FACTBOX: Lese majeste cases in Thailand

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Tue Jan 20, 2009 4:16am EST

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai police formally charged leading leftist commentator Giles Ungpakorn on Tuesday with insulting the king, the latest in a slew of lese majeste cases critics say are stifling dissent and freedom of speech.

Following are details of some of those who have recently fallen foul of the law, which carries between 3 and 15 years in prison for insults or threats to the deeply revered monarchy.

In many cases, the status of the investigation is unclear due to police reluctance to discuss the taboo issue of the monarchy’s role in politics, which is officially nil.

JAKRAPOB PENKAIR – A spokesman for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Jakrapob had to resign as a minister in the pro-Thaksin government in May after being accused of slandering the king in a talk at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

JONATHAN HEAD – The British BBC correspondent in Bangkok has received three lese majeste complaints. One was related to an online BBC story not written by Head which did not place the photograph of the king at the top of the page, as is customary in Thailand.

CHOTISAK ONSOONG – The young political activist was accused by police in April of insulting the monarchy for refusing to stand during the royal anthem that precedes all movie screenings in Thailand.

JITRA KOTCHADEJ – A union activist and friend of Chotisak, Jitra was fired by bosses at her clothing factory in August for appearing on a TV panel discussion wearing a T-shirt saying “Not standing is not a crime,” a reference to Chotisak.

It is not known if she has been charged by police.

SULAK SIVARAKSA – A leading academic and long-time critic of the lese majeste law, the 75-year-old was taken from his Bangkok home late one night in November and driven 450 km (280 miles) to a police station in the northeast province of Khon Kaen.

There, he was charged with insulting the monarchy in a university lecture he gave in December the previous year.

HARRY NICOLAIDES – An Australian author, English teacher and long-time resident of Thailand, Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in jail this week for defaming the crown prince in his 2005 novel, ‘Verisimilitude’. Only seven copies of the book were sold.

DARUNEE CHARNCHOENGSILPAKUL – More commonly known as “Da Torpedo,” the pro-Thaksin campaigner was arrested in July after delivering an exceptionally strong 30-minute speech denouncing the 2006 coup and the monarchy.

She is thought still to be behind bars, although it is not known if she has been formally charged.

SUWICHA THAKHOR – Suwicha was arrested last week on suspicion of posting comments on the Internet that insulted the monarchy. His arrest coincided with a speech by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva saying the law should not be abused.

OLIVER JUFER – The Swiss national was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2007 for spraying black paint on huge public portraits of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He was pardoned and deported after serving four months.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Sanjeev Miglani)

Hope for Thai democracy

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Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008

By KEVIN RAFFERTY

Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — Abhisit Vejjajiva seems the least likely person to rescue Thailand from what commentators claim are the death throes of democracy. He is boyish-looking, physically slight, has no commanding military or police connections, no reputation for wheeling and dealing, and was foreign born and educated, albeit at the top people’s school in Britain — Eton — and then at its best university — Oxford.

His failure to make his presence felt in the tumultuous political street theater playing in Bangkok these past few months counts against him. Or was it the aloofness of a gentleman who did not deign to stoop to the grimy gutter world of Thai politics? Even worse.

These factors have led critics, Thai and foreign, to claim that Khun Abhisit is a puppet, though they argue over who is pulling his strings — the royal court, the bureaucracy, the military, the Bangkok elite or the anti-Thaksin Shinawatra mob.

They are unfair and I hope they’re proved wrong. Abhisit could be the leader to take Thailand back to the democratic path, restore its damaged international reputation and make it again one of Asia’s leading developing economies.

Admittedly, it is easier said than done and depends on what dirty deals Abhisit’s friends have made to tempt defectors from the Thaksin camp and whether he can assert himself and steer clear policies through the myriad greedy and cunning conflicting interests that will dance attendance on his government.

There is an interesting precedent of an Oxford-educated Thai prime minister in inauspicious circumstances. In 1975, Kukrit Pramoj became prime minister. Kukrit was colorful, a prince, newspaper founder, novelist, actor — he played the prime minister opposite Marlon Brando in “The Ugly American” — and expert in Thai culture. His Social Action Party had only 18 of 269 national assembly seats when Thai politicians, just released from military control, were unscrupulous in selling their support for money.

Yet “MR” Kukrit not only kept power for months, he was able to push through a revolutionary scheme that gave 5 billion bahts to each tambon (group of 10 villages) to spend as they liked, no strings attached. Kukrit was the first leader to give the initiative to poor rural Thai society to kick-start development. Thaksin came along 25 years later and his money was tied closely to voting preferences. Abhisit at least has command of the substantial Democrat Party. In spite of their weakness in rural areas, particularly the northeast, the Democrats won 34 percent of the vote in the last election.

The new prime minister’s strength is that he is thoroughly and thoughtfully Thai. When I interviewed him as opposition leader, he said his manifesto was to promote “basic change that moves Thailand to become a model of an emerging economy and democracy where we can thrive in a world of global competition, can live with the market system, allow our people to enjoy full rights and participation and retain our culture and identity.”

Classically, he saw the government’s role as maintaining a level playing field and opening the doors for all, including poor rural Thais.

He accused the former prime minister, whom he politely called “Khun Thaksin” on all but one of 14 mentions, of “not enforcing the basic values of democracy. He wants to make people see politics as management by one person, moving the economy away from the driving force of competition to ‘know-who’ rather than knowhow in a web of cronyism.”

One glaring weakness is that Abhisit is stiff. Each time I pointed a camera at him it was as if I poured a fresh bucket of starch over him. He is brighter, a deeper thinker and faster on his feet than Thaksin, but he lacks the former prime minister’s oratorical skills and political daring.

More crucial of course is that Abhisit is untested and will find it is not easy to put fine principles and ideals into practice in the grubby maelstrom of political life of Thailand today.

Who actually did the dirty dealing that brought the Thaksin rebels over to give Abhisit the votes to secure his election? Some of the people who came to his rescue had a black reputation even when they were part of Thaksin’s government.

Abhisit is well aware that there are many conflicting interests who regard him as their puppet. Some are ruthless and claim powerful backers, notably the People’s Alliance for Democracy, whose mobs took over the prime minister’s office and Bangkok’s airports, while the security authorities looked on and Thaksin’s brother-in-law prime minister dared not assert himself or call their bluff.

The royal court, the bureaucracy and the military all want their say — and their cut — in how Thailand is run, and Abhisit has to calculate how much he needs them and how much they need him.

Then there is the aggrieved Thaksin Shinawatra, fuming in exile in Hong Kong, China, Dubai and Indonesia that power was snatched away from him. Although he protests that he is not interested in a political comeback, he never really went away, except physically. He makes daily calls to his supporters telling them his wishes.

Foreign journalists have over-romanticized Thaksin as a man of the Thai people, forgetting that when he was in power he was a virtual one-man band. He is now a convicted criminal in exile. Yes, Thai judges will be under suspicion for having taken sides and dispensed a harsh judgment faster than usual. But the charges on which Thaksin was convicted were milder than the accusation of his abuses of power.

The lesson of former Oxford-educated prime minister Kukrit is that even a minority leader must be his own person and must dare to take policy initiatives, not wait for the squabbling consensus.

Abhisit may count it to his advantage that he is Thailand’s fifth prime minister this year and that Thais are tired of their corrupt erstwhile rulers. The military is licking its wounds from its failures when it took over the government after kicking Thaksin out. PAD thugs disgraced Thailand internationally as well as crippling the lucrative tourism industry.

King Bhumipol Adulyadej must long for someone who can grace his long reign with a reputation for caring government It is time for a fresh leader with the mantle of honesty, cue Abhisit?

What next for Thailand?

Mail & Guardian Online

Dec 09 2008 06:00

TOM FAWTHROP

 

The Thai crisis that has paralysed Bangkok’s airports, devastated the economy and polarised the nation between the monarchists and the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra camp is far from over, despite a court ruling disbanding three of the parties in the government coalition and forcing the prime minister’s resignation.

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International airport has now reopened. The thousands of yellow-clad demonstrators, who dramatically occupied and closed down all flights at the airport a week ago demanding the PM’s resignation, won their demand to unseat the alleged “puppet government”.

The country’s highest court dissolved the three major ruling parties including the party of prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, for vote-buying and corruption during the last election campaign in December 2007.

The controversial court ruling was delivered at a time when Somchai’s government had ceased to govern, amid escalating violence and mounting rumours of a military coup in this highly coup-prone nation.

The last military coup was just two years ago when the military seized power, urged on by monarchists, leading to the ousting of billionaire prime minister Thaksin in 2006, accused of serial corruption, and offending the monarchy. Although PAD stands for People’s Alliance for Democracy, PAD leaders would have welcomed a military coup once again, despite that fact the country has already endured 17 coups since World War II.

While the PAD has finally agreed to hand the international airport back to the Thai authorities, Thailand’s bitter political polarisation and hatred between pro- and anti-Thaksin camps remains unresolved. Mobilising against the yellow-shirts of the PAD are the red-shirted supporters of Thaksin, under the banner of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DADD).

The wearing of yellow by the PAD signifies a deep reverence and allegiance to the king. The gap between these monarchists, the middle-class elite and the bright lights of Bangkok — the bastion of the “yellow army” — and the great majority of citizens living in rural areas with insufficient schools and lack of affordable healthcare — the constituency of the “reds” — has become a mighty chasm of mutual class hatred which many fear could soon descend into mass bloodshed and civil war.

So, what next for Thailand?

Not only the economy, but all the institutions that should support democracy have taken a savage battering. The courts have lost credibility and are no longer accepted as neutral by millions of Thaksin supporters. The political parties were seen to be corrupt and incompetent. It seems that only in Thailand can some 5 000 demonstrators overwhelm security forces at a major international airport in spite of all modern-day terrorist alerts, and so easily chase away attempts by the police to enforce a public emergency and evict the demonstrators. Senior police officers are fully aware that rich and powerful patrons funded and sustained the airport seizure.

The middle class in the developing world has long been identified as a major catalyst for democratisation against dictatorship. But electoral success in the vote-rich rural areas of Thaksin and Thaksin’s allies has convinced many sections of the middle class and the ruling elite to endorse a regression back to a more limited democracy. The PAD is clear in its intent to dilute the voice of the majority. They have become contemptuous of the “ignorant, easily-corrupted masses”.

This attempt to thrust Thai democracy into reverse gear has already pushed Thailand to the brink. The only way to avert more bloodshed is for the PAD to abandon its arrogant elitism and alliances with the military. And the best antidote to Thaksin’s people would be the building of bridges across the urban-rural divide and a much-needed dialogue with the countryside. — © Guardian News and Media 2008

Constitution court rewards criminality

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December 5, 2008 ·

By Awzar Thi
Column: Rule of Lords

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History repeated itself in Thailand this week when a top court for the second time in as many years dissolved the biggest political party, along with two of its partners, and effectively banned its leader and executive members from politics.

The Constitution Court, which inherited the job from an interim tribunal that issued a similar order against the former ruling party last May, unanimously disbanded the three coalition partners in accordance with section 237 of the 2007 Constitution.

Under this remarkable clause, which an unelected panel wrote into the charter on behalf of the 2006 coup makers, political parties must be dissolved if it can be shown that they failed to prevent electoral offences from occurring in their ranks.

In football, this would be the equivalent of a rule that if one player gets a red card, the whole team is disqualified from the league, with the captain and coach sent into early retirement.

The ruling allowed the political extremists, who had brought thousands of human shields to occupy the airports for a week, to declare victory and go home in time for the king’s birthday on Friday.

Irrespective of the formal grounds for the sentence, in timing and content it has been perceived as endorsing the extremists’ ideology and goals. In effect, the court has indicated that while vote buying cannot be tolerated, hijacking public facilities, vandalizing property, shooting at people and vehicles, illegally detaining fellow citizens, attacking state officers and setting up a proxy police force not only can be tolerated but can even be rewarded.

Perhaps appropriately, the verdict was handed down with pro-government demonstrators outside (shown above) calling the judges stooges, forcing them to change venue and smashing a transformer to shut off their electricity supply. The aggressive public attacks on the court and its personnel are unusual for Thailand, and speak not only to the intensity of the current conflict but also to how far vested interests have drawn the judiciary into the fray.

The judges insisted that having found the politicians guilty of wrongdoing they had no alternative other than to dissolve the three parties. But is this true? Could they not, in principle at least, have done otherwise?

One problem is that the court was called to decide on a narrow legal question that was itself predicated upon a series of other significant political and judicial events over the last couple of years.

As has been customary in Thailand, the top courts did nothing in response to the 2006 military takeover, and allowed themselves to be used for its purposes. The May 2007 judgment tacitly endorsed the regime, and the court that sat this week was set up under the regressive Constitution that followed in its wake. This September, in an equally surreal judgment, it sacked the prime minister for cooking on television.

The court could not contradict the earlier rulings. Nor could it call into question the contents of the section upon which the fate of the government hung, and which the Parliament had been set to amend last month (before it was besieged).

