The decision by Thailand's Constitutional Court to disband the opposition Future Forward party does not bode well for the country's democracy. On top of this, high-ranking party members, among them leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, have been banned from engaging in Thai politics for ten years.
The court justified its decision by pointing to illegal donations that were reportedly made to the Future Forward party. Party leader Thanathorn is said to have gifted over 191 million Thai baht (€5.6 million, $6.4 million) to his party — even though the country's party funding law prohibits private donations in excess of €300,000.
While Thanathorn has admitted giving this money to the party, he says it was a loan, rather than a donation. Thailand's electoral commission, however, decided that loans and donations ought to be treated the same in this context. And Thailand's Constitutional Court evidently subscribed to this interpretation as well.
These legal questions should not distract from the reality that this was essentially a show trial. And this, unfortunately, is all too common in Thailand. Future Forward is the fourth opposition party to be banned by the Constitutional Court in the past 13 years.
The real reason behind today's court decision is that the party won the third largest number of seats in last year's parliamentary elections. 41-year-old Thanatorn, who happens to be a millionaire, is popular especially with young Thais and Bangkok voters for challenging the Thai military. He has rejected the 2017 constitution that was drawn up by the military junta, calling it undemocratic.
As the military only narrowly beat Thanatorn at the polls last year, it instrumentalized the Constitutional Court, electoral commission and public persecutor to go after his party. While officially independent, these institutions are staffed only by regime loyalists. And as such, they are regularly deployed to neutralize political adversaries.
The trial against Thanathorn once more proves that Thailand is effectively controlled by a military junta. It's not for nothing that the hashtag #Juntaland was coined after the coup.
Prior to the sentencing, Thahathorn had announced he would establish a new party should he lose and then support the extra-parliamentary opposition. Despite Friday's event, he is evidently determined to keep up his fight against the military.