A court in Thailand disqualified from parliament a key opposition leader who had criticised the royalist establishment’s grip on power.
The Constitutional Court found Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit guilty of breaking rules meant to prevent politicians from owning shares in media firms. The court also barred him from being a member of parliament. He’d been suspended pending the ruling.
Thanathorn, a telegenic former business tycoon, champions democratic reforms and opposes military influence in government in a country with a history of coups.
He denied the charges and said the case was politically motivated.
“The ruling is another indication that despite the holding of elections this year, Thai authorities are not ready for an open and free democracy,” Charles Santiago, a member of parliament in Malaysia and chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.
Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy held a disputed general election in March after almost five years of military rule.
A pro-military coalition led by former junta chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha took office in July with a razor-thin majority.
Future Forward became a key part of an opposition bloc that controls almost half the lower house of parliament, where the party has attacked the administration’s policies.
“This could be the first step that will potentially lead to the dissolution of the party,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an expert on Thai politics and a Fulbright scholar at Northern Illinois University.
“Many of the party executives are currently either facing legal cases or possible legal action.”
Thanathorn struck a defiant tone after the ruling, describing the less than two-year-old Future Forward party —- the third-largest in the lower house — as a movement.
“Future Forward is a journey, and our journey doesn’t end here,” he told reporters. “I’m still the party leader.”
The government’s slim majority has put the spotlight on political risk in Thailand, where officials are struggling to revive the economy.
The administration managed to get the annual budget bill through an initial parliamentary vote in October, with more votes due in January.
Analysts remain divided on whether the outcome of the initial vote shows that the coalition will survive future tests.