Thai Court Disbands Thaksin-Linked Party That Chose Princess

(Bloomberg) -- A court in Thailand ordered the dissolution of a party linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for conduct deemed hostile to the constitutional monarchy.

The Thai Raksa Chart party broke rules by picking Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya as its prime ministerial candidate on Feb. 8, according to a Constitutional Court ruling Thursday in Bangkok. The party’s nomination rapidly unraveled when her brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn publicly said the spirit of the charter prevents top royals from holding political office.

The dissolution could hurt efforts by Thaksin’s allies to maximize votes in the March 24 general election, the first since a coup in 2014. It could also boost the Thai junta leader’s push to return as premier. Thaksin or his supporters have won every poll since 2001 only to be unseated either by force or the courts, part of a long tussle for power with the military and royalist elite.

"This could be a setback for Thaksin’s camp because three million potential votes for Thai Raksa Chart candidates could disappear," said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities near Bangkok. "It’s also a setback to a democratic voting system."

Executives Banned

The court, which said its ruling was unanimous, also banned executives of the party from politics for 10 years. The ruling left some Thai Raksa Chart supporters at the court in tears. Security was tight around the site, with hundreds of police deployed to keep order.

The decision triggered volatility in the nation’s currency, which initially weakened as much as 0.3 percent against the dollar while the ruling was read out before recovering. The baht strengthened 0.2 percent as of 3:55 p.m. in Bangkok.

Thai Raksa Chart was relaunched last year partly to take advantage of an electoral system that is viewed as favoring smaller parties. Along with the main opposition Pheu Thai party, it’s one of several linked to Thaksin.

Thaksin-linked parties have previously been broken up, a tactic that in the past sparked deadly street clashes. While his allies usually regroup under a new banner, the cycle of political instability is a challenge for efforts to make the Thai economy grow faster.

Thai Court Disbands Thaksin-Linked Party That Chose Princess

The country officially treats top royals as semi-divine and apolitical, and the selection of the princess on Feb. 8 left the nation in a state of shock. Hours later, Vajiralongkorn said the monarchy is above politics.

The Constitutional Court subsequently accepted a case from the Election Commission seeking Thai Raksa Chart’s break up for hostility toward the constitutional monarchy. The party said the nomination of the princess was based on good intentions and done with her permission.

Commenting on Instagram on Thursday, the princess described the dissolution as a "sad and depressing thing."

Aside from Thai Raksa Chart, other opponents of the military government led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha also face legal cases.

The attorney general’s office said last week it’s considering whether to indict tycoon-turned-politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward party, for allegedly spreading false information online and so breaching the Computer Crimes Act. Thanathorn has denied the charges and said the authorities are trying to muzzle critics.

The Constitutional Court’s powers include reviewing legislation and the conduct of political parties to ensure consistency with the charter, and its judges are appointed by the monarch.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.