Constitutional court removes maverick politician from Parliament

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Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the anti-military Future Forward Party, gestures as he arrive at the Constitutional Court in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Bangkok (AP) — The Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday Nov. 20, 2019 that the maverick leader of a new political party that finished third in a general election in March violated election laws and cannot keep his seat in Parliament.

The court said Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, violated a regulation barring owners of media companies from running for Parliament.

The court rejected Thanathorn’s claim that he sold his holding in a media production company before the deadline needed to be a candidate.

The ruling had been expected. Thanathorn’s party has been a thorn in the side of Thailand’s conservative establishment, in whose favor the courts have consistently ruled. The party is disliked by the establishment not only for its anti-military stance, but also because of its strong popularity.

There are other cases pending against Thanathorn and his party, and there are widespread fears it will end up being disbanded, with its members banned from political office for several years.

Thanathorn was never allowed to take his seat in the lower house of Parliament because of the state Election Commission’s preliminary finding that he had violated the law. According to an initial court ruling, he was being suspended because he could be guilty as charged, which would be an “obstruction to the important work in the meetings in the House of Representatives.”

However, the court did not suspend 32 members of Parliament from the coalition formed by the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party who faced similar complaints. It said those cases had not been filed and processed by an investigative committee.

“This is not the time for hopelessness but it is the time to expose the evils of dictatorships,” Thanathorn said at the time. “What has happened is an injustice. I want to call on everyone who still loves justice to proudly stand together and fight to restore justice to Thai society.”

Thanathorn on Monday raised the issue again, announcing he was suing the Election Commission’s members because they had acted improperly and forwarded his case to the Constitutional Court before it was adequately investigated.

His party also recently launched a campaign urging people not to accept the status quo and be willing to stand up for their rights.

Thanathorn, a 40-year-old billionaire whose family fortune comes from the auto parts industry, founded his party in March 2018 as Thailand was heading toward an election after a period of military rule that began in 2014. The party’s initial support came from youth and young professionals, but it proved to have wider appeal in many parts of the country.

Prayuth Chan-ocha, who staged the 2014 coup and served as prime minister in the military government, took a second term after the Palang Pracharath Party formed a coalition to take power.

The Future Forward Party has maintained its gadfly position in Parliament, and Thanathorn announced before the court’s ruling that he would continue to be active politically no matter what the verdict.