January 20, 2020 / 9:53 AM / a month ago

Thai court could dissolve opposition party on anti-monarchy allegations

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s Constitutional Court is to decide on Tuesday whether to dissolve the opposition Future Forward Party, in a ruling that could strengthen the military-backed government’s majority in parliament.

FILE PHOTO: Thailand's opposition Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks to his supporters as he leaves after reporting to a Bangkok police station to hear charges filed against him for organizing the country's biggest protest since the 2014 coup in December last year, Thailand, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The case is based on a complaint that claims the party is seeking to overthrow the revered constitutional monarchy and is linked to the Illuminati, a secret society that conspiracy theorists believe seeks world domination.

Founded almost two years ago by auto-parts billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Future Forward Party came third in last year’s general election, which the opposition says was manipulated in favor of the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party.

Thanathorn, 41, has emerged as the most prominent opponent to the government led by Palang Pracharat, which reinstalled former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, 65, as a civilian prime minister five years after he staged a military coup.

Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich said the case is an attempt to eliminate the party, using a claim of protecting the monarchy that few would dare argue against.

“It’s clear that the anti-monarchy claim is the only one that can go so far as to destroy Future Forward Party,” Pannika said.

“We emphasize that this is a deliberate political harassment.”

The case, accepted by the Constitutional Court in July, is best known for its allegation that the party’s triangular logo signifies association with the Illuminati, making the party a threat to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.

It also alleges that language in the party’s manifesto, as well as past business investments, Facebook pictures and academic briefings by key party figures, suggest personal hostility toward the constitutional monarchy since before the party was founded.

“I looked into their behavior from the past to now,” Nattaporn Toprayoon, who filed the complaint last May, told Reuters. “I did it because I’m Thai. The monarchy is of utmost reverence.”

But Pannika said these allegations were problematic.

“This would set a new legal precedent that executive members of a political party must have their thoughts and minds inspected,” she said.

“It’s also an unexpected new low that a political party has to defend itself to show it’s not involved with the Illuminati.”

A verdict to dissolve Future Forward on Tuesday is likely, which could spark political events like flashmobs in the short term, said Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

“But even if the party survives, it will still face other outstanding legal challenges ahead,” Yuttaporn said.

Future Forward faces another case alleging that it had violated laws governing political parties by accepting loans from its party leader, among others.

(This story has been refiled to fix the spelling of name in paragraph 15)

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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