But that does not mean that it had no alternative. Judges around the world have often refused to rule on pressing political questions, aware that to do so would damage the fragile public confidence in their work and threaten their integrity.

Perhaps the most significant case of this sort in recent years was that which handed George W. Bush his first term as U.S. president.

Although the Supreme Court then made itself responsible for sorting out the mess caused by ballot problems in Florida, four dissenting judges warned that it had been dragged into an issue that it could not satisfactorily resolve and to which it did not belong. One of them, Justice Stephen Breyer, recounted an important lesson from history to explain why.

In 1876, a panel was established to figure out who had won that year’s presidential election. Five of the 15 members were judges. They were expected, as in so many things in Thailand these days, to lend an air of impartiality and fairness.

One of the justices cast the deciding vote. The losing party accused him of accepting bribes, and he was widely lambasted. But whether he was dishonest or not is beside the point for the purposes of the historical lesson, Breyer made clear. What matters was that the presence of the judges did not give the panel more legitimacy.

“Nor did it assure the public that the process had worked fairly, guided by the law,” he wrote. “Rather, it simply embroiled Members of the Court in partisan conflict, thereby undermining respect for the judicial process.”

History has vindicated Breyer and his dissenting peers. Public esteem of the U.S. Supreme Court has slipped to perhaps its lowest level in decades, as a result of the judgment in favor of Bush over Al Gore, and other judgments since. The court may have put someone in government, but as in 1876 it did not give credibility to that person or government. It merely brought more censure and dispute to its own doors.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has again taken someone out of government, but it too has not added credibility to anyone or anything. Instead, it has once more played the fool, and once more made a mockery of the justice that it purportedly represents.

Did it have an alternative? Of course it did. It could, and should, simply have refused to decide. That it didn’t is not for want of an alternative. It’s because it wasn’t looking for one.

Thai crisis, king’s health put focus on succession

Reuters India

Fri Dec 5, 2008 5:47pm IST

By Andrew Marshall, Asia Political Risk Correspondent

 

Photo SINGAPORE (Reuters) – At times of crisis, Thais have traditionally looked to the widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej to heal divisions and halt a slide towards turmoil.

Few would disagree that Thailand faces a crisis now. But this time, the king — regarded as semi-divine by many of Thailand’s 65 million people — has been silent.

Thais marked the king’s 81st birthday on Friday in a solemn mood after he failed to give his traditional address to the nation. His daughter, Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, said he had a throat infection and was on a saline drip.

His ill-health has focused attention on what will happen after the world’s longest-reigning monarch is gone. Strict laws on perceived criticism of the royal family have prevented this question being publicly discussed either at home or abroad. But it is an issue that many fear could lead to even deeper chaos.

“If the king is very seriously ill, and we don’t know that, it will put the succession issue at the forefront of peoples’ minds,” said Craig Reynolds, a historian at the Australian National University.

Analysts say that over the past three decades the king has developed an interventionist style of monarchy that has allowed him to influence Thailand’s political course — sometimes decisively or overtly, more often behind the scenes.

After he dies, many analysts expect that this model might collapse, creating a power vacuum.

MORE THAN A SYMBOL

Thailand’s king is officially a constitutional monarch, a symbolic head of state without formal powers. But during his six decades on the throne, King Bhumibol’s influence expanded.

Despite his official neutrality, he intervened at times of crisis three times — in 1973, 1976 and 1992 — to rule on struggles between the military and popular movements that were threatening to cause widespread civil strife.

Behind the scenes, he wielded influence. He told the New York Times in an interview in 1989 that the king must act as a mediator between Thailand’s conflicting forces: “We must be in the middle, and working in every field,” he said.

For decades most Thais welcomed the king’s efforts.

But his son and presumed heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, commands little of his father’s popular support.

Talking to foreign media last year, former prime minister and staunch royalist Anand Panyarachun said the king had never forcibly intervened, but because of the respect the monarch had earned, Thailand’s leaders had often looked to him for guidance.

“The status that our king has risen to … is something he has earned. It is not a hereditary thing,” Anand said.

“What I am trying to say is that the indirect, reserve powers of a king are earned by that particular person. They cannot be inherited. Somebody who succeeds him can try to earn it … If he does not succeed, there is no reason for complaint. He will remain a king, a symbolic king.”

CHANGING THE RULES

In more stable times, the transition would have been easier to manage.

What makes it worrying now, analysts say, is the perception among some Thais that the monarchy has been drawn into the political struggle that has polarised Thailand.

