BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai court on Tuesday acquitted a high-profile opposition party from an allegation it was seeking to overthrow the monarchy.
FILE PHOTO – Thailand’s opposition Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gestures as he leaves after reporting to a Bangkok police station to hear charges filed against him for organizing the country’s biggest protest since the 2014 coup in December last year, Thailand, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
The dismissed sedition complaint before the Constitutional Court alleged that the Future Forward Party wanted to destroy the monarchy and was linked to the Illuminati, a secret society that conspiracy theorists believe seeks world domination.
A guilty verdict could have seen the party, whose leader is a vocal critic of the government, banned. Such a move could result in a substantial increase in the government’s parliamentary majority.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE FORWARD PARTY?
Formed in 2018 as an alternative to the main established parties, the Future Forward Party made a strong showing in the election last March, coming third by winning 6.2 million votes.
The party ran on a progressive platform and called for an end to the military-led establishment’s influence over Thai politics. It draws much of its support from young people.
WHY IS IT UNDER THREAT?
Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 41, has emerged as the most prominent opponent to the government that last year reinstalled former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, 65, as prime minister five years after he staged a military coup.
Future Forward officials say backers of the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha are using the monarchy as a way to suppress democratic opposition.
Prayuth first took power in a 2014 military coup and his party won elections last year in a process the opposition complained was rigged to favor pro-army parties.
WHAT WAS THE COMPLAINT?
The dismissed complaint accused Future Forward founder Thanathorn and other executives of being “part of an anti-monarchist movement” through speeches made by its senior members and academic seminars they attended.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 67, is a constitutional monarch, but in traditional culture, the monarch is revered as the country’s protector and insulting the king is a criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Seeking to abolish the monarchy is considered a grave offense.
The party says it supports the monarchy, and none of its official statements criticize the king.
A judge on Tuesday agreed the party had “not acted … to overthrow the constitutional monarchy”.
WHAT DOES THE ILLUMINATI HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
The dismissed complaint says Future Forward’s party symbol resembles an upside down triangle that is linked to the alleged secret society known as the Illuminati.
The historical Illuminati operated in the late 1700s in Europe and sought to promote ideals such as reason and secular values. In modern times, conspiracy theorists claim it continues to operate in secret and seeks world domination.
The dismissed complaint in Thailand alleges the Illuminati played a role in the fall of monarchies in Europe and is now seeking to destroy Thailand’s royal traditions.
Future Forward has ridiculed the accusation. The Illuminati are a secret society and can not be readily contacted.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE PARTY WAS BANNED?
Most of the party’s 76 members of the 500-seat House of Representatives would keep their seats but would need to find a new party within 60 days.
However, 10 members of Future Forward’s executive committee who are lawmakers could have been banned from politics if the party was dissolved.
That would mean they would have lost their parliamentary seats, and those seats would remain vacant until the next election, increasing the slim parliamentary majority that Prayuth’s coalition government holds to a comfortable margin.
Future Forward founder Thanathorn has already been disqualified from his own seat in another legal case.
HAS THAILAND BANNED PARTIES BEFORE?
Yes. In 2007, the Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling Thai Rak Thai party founded by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a previous 2006 military coup.
After a new Thaksin-loyal party, the People’s Power Party, won post-coup elections and formed a new government, the court dissolved it in 2008 along with two of its coalition partner parties.
Last year, the court dissolved Thai Raksa Chart, another Thaksin-backed party, after it nominated the king’s sister, Princess Ubolratana, as its prime minister candidate. The court ruled the nomination as unconstitutional, saying the royal family should be above politics.
Future Forward is separate from but allied with the remaining pro-Thaksin opposition party in parliament, Pheu Thai.
Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Michael Perry