The new blow for Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is not unexpected by nonetheless brings the blunt prospect of removing Mr Thanathorn, his key associates and his new political party Future Forward from Thai politics very close. Of course, the matter must first of all be adjudicated by the Constitutional Court but make no mistake, the political stakes in the power struggle between Future Forward and the establishment just shot up.
The Election Commission is reported to have referred a complaint against the Future Forward Party with a request to the court to disband the party for breaching Thailand’s Political Party Act of 2017 for being in receipt of improper funding.
Less than a month after having his status as MP quashed by a majority 7 to 2 decision of the Constitutional Court, Mr Thanathorn and his Future Forward Party are set to be brought before the court again after news emerged on Wednesday that Thailand’s Election Commission had referred the Future Forward Party to the court to consider its dissolution relating to two loans totalling ฿191.2 million advanced by its party leader in January and April this year.
A complaint from a political activist in May
The investigation into the matter followed a complaint lodged by political activists Srisuwan Janya in May after Mr Thanathorn told a meeting of the Foreign Correspondent Club that month in Bangkok that he had loaned up to ฿200 million to the party to successfully contest the March 24th election and establish itself as a force in Thai politics.
Party allegedly breached Section 72 of the Political Party Act of 2017 according to Election Commission
The Election Commission is indicating that it has concluded that the party breached Section 72 of the Political Party Act by accepting funding from an illegitimate source.
Future Forward emerged as Thailand’s third-largest political party in this year’s general election winning 81 setas having only been formed the year before. It currently has 80 seats in parliament.
Loans advanced by Future Forward Party’s co-founder at the centre of the controversy
It is being suggested by legal experts, political commentators and sources close to the Election Commission that the basis for the complaint to be investigated and adjudicated by the 9 judge Constitutional Court is the treatment of the substantial loans advanced by the leader to the party.
Section 66 of the act prohibits any person donating an amount in excess of ฿10 million to a political party while Section 62 outlines the extent of fundraising capability that may be appropriately used by a Thai political party.
Loan being treated as an excessive donation
In essence, it is being suggested that the significant personal loans for the party leader are a breach of Section 66 as such advances are not considered under Section 66 and therefore a prohibited source under Section 72 of the act.
On that basis, the matter is being referred to the court under Section 93 which allows the court to dissolve a party found to be in breach of that section.
Would see Thanathorn and key Future Forward Party executives barred from Thai politics
The Future Forward Party faces the prospect of its operations being suspended at the court’s discretion if the court accepts the case and deems it appropriate as it considers whether to dissolve the party.
Such a move would see the party’s 15 member executive including its leader Mr Thanathorn, co-founder and secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and outspoken MP and spokesperson Pannika Wanich banned from Thai politics.
They would also be banned from incorporating or being involved with any new political party for 10 years.
Future Forward secretary-general hits back the Election Commission – ‘ Another day of Infamy’
Within hours of press reports relating to the move, the co-founder and secretary-general of Future Forward Piyabutr Saengkanokkul hit back at the Election Commission.
He referenced the move as ‘another day infamy’ for the reputation of the constitutionally independent body. Mr Piyabutr was in no doubt that the reported decision was somehow politically motivated and pointed to the terse 5 sentence press release from the body and the speed at which it moved in the matter as all pointing to this.
The decision by the Election Commission is reported to have been based on a majority decision by its members after considering the evidence prepared and presented to it concerning the complaint.
Questioned the speed of the process
Mr Piyabutr said it was time to question the commission’s actions and the speed of the process. He said that the party’s key executives had anticipated such a move against it but not at such an early stage in the political process.
However, he did add that he hoped that the Constitutional Court will take its time to review the facts of the matter carefully.
Future Forward has made no secret of the loans
The Future Forward Party has made no secret of the two loans advanced by Mr Thanathorn to the party this year. The first for ฿161.2 million was advanced at an interest rate of 7.5% and was to be repaid in stage payments over 3 years while the second for ฿30 million was advanced in May this year repayable within a year at an interest rate of 2%.
Loans advanced at arm’s length by contract
The loans were all advanced at legal arm’s length with Mr Piyabutr and the Rattanon Apinan, Mr Thanayhorn’s lawyer, acting as witnesses while the party was represented by its financier Nitipat Tampairoj at the loan contract signing, which took place at the party’s headquarters in Bangkok.
Commission hits back – documentation not delivered on time and it is only carrying out its functions
Following the stinging criticism of its decision, the Election Commission has hit back saying that it warned the Future Forward Party that documentation requested on November 18th was to be received by December 2nd as it planned to do move ahead with its prescribed functions and remit as defined under the constitution.
It said that the Future Forward Party had delivered some documentation but had subsequently asked for an extension of 120 days.
Thanathorn told the Foreign Correspondents Club last week that he expected his party to be targeted
In a speech last week at the Foreign Correspondents Club, Mr Thanathorn warned those who attended that he believed that moves were afoot to disband his party. He warned of the dangers of such a move.
Many complaints and issues relating to Future Forward and its leader before the electoral body
However, there are still many complaints and issues before the Election Commission in relation to the Future Forward Party including a decision on whether to criminally prosecute the fiery opposition leader after the Constitutional Court found in November that he had breached the constitution and electoral law by having shares in a media company.
Law prohibits party funds being used to repay debt
A source close to the commission also pointed out that it is unclear how the large loans taken on by the party were to be repaid as the law governing political parties specifically prohibits party revenues to be used for loan repayments.
Future Forward has been the attack dog of the current opposition, raising thorny questions
Since the party’s stunning success in the March 24th election when it won 81 seats, it has emerged as the most troublesome member of the 7 party opposition alliance for the coalition government.
The party led by its secretary-general Mr Piyabutr is seen as the opposition attack dog in the House of Representatives.
Future Forward is also seen by many observers as the political faction most determined to change the 2017 constitution and challenge the involvement of the Thai military in civil and political affairs.