Thai court dissolves ruling party

December 2, 2008 12:00 am

, BANGKOK, December 2 – A Thai court on Tuesday dissolved the ruling party and banned the premier from politics, plunging the kingdom into further uncertainty as an occupation of Bangkok’s airports turned increasingly bloody.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat – the target of the protesters’ wrath – will now have to step down, after the Constitutional Court ruled that his PPP should be disbanded because an executive was convicted of vote buying.

Somchai was banned from politics for five years, along with 36 other PPP executives, achieving a key goal of royalist anti-government protesters who have blockaded the capital’s two airports for a week.

"As the court decided to dissolve the People Power Party, therefore the leader of the party and party executives must be banned from politics for five years," said Chat Chonlaworn, head of the nine-judge court panel.

"The court had no other option," he said.

Somchai has been marooned in the northern pro-government stronghold of Chiang Mai since Wednesday. He was due to attend a military ceremony later Tuesday ahead of the king’s December 5 birthday.

He has so far made no comment on his party’s dissolution.

The judge, wearing a black robe with a scarlet collar, read the order live on national television. He appealed for calm, saying: "No matter whether you are satisfied or not with the verdict, we ask you to accept it."

About 500 angry government supporters massed outside the administrative court, where judges read the ruling after earlier rallies by the group forced them to change location.

Riot police with bullet-proof shields stood guard, as tensions in Thailand remained on the brink with the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) continuing their week-long crippling airport siege.

The ruling came after a blast early Tuesday killed one protester and injured 22 others from the rival PAD at the domestic Don Mueang airport. He died from shrapnel wounds to the stomach, an emergency services spokeswoman told AFP.

It also came just hours after the royalist PAD ended a three-month sit-in at the prime minister’s offices in Bangkok following a series of similar attacks, and redeployed supporters to Don Mueang and the Suvarnabhumi international airport.

The PAD launched its campaign in late May, accusing the government of acting as a proxy for Thaksin – Somchai’s brother-in-law – and of being hostile to the monarchy.

The PAD, who dress in yellow which they say symbolises their devotion to Thailand’s much-revered king, are backed by the Bangkok business elite and middle classes, along with elements in the military and the palace.

Thaksin, whose supporters dress in red, is hugely popular with Thailand’s rural and urban poor, especially in the north, his native area.

Two of the PPP’s coalition partners are also facing dissolution because some of their executives were convicted of vote fraud after elections in December 2007 – the first since a 2006 coup ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The PPP had boycotted the court proceedings, saying the court had made up its mind to disband the party.

Ruling party lawmaker Pichit Srivorakhan told AFP before the ruling that the legal process had been unfair, adding: "We are rejecting any verdict."

They have said they are ready to move lawmakers into a shell party called Pheu Thai (For Thais), and continue administering the country, but there was no immediate reaction.

The unrest continued to take a heavy toll on the 350,000 travellers stranded in Thailand by the crisis, with three tourists including two Canadians dying in road accidents as they tried to flee the "Land of Smiles."

A Hong Kong national was killed in a similar traffic accident on Sunday.

Airline passengers have been flooding to a naval base southeast of Bangkok and to the southern tourist town of Phuket to try to escape the country, along often dangerous roads.



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