BANGKOK • Parties aligned with Thailand's powerful Shinawatra clan staged major rallies yesterday ahead of a court ruling that could deal a gut punch to their prospects in national elections later this month.
Public gatherings were taking place across the country - including in the Chiang Mai hometown of divisive billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai party members addressed throngs of supporters in a stadium in Chiang Mai as the sun went down, promising development and incentives for entrepreneurs in the northern city.
Thaksin, who lives in self-exile to avoid jail in Thailand, is adored by rice farmers and large sections of urban working-class voters for his pro-poor policies and steering of the economy.
But he is despised by the royalist elite, whose allies have failed to beat him at the polls since 2001 and instead have relied on coups and court rulings to topple Thaksin-backed governments.
Thousands of people massed in Bangkok's historic centre late last Friday for a defiant campaign by Thai Raksa Chart, one of several parties linked to the Shinawatra clan.
Number of Lower House seats up for grabs.
Thai Raksa Chart could be dissolved by the Constitutional Court on Thursday, after its bid to run a princess as candidate for prime minister spectacularly unravelled.
"If it is dissolved, it will damage our hopes for democracy badly," said Mr Chailerm Phothijad, 55, at Friday night's rally in Bangkok.
Thailand, which has been stuck on a carousel of coups, violent protests and short-lived civilian governments since 2006, when the army booted Thaksin from office, remains deeply polarised.
Thailand's junta-drafted Constitution allows the junta to appoint the 250-member Senate, whose votes will count towards choosing the next prime minister.
There are 500 Lower House seats up for grabs, 350 through constituencies and the remainder through the party list - a system of proportional representation meant to give smaller parties a foothold.
Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, who took power in a 2014 coup, wants to return as prime minister.
With Thai Raksa Chart's political fate in the balance, another anti-junta party led by a billionaire is emerging as an untested force.
Future Forward, led by Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the 40-year-old scion of Thailand's biggest car-parts maker, has won favour among the kingdom's millennials.