Thai Court Rules to Disband Ruling Party, Somchai Out (Update2)




Updated:  New York, Dec 02 01:53

By Rattaphol Onsanit and Daniel Ten Kate


Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) — Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling People Power Party and two coalition partners, forcing Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and dozens of leaders to step down and banning them from politics for five years.

“The court’s ruling may create disagreement among some people,” said Judge Chat Chalaworn in reading the decision to disband the party for vote buying in last year’s election. “But the court wants every party to accept the verdict because the judgment was made in line with the constitution.”

Crowds at Suvarnabhumi Airport, which has been occupied for eight days by anti-government protesters demanding Somchai’s resignation, erupted in cheers after the ruling was announced. Somchai is in Chiang Mai attending a cabinet meeting.

“I have done my best and now I will leave it for the acting person who will do the job,” Somchai said. “I will not leave the party. I will still help out.” A possible replacement may be Chavarat Charnvirakul, who served as acting prime minister when Somchai attended a summit in Peru two weeks ago.

The ruling party’s dissolution could spark a race to form a new government between those who want elected politicians to pick a new prime minister and those who want an appointed leader. A new government will need the endorsement of 80-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who plans to give a speech in two days and commands the allegiance of the country’s 66 million people.

‘No Difference’

“The demonstrators may think that using the king’s powers or using the courts to appoint a government is not a military coup, but for the people who support the government it makes no difference,” said Kanin Boonsuwan, a constitutional law professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “Even though the prime minister will be gone, parliament will still be there.”

A series of deadly explosions in the past few weeks have left at least two anti-government protesters dead and dozens more injured. A grenade exploded just after midnight today at the main terminal building at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, the capital’s second busiest, killing one and injuring 23, said Pimrat Amornsakolsuvech of Bangkok’s Narainthorn Hospital’s emergency unit.

Somchai, who has resisted calls to resign or call an election, plans to return to Bangkok today to attend a ceremony ahead of the king’s birthday on Dec. 5. He spent the last week in northern Thailand among his supporters, fearing a coup if he returned to the capital.

“We will continue to fight,” said Kudeb Saikrajang, a spokesman for the dissolved party. “We’ll try to make a deputy prime minister the acting prime minister. Let’s see if we can do that.”

Election Calls Rejected

The PAD accuses Somchai of being a proxy of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, his brother-in-law. The group has rejected calls for fresh elections and wants a new political system that reduces the electoral influence of poor farmers, who comprise Thaksin’s political base.

Security forces haven’t enforced Somchai’s order to clear demonstrators from the airports, where they have vowed to stay until he quits. Army Chief Anupong Paojinda, who helped oust Thaksin in 2006, has called for early elections to solve the six-month crisis.

The guilty verdict forces Somchai and about 30 party executives to step down. Along with Thai Rak Thai’s dissolution last year, Thailand’s courts have now banned more than 140 pro- Thaksin politicians in the past two years.

Quick Court Action

Lawmakers from the ruling People Power Party will stay in control of the executive in the case of disbandment, Jatuporn Prompan, a party member, said late yesterday in an interview with Channel 3. A non-executive party member such as Deputy Prime Minister Chavarat could replace Somchai, he said.

“Our party still has elected members who can serve in this transition,” he said.

The court has moved to end the cases quickly, about six weeks after accepting them. The decision came about 20 minutes after the judges started reading the verdict. In last year’s dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, a party founded by Thaksin, the court took 10 months between accepting the case and delivering its verdict, which took hours to read.

“This is a coordinated effort to overthrow the government, though it is made to look like justice being done,” Veera Musikapong, a pro-government leader, said yesterday. “This is a coup in disguise.”

Non-executive members of the parties set to be disbanded, which account for more than half of the 480 lawmakers in Parliament, may join a new party created to receive pro-Thaksin politicians.

New Prime Minister

Lawmakers now need to hold a parliamentary session to pick a new prime minister, while anti-government protesters may look to install an appointed government.

“If we moved into an extra-constitutional setting and a prime minister that had to be appointed out of the blue, the network around the Thai monarchy would offer up someone to play that role,” said Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “Whether this person would have the toughness, the credibility, the charisma, the appeal, and the stature to make good of the situation is an open question. My prediction is no.”

A year ago, the People Power Party won the first election since Thaksin was ousted, taking 75 percent of seats in the Northeast, the country’s poorest region. Thaksin, a billionaire-turned-politician, won rural votes by slashing health-care costs, handing out low-cost loans and propping up crop prices.

King’s Speech

Protesters at Suvarnabhumi Airport, dressed in yellow to show loyalty to the king, accuse Thaksin of corruption and undermining the monarchy. The world’s longest reigning monarch, highly revered after 62 years on the throne, is set to give a speech on the eve of his birthday that may bring a breakthrough.

The opposition Democrat party won only four of 135 seats in the northeast during the last election, while taking 27 of 36 seats in Bangkok. Some anti-government protesters at the airport said they wouldn’t need to seize the airports and change the political system if the Democrats could win enough votes to form a government.


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Thai Court Rules to Disband Ruling Party, Somchai Out (Update2)
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