Thailand bans fraud-case politicians

telegraph.co.uk

Thailand bans fraud-case politicians

By Sebastien Berger in Bangkok

Last Updated: 3:15am BST 31/05/2007

Thailand’s
most effective political party ever was ordered dissolved last night,
reinforcing military rule in a country once seen as a beacon of
democracy.

  upporters of  Thai Rak Thai outside party headquarters in Bangkok
Supporters of Thai Rak Thai outside party headquarters in Bangkok

Thai
Rak Thai, the political vehicle of telecommunications billionaire and
would-be Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra, was convicted of
electoral fraud eight months after he was ousted in a military coup.

Two
senior ministers were found to have bribed small parties to stand
against Thai Rak Thai, avoiding minimum vote requirements where its
candidates were unopposed.

Mr Thaksin and 110
other party executives were banned from politics for five years,
blocking them from creating a replacement organisation.

There is no appeal.

“It’s
a political massacre,” said Kongkiat Opaswongkarn, chief executive of
Asia Plus Securities. “It means people do not have much choice in the
general election.”

TRT broke the mould of Thai
politics, becoming the first party ever to win an overall majority, the
first to serve a full term in government, and the first to be
re-elected.

But its popularity, particularly among
the rural poor, failed to save it from an establishment threatened by
its electoral dominance and infuriated by its alleged corruption and
abuse of power.

The Council for National Security,
as the ruling junta calls itself, has promised elections for later this
year, but was keen to avoid the risk of TRT returning to government via
the ballot box.

The verdict took the judges five
and a half hours to read, and came after a four-hour session in which
the Democrats, the main former opposition party, were acquitted of all
charges.

As the legal marathon neared its end, the
hopes of around 300 supporters at the TRT headquarters in Bangkok were
dashed when one of the nine-member Constitution Tribunal said: “The
Thai Rak Thai party did not respect the rule of law despite the fact
that they won elections twice.

“Thai Rak Thai cannot exist as a political party, therefore the court orders to dissolve Thai Rak Thai party.”

Many
of the crowd held their heads in their hands, some in tears, while
others were openly angry, an unusual sight in Thailand where calm is
prized.

Tensions were high ahead of yesterday’s
rulings, dubbed ‘Judgement Day’ in the Thai press, and 15,000 troops
have been put on standby in case of unrest, even though all party
leaders had said they would accept the decisions.

Few
TRT supporters believe the judges acted independently. “The Council for
National Security is behind the verdict,” said Amnaj Kraisorn, 52, a
small businessman from Pichit province, six hours from Bangkok.

“No one believes them when they say they believe in democracy, because the soldiers seized power by using weapons.”

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