BANGKOK >> Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party won its latest court victory Thursday and staved off possible dissolution when a court declined to accept a case accusing the party of illegal financing.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling is likely to inflame widespread criticism the court has applied double standards. It issued a similar ruling just 10 days ago, dismissing charges that the Democrats misused an official election fund. Previous rulings have consistently gone against the Democrat’s political opponents.
If the Democrats had been found guilty in either case, the party could have been disbanded and about 40 of its executives, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva — banned from politics for five years, forcing the formation of a new government.
Thursday’s preliminary hearing was called to decide whether the court would accept a case accusing the Democrats of failing to disclose illegal campaign contributions of 258 million baht ($8.1 million) in 2005 from cement giant TPI Polene Plc.
The complaint was filed to the Election Commission by an opposition Puea Thai Party member.
“Judges voted 4 to 3 to dismiss the case on grounds that the Election Commission did not follow proper legal procedure,” one of the judges said reading the verdict aloud.
The ruling mimics one from Nov. 29 when judges ruled 4 to 2 that a separate case brought by the Election Commission had also not followed proper legal procedure. In that case, the Democrats were accused of spending part of a 29 million baht ($907,000) government fund without proper approval during the 2005 election campaign.
Critics of Abhisit’s government are likely to see the twin rulings as further evidence that the legal system tilts in favor of the Democrats and against its rivals. The country has been polarized since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup.
Thaksin’s allies say the courts and the Democrats are pillars of the Thai establishment, which felt its power threatened by Thaksin’s huge popularity with Thailand’s poor and working classes. The divisions laid open by the coup have since led to deadly violence.
Demonstrations by protesters who believe Abhisit’s party came to power illegitimately — the so-called Red Shirt supporters of Thaksin — and a subsequent crackdown triggered bloodshed in the streets of Bangkok this spring with about 90 people killed and more than 1,400 wounded.
Abhisit’s two predecessors — both Thaksin allies — were removed from office by court decisions. Thaksin’s opponents, protesters known as the Yellow Shirts, have yet to be prosecuted for occupying the prime minister’s office for three months and taking over Bangkok’s two airports for a week in 2008.