(Bangkok) – Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party on February 21, 2020, on politically motivated allegations, seriously damaging the country’s return to genuine democratic rule, Human Rights Watch said today. The court ruled that the party took an illegal loan from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and imposed 10-year political bans on 16 of its executive members.
“The Constitutional Court’s ruling to dissolve the Future Forward Party is a knockout blow for Thailand’s teetering efforts to restore democratic rule after a military dictatorship,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “This decision seriously weakens the political opposition for the benefit of the military-backed ruling party and unjustly cancels the votes of over six million Future Forward Party supporters.”
The court stated that the Election Commission of Thailand, which brought a complaint in this case, could proceed with criminal action against Thanathorn and 15 other party executives. If convicted, Thanathorn faces up to five years in prison, and other party executives face up to three years. The court also ordered confiscation from the party of 181.3 million baht (US$5.8 million), the amount of the loan considered to exceed legal limits.
Since its founding in 2018, the Future Forward Party has faced an onslaught of arbitrary legal actions and military intimidation that has raised serious doubts about the government’s commitment to the democratic process. The dissolution verdict came just three days ahead of a no-confidence debate scheduled for February 24 to 26 against the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The case, brought by the Election Commission of Thailand, contended that the funds Thanathorn loaned to the party fell under “other benefits” in section 66 of the Political Parties Act, which limits donations to 10 million baht per donor per year. The commission determined that the loan could give him undue influence on the party. After considering that the party and its executives violated the donation limits, the court concluded the money was from “an illegitimate source” as defined under section 94 of the law, thus invoking the penalty of dissolving the party.
The court proceedings raise serious fair trial concerns, highlighted by the court’s refusal to allow the Future Forward Party to present its case, Human Rights Watch said. The party had made a request to present evidence to counter the accusations against it, but the court ruled that it already had sufficient evidence to reach a verdict.
The ruling violates the rights of Future Forward Party members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.
Despite Thailand’s lack of significant progress toward respecting human rights since the March 24, 2019 general elections, there has been little concerted public criticism of the government from the United States, the European Union, and other countries.
“Thailand’s friends abroad should denounce this jarring setback to a return to political pluralism and democratic rule,” Adams said. “When an up-and-coming political party that calls for reforms and represents dissenting voices can be dissolved on specious grounds, the democratic rights of all Thais are at risk.”