Thai politics ban sparks protests
POSTED: 1343 GMT (2143 HKT), May 31, 2007
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — More than 1,000 die-hard supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra protested a stunning court ruling that banned his party and barred its entire leadership from politics for five years, saying the military-appointed tribunal lacked legitimacy.
Wearing yellow headbands that read “Coup leaders, get out,” the group shouted and cheered every time Thaksin’s name was mentioned.
“This is a fight by the people who are rejecting the judiciary’s power,” said Veera Musigapong, a former deputy leader of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party and one of the 111 leading party members, including Thaksin, banned from politics by the ruling Wednesday.
“As someone who was personally affected (by the ruling), I am not accepting the decision of the tribunal which was set up by the coup leaders and their illegitimate power,” he said Thursday.
Some 150 policemen, bomb squad teams and police dogs were deployed in the area near the Royal Plaza, a large square in the heart of historic Bangkok. The plaza itself, where the demonstrators had initially hope to rally, was blocked off by security officials.
Army commander Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin said security has been beefed up throughout the Thai capital and will remain so until it is clear that there will be no violent protests.
The Thai Rak Thai party was found guilty by the Constitutional Tribunal of financing obscure parties to run against it in last year’s elections to get around rules requiring a minimum voter turnout.
Party leader Chaturon Chaisaeng said Thursday that a new Thai Rak Thai would try to register under the same name while its banned executives will attempt to engage in political activities short of running for office.
He said that the group hopes to meet Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont on Monday to ask him to revoke a ban on all political activities by parties that was imposed following a bloodless coup last September that ousted Thaksin. Surayud had promised to lift the ban in September and hold general elections in December.
The decision against Thai Rak Thai came hours after the Democrat Party, the country’s oldest and a bitter rival of Thaksin’s party, was found innocent of election law violations.
Thaksin, who now resides in London, sent a handwritten letter to his party and supporters, urging them to continue their political activities for the benefit of the country.
“As a founder and ex-leader of the party until the coup, I would like to apologize to members and all supporters for this unexpected turn of events,” he said, criticizing the expulsion of party executives as out of all proportion to the accusations against them.
The letter was read out by Thaksin’s lawyer, Noppadol Pattama, at a press conference in Bangkok.
“The ruling is likely to deepen confrontation. Thai Rak Thai commanded a large rural electorate and if they (the military and the surviving political parties) don’t win them over and fill that political vacuum, there will be trouble,” said Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
“The resistance might be quiet but it will also be deep-seated and strong,” he said.
Other analysts said Thai politics were heading toward uncharted waters.
“A lot could happen at this point … the process of bargaining may change and things may be quite different from what people expect,” said Chris Baker, a veteran analyst and author on the country’s politics. “You can’t predict too far into the future with Thai politics.”
“There is not a lot for any party to gain from violence at this point. If anything, it will strengthen the grip of the military,” he said.
The court’s ruling, which cannot be appealed, said Thai Rak Thai had used “parliamentary elections only as a means to achieve totalitarian power” and showed no respect for the rule of law.
The court also decided that the Democrat Party did not unfairly malign Thaksin or breach election laws.
Banning Thai Rak Thai is a stunning end to a party that just two years ago was the most powerful in Thailand, and by all accounts remains popular with rural voters for its populist policies.
But its demise began when the military overthrew Thaksin, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.
Thaksin had dissolved parliament in February 2006 and called for snap elections in an effort to defuse protests and secure his mandate. The three main opposition parties boycotted the vote.
Thaksin’s party won the April 2006 poll but was unable to convene parliament for lack of a quorum. Thaksin’s party was accused of election law violations by paying off other parties to sidestep the quorum rule.