BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s Constitutional Court dismissed on Monday an electoral funding case against the party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in a move ensuring the government’s survival but likely to anger its opponents.
A panel of six judges dismissed the case against Abhisit’s Democrat Party, saying the Election Commission did not “follow legal procedure” because it had failed to file the case within a required timeframe.
“The rest of the case can be dropped and there is no need to consider anything else,” said a judge on the panel during an hour-long reading of the verdict.
The stock market climbed 1.2 percent moments after the verdict. The baht currency, which slid to a two-month low earlier in the day over political uncertainty, reached 30.18 against the dollar after the case was dismissed.
The acquittal of the case against conservative, pro-establishment party is likely to anger the Democrats’ opponents in a “red shirt” opposition movement.
Protracted street protests by the opposition supporters ended in a bloody military crackdown in May but the court’s ruling on Monday may not translate into an immediate regrouping on the streets.
“The verdict is somewhat expected. Some people will be unhappy but there are many other factors when considering whether the red shirts could come out soon in a forceful manner,” said independent political analyst Sukhum Nuansakul.
The verdict was the latest twist in a five-year political crisis studded with street protests, party dissolutions and military intervention.
The Democrats, Thailand’s oldest party, were accused of misusing an election grant from the state Election Commission before a 2005 poll.
The case was the first of two against the party, which came to power after a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 that followed a court order to dissolve the then ruling party allied with former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The toppling of populist former telecoms billionaire Thaksin in a 2006 military coup, plus the dissolution by the courts of two parties allied with him and backed by the “red shirt” movement, widened bitter political divisions in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.
The red shirts have repeatedly accused the judiciary of bias toward the establishment and the Democrats and analysts expect them to cry foul over Monday’s ruling.
But Chuan Leekpai, a former Democrat prime minister and the party’s lead lawyer and adviser, argued the case was pursued with “ill intention” after the Election Commission was put under pressure by the “red shirts.”
The case comes at a difficult time for the Oxford-educated Abhisit, whose military-brokered coalition has been weakened by infighting.
Abhisit, who enjoys the backing of the country’s establishment, has repeatedly said he would call elections next year, before his term expires, as long as the country is at peace.
Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel