Live blog: Thai court drops case against Democrats
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Live blog: Thai court drops case against Democrats

UPDATE 14:55 Per Suthichai of The Nation tweets the court didn’t consider the main elements of the dissolution of the Democrats, but instead on the issue that the party registrar had 15 days to file the case, but instead established an investigate committee (ศาลไม่ได้พิจารณาเนื้อหาคำฟ้องยุบประชาธิปัตย์ แต่จับประเด็นว่านายทะเบียนยื่นฟ้องเกิน 15 วันเพราะไปตั้งคณะกรรมการสอบสวนใหม่)

BP: There is still another case related to the 250 million baht donation to the Democrats, will that also be ruled out now? It should be noted that the EC was appointed by the coup leaders and assumed their duties on September 20, 2006 (but it should also be noted that these candidates had been shortlisted by the Senate so they were not handpicked by the coup leaders). The court looks better and can’t be accussed of double standards by the decision, but that the Democrats got off because the EC were too slow well certainly will be a talking point……

UPDATE: 14:50: So the Court has ruled 4-2 that the Democrats will not be dissolved on the basis that the EC did not follow the correct process in investigating and bringing the case to court.

BP: So court absolves itself from being accused of double standards by saying it is the fault of the EC….

UPDATE 14:25: As we wait for the court to read out the verdict. Below are some comments by BP:

On the Democrats being dissolved, BP would estimate the chances at 30-40%. Actually, it is not the dissolution of the Democrats which is the major issue because if the only punishment is dissolution then all the Democrat MPs can all join a new party like nothing has happened. While the Democrats deny that any new party has been formed in advance, it is likely that someone close to the party actually has a party in waiting.
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/>The key question will be, are any of the party executives banned from politics for 5 years? This has the potential to wipe out 3149 party executives. These are mostly senior members of the party and their banning would be a loss for the party in terms in competing at the next election. This depends on the precise time the court decides that wrongdoing took place as the time period in question spans before and after the 2005 election so there are different executives as the party changed leader soon after.
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/>The doubt over the banning of party executives stems from, which law is applied? According to the Election Commission, an independent body that administers elections and which has resolved 4-1 to ban the Democrats, they mention both the 1998 Political Parties Act and also the 2007 Political Parties Act allow for the dissolution. This is correct, but which law. If it is the 2007 Act, it seems very difficult to escape the party executives being banned, but if it is the 1998 Act then it is somewhat easier although there is an added complication as after the 2006 coup, the coupmakers issued Announcment No. 27 (the equivalent of the executive decree) providing for the banning of all party executives if the party is dissolved under the 1998 Act. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved in 2007 and all party executives were banned for 5 years on the basis of the 1998 Act + the coup decree. Hence, it may be difficult for the judges to explain that even if the 1998 Act applies, why the executives are not banned when the coup decree is looked at. BP is seen little mention of Announcement No. 27 and seen no mention that it won’t apply (i.e it is still law passed on Article 309 of the current Constitution).
/>
/>When BP is referring to party executives being banned, I am referring to every party executive regardless of their knowledge of the wrongdoing, but even if all are not banned, this leaves the executives directly implicated in the wrongdoing who could possibly be found guilty. Abhisit comes into play here as he signed off on the documents sent to the Election Commission after the election. Abhisit become party leader of the Democrats just after the 2005 election, but was deputy leader before election. Regardless, it seems difficult that he will escape blame if party executives are banned.
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/>There are many technical legal aspects to all of this and well to be frank the judges could go either way. Any decision is open to them. There is no smoking gun, but with the recent release on YouTube of a video of a member of the Democrat Party legal team and the secretary to the President of the Constitution Court (the judicial body currently considering the case) meeting privately at the restaurant and were the case was discussed, witnesses, and what may be termed inappropriate ex parte communications. This complicates and muddies the whole dissolution case because the argument advanced by the anti-government, pro-Thaksin red shirt political movement and the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party is that “double standards” are being applied, but this will depend on what explanation the judges can provide.
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/>If the party executives are not banned, the government would just continue. There has been no discussion and there is no legal precedent what happens to the PM if his party is dissolved and he is not. What BP means here is, does he automatically continue in office or must parliament most vote him in again. Under the Constitution, the PM must be an MP, but an MP doesn’t lost status as an MP even if his party is dissolved (or more accurately he has 60 days to join a new party) so it seems Abhisit would just continue. If Abhisit is forced to vacate office, he would likely be nominated again and we have a new vote. This would force the formulation of the coalition to a head. If he is not forced to vacate office, he must still use the opportunity to reshuffle the Cabinet and this could lead to one party being thrown out.
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/>If all party executives are banned, we are going to have multiple by-elections (not all party executives are necessarily current MPs, but many are). I have seen no definite figures yet, but this is likely to be at least 15 MPs. For those party executives on the party list (Thailand has proportional representation and parliament is made up of 400 Constituency MPs and 80 Party List MPs), there is no need for a by-election and the next person from the party on the list automatically an MP, but this won’t work for dissolved parties so such MPs would need to resign before they are banned. Either way, we are looking at around 15-20 by-elections so this is 15-20 less MPs for the government. BP just doesn’t see that all party executives would be banned and sees it as being more likely that if the Democrats are dissolved that it will not be all party executives.

On the Democrats not being dissolved, what put the chances at 60-70%. Whether it is because of lack of evidence, failure to follow procedure by the EC (the ultimate get out of trouble card fo the Dems) etc or other reasons.

UPDATE 13:15: Bloomberg:

Dissolution likely means “the military will simply oversee another shotgun marriage of disparate political interests in a new coalition government,” PSA Asia, a Bangkok-based security and risk consulting company, said in a report today.

The verdict may impact financial markets as political stability is key to economic growth, central bank Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said Nov. 26. Thailand’s global competitiveness has dropped each year since 2007 due to government and policy instability, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual rankings.
/>…
/>“If the court ruling caused the management team to leave and I am banned, there is still a parliamentary process to elect a new prime minister,” Abhisit told reporters Nov. 26. “Everybody must accept the rules.”

Democrat members would wait to see who is banned before deciding how to proceed, Abhisit said. Remaining party members will be allowed to join a new party and vote for the next leader.

Possible caretaker prime ministers include Suthep Thaugsuban, Trairong Suwannakhiri and Sanan Kajornprasart, all deputy prime ministers, the Bangkok Post reported today, without citing anyone. Suthep and Trairong are Democrats, while Sanan is a senior member of Chart Thai Pattana, a coalition party with 24 lawmakers in the 470-strong Parliament.

Abhisit’s ruling seven-party coalition holds about a 70- seat majority over the opposition bloc led by the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party, the largest party with 186 members.

Dissolution “won’t lead to a change in the coalition government because the ruling coalition have majority in the House of Representatives,” Capital Nomura Securities Pcl said in a research report today.

BP: Well, the last time there was a dissolution there was a change in the coalition (as Newin defected and set up a new party) so BP doesn’t think you can rule it out. BP thinks it is unlikely that Sanan would be PM in a Democrat-led government and Suthep is more likely than Trairong (is Korn out of contention?). The military also seem happy with Suthep as the Bangkok Post reports:

Asked about reports that Deputy Prime Minister for security affairs Suthep Thaugsuban would be made acting prime minister if Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is banned from politics following the dissolution of the ruling party, Gen Prayuth said there will be no problem.
/>
/>“Mr Suthep is a competent and responsible person”, the army chief said.

BP: A recent poll though saw people ranked Suthep as the least politician (even ahead of Newin!!)…..