The conflict is between allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has huge support among the rural poor, and backers of Thailand’s “old elites” in the military and bureaucracy who say the country’s future cannot be entrusted to politicians alone.

The yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which plunged Thailand deeper into crisis with its siege of Bangkok’s airports, says it is fighting to protect the king. PAD leaders want a system of government in which appointed elites temper the power of politicians.

Thaksin’s red-shirted followers say elected lawmakers should be allowed to govern without military or royal approval.

Analysts say the palace’s reputation as being above the struggle was shaken when Queen Sirikit signalled support for the PAD in October by attending the funeral of a female protester killed in clashes with riot police.

They say the monarchy is now in the awkward position of being seen by some Thais as allied with a movement that has sought to topple elected governments.

In a column in the Straits Times, Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of the Banyan Tree hotel group, wrote that Thailand had owed its stability to the fact the monarchy was “a final arbiter, a source of moral authority which stood high above any politics and which could intervene at pivotal times of peril”.

“If that authority ever became politicised and a player in the game, rather than a referee, the fundamental nature of Thai society would change irrevocably,” he said.

Thai court dissolves ruling party

UPDATED ON:
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
21:34 Mecca time, 18:34 GMT

 
News Asia-Pacific
 
Thai court dissolves ruling party
 

Government supporters have vowed to block the judges from leaving the court [AFP]

Thailand’s constitutional court has ordered the dissolution of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) for electoral fraud.

The court also ruled on Tuesday that Somchai Wongsawat, the prime minister, and 36 other party members be banned from politics for five years.

Chat Chalavorn, the head of the nine-judge panel, said the “court has decided to dissolve the party to set a political standard and an example”.

He also said that “dishonest political parties undermine Thailand’s democratic system. The court had no other option”.

‘Political manoeuvring’

Parnthep Pourpangan, a spokesman for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has been campaigning to bring down the government, told Al Jazeera that the verdict by the constitutional court was a victory for the people.

“We have been trying to protect the constitution, and the PPP have been trying to amend it to put forward their interests,” he said.

Gothom Arya, a former electoral commissioner, said that the courts in Thailand have been “too involved in making political decisions”.

“This is not good for the courts, this type of political manoeuvring does not reflect well on the insititutions, and it does provoke criticism and doubt as to how independent it can be,” he said.

‘Flights to resume’

Somkiat Pongpaiboon, a senior member of the PAD, said anti-government protestors will allow flights to resume from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport, after a blockade that has lasted for a week.

“As of this moment the PAD has allowed flights to take off and land immediately, both passenger and cargo flights,” he said.

The PAD occupied Suvarnabhumi and the smaller Don Mueang domestic airport stranding 350,000 passengers and causing massive damage to the Thai economy.

Thailand’s airport authority confirmed there was an agreement with protestors, saying flights may be able to resume if there are no “technical problems”.

“We have reached an agreement with the PAD to start clearing protestors from the passenger zone to reopen Suvarnabhumi airport,” said Vudhihaandhu Vichairatama, chairman of the board of Airports of Thailand.

“But how soon depends on technical issues. If there is no technical problems, the first flights would resume within 24 hours.”

Party to regroup

The constitutional court also ordered the two other members of the ruling coalition – the Chart Thai party and the Machima Thipatai party – to be dissolved on Tuesday and its leaders banned from politics for five years.

However, minutes after the ruling, the PPP said members would regroup under a new name and propose a new prime minister.

Anti-government protesters say they will meet to decide their next course of action [AFP]

Kudeb Saikrachang, a PPP spokesman, said the verdict had been expected and predetermined.

“We have known beforehand that this verdict would be announced, it is not a new development,” he said.

“They [the courts] had a plan to destroy Thai Rak Thai party and now it is the PPP. The public are well aware of this.

“We want the people to understand the problems we are facing, and people will stand up, but this is another coup committed by the courts, and not by the military.”

The Thai Rak Thai party, which was similarly dissolved by a military-appointed constitutional tribunal in May last year and its leaders banned from politics, regrouped as the PPP soon after.

Situation tense

The court had earlier changed venues for the hearing after hundreds of government supporters surrounded the building to try to stop the hearing.

Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from outside the Administrative Court building where the case was moved to, described the situation outside the court as tense after the ruling.

“The people gathered here are very angry, and they believe a judicial coup has been committed against a democratically-elected government,” she said.

“Some are heavily armed and are calling on people to fight this so-called judicial coup.”

Deadly blast

Hours before the court ruling, an anti-government protester was killed and 22 others were wounded in a bomb blast at the Don Muang airport.

