Leaders of a popular Thai political party dissolved by the courts eight months ago warned Wednesday that a reported plan to charge them with a crime could inflame the country’s current political crisis.
Executives of the former Future Forward Party were responding to Thai media reports that the state Election Commission has decided to file charges with police alleging that they violated the Political Parties Act by accepting a large loan from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, who had been the party’s secretary-general, said at a news conference that the commission’s plan, if confirmed, would not stop the former executives from promoting progressive causes.
The party’s reformist positions and popularity had been an irritant to the government and the conservative forces in Thai society that back the administration. It had won the third-highest number of seats in last year’s general election.
If the case proceeds to court, Thanathorn could be jailed for up to five years and fined 100,000 baht ($3,200) for making a loan over the legal limit, while his 15 executive colleagues could each be jailed for three years and be fined 1 million baht ($32,000) for accepting it.
The commission has refused to confirm or deny the reports, which were attributed to an unnamed source.
The commission’s reported decision came as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha faces a political crisis due to ongoing student-led pro-democracy protests. The protesters want Prayut to step down, a more democratic constitution, and reforms to the monarchy, which they believe is too powerful.
Some supporters of the government allege that Thanathorn, a millionaire, and his colleagues are manipulating young people to stage the protests. The former party executives deny this, and it is generally believed that the students are acting on their own accord.
The protest movement’s roots are in a February ruling by the Constitutional Court ordering the dissolution of the Future Forward Party because of the loan. The court also imposed a 10-year ban on the party’s executive members holding political office.
Student pro-democracy protests sprung up around the country, which over the past few months have evolved into a popular political movement, with almost-daily large protests in recent weeks.
“If the directors of this plot think that by dissolving the Future Forward Party, by banning our political rights, they will put out the fire before it spreads, they are wrong. In fact, they are fanning the fire,” Piyabutr said at the news conference.
He said many analysts agree that the party’s dissolution eight months ago was one of the causes of dissatisfaction among young people.
By Tassanee Vejpongsa for the Associated Press in Bangkok, Thailand.