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Thai court dissolves parties, disqualifies premier

BANGKOK, 2 Dec 2008: Thailand’s political and economic crisis sank deeper into uncertainty today after the Constitution Court dissolved the ruling People’s Power Party (PPP) and its two coalition partners, and disqualified embattled Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

The nine-member panel also banned the three parties’ executive committee members from active politics for five years under Article 237 of the 2007 military-drafted constitution.

The 51-year-old Somchai, holed up in the northern city of Chiang Mai as he feared for his safety after the capital’s two airports were shut down by anti-government protesters, was chairing a cabinet meeting when the widely-expected decision was read.

His last cabinet meeting ended with a decision to postpone the 14th Asean Summit, scheduled to start next week, to March 2009.

The former judge and brother-in-law of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra took office only on 18 Sept after his predecessor Samak Sundaravej, who led PPP to victory in the December 2007 election, was disqualified by the Supreme Court for appearing in a television cooking show while holding the post.

Without backing from the military and police, Somchai has become a lameduck leader and has never stepped foot in the Prime Minister’s Office at the Government House which was seized by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on 26 Aug.

His temporary office at the Don Muang Airport was taken over by the protesters on 24 Nov.

Deputy Prime Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul will be the caretaker premier until Somchai’s successor is appointed, probably on 8 Dec, a process that is unlikely to be smooth with the dissolution of the three political parties and backdoor manoeuvring.

Hundreds of red-clad pro-government protesters tried to stop the decision today when they besieged the Constitution Court but the judges shifted to the Supreme Administrative Court in Chaeng Wattana which was under heavy military and police guard.

PPP supporters had vowed to fight against any decision to dissolve their party, which they claimed was pre-empted to placate the PAD after the anti-government group closed down the Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports since 24 Nov.

The decision was met with loud cheers from hundreds of PAD supporters occupying the passenger terminals of the two airports, but their leaders said no decision has been made on whether to disperse or not.

More than 300,000 foreigners are stranded in Thailand due to the closure as army and police refused to enforce Somchai’s order to disperse them.  

PPP’s dissolution is related to the election fraud case involving its deputy leader and former House Speaker Yongyuth Tiyapairat who was disqualified by the Supreme Court in July.

The latest decision is certain to rile Thaksin’s supporters.

In 2007, the Constitution Court also dissolved Thaksin-founded Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party for similar offence. TRT’s dissolution gave birth to PPP.

All TRT’s 111 executives, including Thaksin, were banned from active politics for five years.

The PPP has already made a contingency plan by setting up the Puea Thai party to absorb its members of parliament and try to form another coalition government.

Many fear that the court’s decision would invite more trouble and possible civil war as Thaksin’s supporters were bent on fighting any attempt to stage a coup or dissolve the PPP.

There has been a series of explosions at sites occupied by the PAD, including one at midnight on 1 Dec that killed one protester. — Bernama


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