Local Thai television Channel 7 said a grenade was fired from a flyover near the airport which has been occupied by the PAD.

The yellow-shirted PAD supporters have been trying for months to force Somchai out, accusing him of being a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra, the premier ousted in a 2006 coup and the original target of the anti-government campaign.

Thaksin, who is Somchai’s brother-in-law, is in exile after leaving the country to escape facing corruption charges.

So far, six people have been killed and scores injured in bomb attacks, clashes with police and street battles between government opponents and supporters.

Late on Monday, the PAD supporters began leaving the protest camp at Government House which they had occupied since late August.  The move was aimed at consolidating their control of the Bangkok airports.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

 
 
   
   
   
   
 
   
   
   
   
   
 
 
 
 
 
   
   
   
   
   
 
 

Thai Government Dissolved: Airports to Reopen?

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By Robert Horn / Bangkok

Tuesday, Dec. 02, 2008

 

People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters celebrate at Bangkok's besieged Suvarnabhumi international airport on Dec. 2, 2008
People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters celebrate at Bangkok’s besieged Suvarnabhumi international airport on Dec. 2, 2008, after the Thai Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling government coalition
Vincent Thian / AP

Thailand’s already turbulent political landscape was thrown into further turmoil Tuesday when the Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling People Power Party (PPP) and two of its coalition partners for electoral fraud. As the verdict was read that the government leadership, including the current prime minister, would step down, anti-government protesters occupying Bangkok’s two main airports erupted into cheers and waived Thai flags. Red-shirted government supporters, who had gathered outside the court building to try and prevent the proceedings, dismissed the decision as a judicial coup d’etat.

The decisions spell the end of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s brief term in power, as he is one of the 35-member executive board of the ruling People Power Party. Executive board members are banned from politics for five years as a result of the decision. Somchai said that he accepted the court’s call for him to step down shortly after the verdict was announced; the ruling coalition, however, should remain largely intact. Regular members of the three parties — the People Power Party, Chart Thai Party and Matchima Thipithai Party — have 60 days to join another political party. PPP members were already preparing to migrate to the newly formed Puea Thai Party, and other parties have been set up to accommodate members of Chart Thai and Matchima Thipathai. In total, 109 lawmakers were banned.

The government supporters’ claim that the verdict was an act of judicial activism was dismissed by some. “The court had plenty of evidence to justify its decision,” said Jade Donavanik, a former dean of the faculty of law at Siam University. “This is not a judicial coup because the evidence was there. It may be perceived that way because only government coalition parties were on trial. The opposition Democrats were not, but they hadn’t had any case brought against them from the beginning.”

The anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy has said it will abandon its occupation of Suvarnabhumi international airport and Don Muang domestic airport, and passenger flights are expected to resume. Protesters seized the airports last Tuesday, stranding an estimated 350,000 travelers and tourists and causing untold economic losses. The capital’s patience for the occupation is wearing thin. “The PAD leaders must also be tried for breaking the law. They have trespassed on property and caused damage which they must pay for,” Donavanik said.

The PAD has also been demanding that parliament be dissolved. They accuse the ruling coalition of trying to change the country’s constitution to wipe away the electoral fraud cases against it, and convictions and corruption cases against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Somchai is Thaksin’s brother-in-law, and Thaksin is widely believed to be the real power behind the party. The former prime minister is living in exile, having fled a two-year jail sentence on a conflict of interest conviction.

The case against the PPP and its coalition partners stemmed from an electoral fraud charge against party executive Yongyuth Tiyapairat. The country’s Election Commission, and then the Supreme Court, ruled he had bribed local administrators to campaign for his party during the December 2007 national election. The Constitutional Court was tasked with deciding if the executive boards of each party knew enough about the wrongdoings of its members to justify recommendations by the Election Commission and the Office of the Attorney General that the parties be dissolved.

It is not yet clear if the verdicts will tamp down tensions or inflame opposing sides of the protests that have engulfed the Thai capital. Fears of clashes between the PAD and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have been mounting in recent days, and several PAD members have been killed or wounded in grenade attacks on their protest sites during the past week. One PAD member was killed and 22 wounded early Tuesday when an unknown assailant fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the passenger terminal at Don Muang airport. “We need a system in this country where elections can be cleaned up without the results being wiped away. All sides have to respect democracy, although democracy is not always a beautiful thing,” Donavanik said. “I’m worried about the aftermath.”