Friday, 8 July 2011

Thailand's Democrats seek ban on Thaksin party

BANGKOK, July 8, 2011  - Thailand's defeated Democrats launched a legal bid Friday to ban the victorious party of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, threatening fresh political turmoil.

The move is sure to anger Thaksin's "Red Shirt" supporters, who were behind mass protests in Bangkok last year that turned deadly, and dents hopes of an end to years of political deadlock in the troubled kingdom.

But the legal process is expected to take several months at least to be completed and is not expected to prevent Thaksin's youngest sister Yingluck Shinawatra from becoming Thailand's first female prime minister.

The Democrat Party asked the Election Commission (EC) to pursue the abolition of Thaksin's Puea Thai Party, the winner of Sunday's election, on the grounds that banned politicians were involved in its campaign.

"We asked EC to recommend to the Constitutional Court to dissolve Puea Thai," Wiratana Kalayasiri, head of the Democrats' legal team, told AFP.

"The accusation is that Puea Thai allowed people subject to five-year political bans to become involved in policy planning, phone-ins and video addresses and also the selection of candidates," he said.

Two Thaksin parties have been dissolved by the courts in the past and their top executives, including the controversial former leader, were banned from politics.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

Yingluck, however, is not a party executive so she should avoid a ban herself even if Puea Thai is dissolved, in which case she could in theory move to another party with other Puea Thai lawmakers.

Puea Thai lashed out at the Democrats' move and suggested it would retaliate with legal action of its own.

"The Democrats don't respect the people's decision. More than 16 million voted for Puea Thai," deputy party leader Plodprasob Suraswadi said.

"They're so confident in the judicial process, we'll have to revive our case against the Democrats too," he added.

The Democrats, led by outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, narrowly escaped a ban themselves in late 2010 over allegations of misuse of state funds and an illegal donation.

After two-and-a-half years in power, Abhisit resigned as leader of the establishment-backed Democrats on Sunday after his party clinched just 159 seats against Puea Thai's 265.

Yingluck, who is yet to be officially appointed by a new parliament, has formed a six-party coalition that will control about three fifths of the lower house seats, but the new cabinet line-up is yet to be announced.

Signs that the powerful military is ready to accept a Puea Thai-led government had raised cautious hopes that the country's various political factions might be ready to put aside their differences.

Yingluck faces a formidable task in bringing stability to a kingdom that has been plagued by political crises since her brother's overthrow.

She has floated the idea of an amnesty to allow Thaksin to return, which would anger many in the Bangkok-based elite around the palace and army and could prompt protests by the royalist "Yellow Shirt" movement.

Revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, seen as a unifying figure in a country that has been frequently riven by political violence, has been in hospital since September 2009, and discussion of his role is a long-standing taboo.

Yingluck said Friday that strict rules against insulting the monarchy should not be abused, following several high profile cases against government critics.

"I do not want to see the misuse of this law on lese majeste," she said, calling for legal discussion on the legislation, under which anybody convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison.

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