The Thai Constitutional Tribunal, Thailand's highest court, found the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) guilty of electoral fraud but acquitted the Democrat Party of all charges late May 30. TRT was found guilty of allowing its former leader, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to abuse elections as a "tool for monopolizing power." TRT will now be disbanded and all of its present and former executives will be banned from domestic politics for five years. The ruling means the loyalties of former Thaksin supporters bought off by the government finally will be put to the test.
The Thai Constitutional Tribunal, Thailand's highest court, found the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) guilty of electoral fraud but acquitted the Democrat Party of all charges late May 30. TRT was found guilty of allowing its former leader, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to abuse Thailand's April 2006 election as a "tool for monopolizing power" — specifically for instigating the hiring and paying of smaller political parties to participate in the election. TRT now will be disbanded, and all of its present and former executives will be banned from domestic politics for five years. News of the Democrats' acquittal — and thus that some opposition politicians still will be allowed to participate in the political process — caused a surge at the Stock Exchange of Thailand. Overall, the decision marks a major milestone for the Thai government, military and economy. The decision to disband TRT was not a complete surprise, as this would have fundamentally undermined the legitimacy underlying the September 2006 coup led by the military ostensibly to purge Bangkok of its corrupt leadership. In the months since the coup, no successful corruption charge has been brought against Thaksin himself. Thus, finding his party innocent would have been as good as clearing Thaksin himself. The ruling's ban on all executives formerly or currently linked to TRT from December's elections had been less certain, however. In the last 24 hours, sources indicated that many expected key TRT figures considered less of a threat to the military regime will be allowed to pull together fragments of TRT-affiliated parties to compete against the Democrats in the elections. By not only dissolving the party but also making a clean sweep of all its executives — some of the richest and best-connected people in Thailand — the military-backed regime has called the TRT's bluff that it would stage a countercoup against the government. While dissolving the TRT does not guarantee elections will be held in December, sources indicate most Bangkok residents still want the government's election time line to proceed and for elections to take place. Consequently, most people in Bangkok do not want a new prime minister or a countercoup for fear of derailing the electoral process. Dissolving both top opposition parties would have raised serious concerns over the fairness of December's election. Banning just one party, however, reduced the likelihood that Bangkok citizens will rise up in protest. TRT has been trying for several months to rally the people of Bangkok for mass demonstrations against the government, but with little success. Little doubt exists that Chaturon Chaisang, leader of the now-disbanded TRT, will organize some kind of protest in response to the ruling, but he probably will not be able to generate the necessary numbers (probably comprising at least two to three times the 5,000-6,000 average turnout at recent rallies) to topple the government. To reach those numbers, demonstrators probably would have to be brought to the capital from Thaksin's traditional rural support base in northeastern Thailand. The government knows this, and has been mobilizing increasing numbers of troops nationwide to halt any mass movement toward Bangkok. On May 30 alone an additional 15,000 troops were mobilized to this end. More critically, sources have indicated that the government also started behind-the-scenes coordination several weeks ago with local power brokers (such as top politicians or businessmen) to forestall any organized transport of rural supporters to Bangkok for rallies. Now that TRT has been disbanded officially, the loyalties of any former Thaksin supporters bought off by the government finally will be put to the test. Whether stability prevails in Bangkok over the next week will depend on whether this purchase pays off for the government.