with the military and royalist elite. While his allies usually regroup under a new banner, the cycle of political instability is a challenge for efforts to make the Thai economy grow more quickly.

"If parties linked to Thaksin keep being disbanded, the conflict will never end, and will intensify," said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor at Mahidol University's Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities near Bangkok.

Disbanding Thai Raksa Chart could anger Mr Thaksin's supporters and boost junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha's push to stay on as premier after the general election due on March 24. Mr Prayuth seized power almost five years ago in a coup that unseated a government led by Mr Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thai Raksa Chart on Feb 8 saw the bid to make Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya its candidate rapidly unravel when the king issued a royal command saying the monarchy is above politics and the spirit of the constitution prevents top royals from holding political office.

"It's likely that the court will dissolve the party," said Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University's College of Asean Community Studies.

The court will meet next on Feb 27 for further deliberations in the case.

Thai Raksa Chart's leader Preechaphol Pongpanit said Wednesday the party has acted with the best of intentions and is innocent, after the Election Commission recommended its dissolution.

The Constitutional Court - whose judges are appointed by the monarch - dissolved Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party in 2007 and did the same to its reincarnation, the People Power Party, the following year. Top party leaders were banned from politics for five years.

The moves helped trigger massive street protests from Mr Thaksin's supporters in 2009 and 2010 that paralysed central Bangkok for weeks and left about 100 people dead.

Mr Thaksin or his allies have won every election since 2001, only to be unseated by the courts or the military. He hasn't set foot in Thailand since 2008 after being accused of corruption. But he's thought to retain a loyal following among the rural poor and another party linked to him, Pheu Thai, is the main opposition to the ruling junta. BLOOMBERG

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