Thai Future Forward party faces dissolution over loan from leader

Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit's 191 million baht (S$8.6 million) loan to his party earlier this year for political activities was deemed a donation from an illegal source, said the Election Commission.
Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit's 191 million baht (S$8.6 million) loan to his party earlier this year for political activities was deemed a donation from an illegal source, said the Election Commission.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Opposition party Future Forward is facing dissolution after Thailand's Election Commission (EC) yesterday said it would file a motion with the Constitutional Court over a loan from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

Mr Thanathorn's 191 million baht (S$8.6 million) loan to his party earlier this year for political activities was deemed a donation from an illegal source, the EC said.

The country's electoral laws cap legal donations from individuals at 10 million baht, but there is no specific provision barring any party leader, member or outsider from issuing a loan to a party.

The loan is unprecedented as parties are typically funded by donations from key members and supporters. Mr Thanathorn, a scion of Thailand's largest car-part maker, said he made the loan instead of funding the party himself to downplay his tycoon image.

According to the party's secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, part of the loan has been paid back to Mr Thanathorn.

"There is nothing that could be deemed illegal, but the decision is in line with our expectations," Future Forward's spokesman Pannika Wanich told The Straits Times, referring to efforts by the party's opponents to dissolve it.

This is the second case filed with the Constitutional Court seeking Future Forward's dissolution.

A petition was filed in July by lawyer Natthaporn Toprayoon, a former adviser to Thailand's chief ombudsman, accusing the party of seeking to overthrow the constitutional monarchy. He alleged that Future Forward has a connection with the Illuminati, a secret society believed by conspiracy theorists to be the puppet masters controlling the world.

The EC's decision comes three weeks after Mr Thanathorn, 41, was disqualified as an elected MP by the Constitutional Court for breaching media shareholding rules.

His disqualification can lead to the EC filing a criminal lawsuit against him with the Supreme Court. If found guilty of running for office as an unqualified candidate, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht. His conviction can also be used as grounds to dissolve the party.

According to Mr Thanathorn, the loan case is one of a total of 28 cases against him and his party that they deem politically motivated due to their anti-military stance. He is also facing a sedition charge for allegedly aiding an anti-junta protest in 2015.

The party is currently campaigning against conscription, proposing voluntary enlistment instead.

The country's electoral laws cap legal donations from individuals at 10 million baht, but there is no specific provision barring any party leader, member or outsider from issuing a loan to a party. The loan is unprecedented as parties are typically funded by donations from key members and supporters. Mr Thanathorn, a scion of Thailand's largest car-part maker, said he made the loan instead of funding the party himself to downplay his tycoon image.

It is the only party in Parliament that voted against Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn's decree that transferred two key army units under his direct control in October, saying the process was not according to the laws. No other party in the country's history has publicly challenged a royal decision.

Future Forward surprised many when it won 81 seats in the March general election, the first election since the May 2014 coup, when none of its members had run for office before. It was the third-best performing party.

Former army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha became prime minister after seizing power in the 2014 coup. He was elected to his second term in March with the backing of the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party and the rubber stamp Senate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2019, with the headline 'Thai Future Forward party faces dissolution over loan from leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe