Thai court acquits opposition party of sedition charge

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Constitutional Court yesterday acquitted the country’s third-largest political party of seeking to overthrow the constitutional monarchy in another legal case highlighting political divisions in the Southeast Asian nation.

The court ruled that the Future Forward Party showed no intention of committing sedition and that the complaint had not been filed correctly.

The party still could be dissolved under another pending charge of breaking election laws by taking a large loan from its leader. No court date has been set in that case.

The party was founded in 2018 during military rule, and advocates reformist positions that are anathema to the royalist ruling elite. Its surprisingly strong finish in an election last year and its popularity among young people rattled the government, which is led by the same people who staged a military coup in 2014.

The party criticised the military at a news conference at which it gave its reaction to the court ruling. Its Secretary General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said he and party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkrit have no intention of overthrowing the constitutional monarchy.

Thailand’s Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit talks to reporters during a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand. PHOTO: AP

Piyabutr, one of the party’s 76 lawmakers, said he would submit a proposal in the next session of Parliament asking it to study how to prevent coups.

The complaint, filed last year by lawyer Natthaporn Toprayoon, listed statements by party officials supposedly critical of Thai traditions.

The sedition case is one of a series filed against the party and its leader Thanathorn. Last November, the Constitutional Court stripped Thanathorn of his lawmaker status, ruling he violated a regulation on media ownership.

There is a widespread belief that one way or another, the party will end up being disbanded, with its leaders banned from political office for several years.

The party has taken positions critical of the military for its interference in politics. It also seeks to amend the constitution, drafted after the 2014 coup, to make it more democratic.

The military and the courts are two main pillars of the Thai establishment and have consistently acted to curb threats to the status quo.

In its ruling yesterday, the Constitutional Court ordered Future Forward to clarify its regulations to comply with the constitutional provision that political parties must not oppose the constitutional monarchy.

The party’s popularity was displayed last month when several thousand supporters rallied in Bangkok in one of the largest political demonstrations since the 2014 coup.

“I think it shows that people will not tolerate dictatorship anymore,” Thanathorn said at the time of the protest.

Thanathorn is a 41-year-old billionaire whose family fortune was made in the auto parts industry. His opponents have tried to smear him by accusing his party of backing former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist whose policies and popularity upset royalists, and who was ousted by a 2006 coup.

His ouster set off a long and sometimes violent power struggle between his supporters and opponents. Rights group Amnesty International has called on Thai authorities to stop using court cases “to intimidate and harass the leaders and members of the Future Forward Party.”