UPDATE 12:40 p.m: If the Democrats are dissolved and Abhisit is banned, one of the possible candidates to replace Abhisit is Deputy PM Suthep. Now, if you think given the criticism of Abhisit by PAD last week indicated a fractured relationship between government and PAD, well just imagine what it will be likely under Suthep given his latest comments per The Nation:

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday lambasted both the red-shirt and the yellow-shirt leaders, saying ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and Sondhi Limthong were as bad as each other.
/>…
/>”If you ask me, I say both are as evil. I speak frankly because both place their own interests above the country’s interests. Both have caused so much turmoil,” he said.

BP: There will be no welcoming parade for Suthep by the PAD. The above comments by Suthep are certainly not the first time he has criticized the PAD and well the PAD have long not been fans of Suthep (for most of last year they blamed Suthep for any problems with the government although this year they have decided to criticize Abhisit more directly).

UPDATE 12:30 p.m: WSJ:

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has said the Constitutional Court in Bangkok could issue its verdict as soon as Monday after the ruling Democrat Party makes its closing argument, and Mr. Abhisit said in a weekly televised address Sunday that he was ready to abide by the court’s decision and step down as prime minister if necessary. Mr. Abhisit and party leaders have denied any wrongdoing.

It’s unclear which way the court will lean. It may decide to ban some party executives from politics for a maximum of five years for allegedly using state funds to pay for a billboard advertising campaign in 2005 while leaving the Democrat Party intact. The party is also accused of receiving an undeclared political contribution. The court also may choose to ban top politicians such as Mr. Abhisit and dissolve the party, or it may choose to take no action at all.

Thailand’s recent political turmoil will likely weigh heavily on the outcome of the case, and the verdict could trigger more tension in this already-divided nation.

The country’s judicial system is accused by the Democrat Party’s political opponents of being biased in favor of Mr. Abhisit’s party, which broadly represents the country’s traditional ruling establishment. Since a military coup ousted former populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, Thailand’s courts have moved to bring down two populist governments and have outlawed two pro-Thaksin parties.

One pro-Thaksin prime minister, the late Samak Sundaravej, was removed in 2008 for receiving token payments to appear on a television cooking show. Another government led by Mr. Thaksin’s brother-in-law fell later that year after the Constitutional Court convicted it of electoral violations, enabling the rival Democrat Party to put together a new coalition government.

Political analysts say a court verdict to dissolve the Democrats could go a long way to easing opposition criticism about the political and judicial system being rigged in the establishment’s favor.

While Democrat leaders publicly say they have no contingency plan to cope with an adverse court verdict and expect to be exonerated, Thai observers suggest Democrat authorities have already set up a smaller party to absorb Democrat politicians and stay on as head of the ruling coalition in the event that the Democrat Party is dissolved.

BP: A Thai court though would never take political considerations into account though so clearly that is just nefarious speculation by the WSJ…..

UPDATE 12:15 p.m: The Nation on the issues under consideration:

– whether the petition to disband the party has adhered to lawful procedures;
/>- whether the judicial review on the case should be based on the 1998 Political Party Act or the 2007 Political Party Act;
/>- whether the Democrat’s disbursement of Bt29 million subsidised funds was lawful;
/>- whether the Democrat’s financial report of 2005 was lawful; and
/>- whether party executives should be penalised in case of a guilty verdict against the party.

BP: Will it be a long decision like for TRT in 2007 or a short one like for PPP in 2008?

Today, the Democrat Party presented its oral closing statement. A case has been brought against the Democrats for misusing a 29 million baht political party development grant. On the substance of the case, The Nation has a good graphic of the arguments presented by the prosecution and the defence – see here (and click on the graphic to enlarge it).

If the party is found guilty, the likely punishment is party dissolution, but then the more important question is whether party executives are also banned from politics for 5 years and who. It could be all party executives (at the time of the wrongdoing in 2004/2005) or could be just those directly involved (likely to be former party leader Banyat, current party leader and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and also former party secretary-general Pradit), or it could be no executives at all (this seems very unlikely).

The court has announced that the decision will be handed down beginning from 2 p.m. Will have a semi-live blog.