Case taken up by the court over ฿192 million in loans from Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit calls for the party’s dissolution as provided for under the Political Parties Act governing electoral activities. This is a far stronger case and will be a bigger test for the party as it struggles to maintain its new place in Thai politics where it is doggedly pursuing a progressive agenda.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday spared Future Forward any legal sanctions in a case before it claiming the party was seeking to undermine the constitutional monarchy. The court found that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that the party or its leadership was attempting to overthrow Thailand’s constitutional monarchy and dismissed the proceedings. Future Forward Party leaders and members later celebrated in Bangkok but this may still be short-lived. A case taken up by the court in December and brought by the Election Commission now poses a far steeper hurdle for the party to jump before it is relatively safe from the threat of  dissolution.

Future Forward leaders and co-founders Thanathorn Juangroongruangki and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul gather with fellow members and supporters on Tuesday at the party’s headquarters in Bangkok after the Constitutional Court dismissed a case taken against it under Section 49 of the Thai constitution claiming it sought to undermine Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. However, it is not out of the woods yet as a more substantial and pointed case has been brought against it by the Thai Election Commission and which was accepted by the court in December which specifically calls for the party to be dissolved for accepting an alleged illegal donation of ฿192 million.

The Constitutional Court on Monday rejected a petition to have the Future Forward Party dissolved based on claims before it that the new political organisation, established in Thailand in 2018 and which came in a resounding third place in the March 24th general election, sought to undermine the Constitutional Monarchy under Section 49 of the 2017 Thai Constitution.

The announcement has given rise to celebrations in Future Forward ranks and relief that the party and members who had been reportedly preparing for the eventuality of its dissolution. They will live for now to fight another day.

Crowds of party followers at the Future Forward Party headquarters in Bangkok today were jubilant at the court’s decision and watched as the judgment was read out on TV. For them it was a case of sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Day of another court judgment not far off

However, that day may not be so far off as the Constitutional Court already has before it a request under the constitution and the country’s strict electoral law from the Election Commission calling on it to dissolve the party on what legal experts believe to be far more substantial grounds and grounds explicitly provided for under current legal provisions.

Party did not seek to undermine the monarchy

Today, the Constitutional Court found that the actions of the Future Party leadership in their media comments, speeches and the framework governing the rules of the party did not constitute an attempt or effort to undermine Thailand’s constitutional monarchy as alleged by the petition filed with the court.

Newest judge summed up the position

One of the judges of the court, the latest appointee to that body in 2013 and formerly a legal expert, Taweekiat Meenakanit, succinctly put the position: ‘The accused have not acted in their rights and liberties to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.’

Monarchy is the lynchpin of the Thai state

Thailand’s became a Constitutional Monarchy in 1932. The influence and power of the monarchy grew substantially during the reign of King Bhumibol the Great, the present King’s father.

The power of the monarchy in Thailand stems from and is based on the pivotal role the institution has come to play in Thai society being the linchpin of the state, the public and upholder of Thailand’s traditions. It is also codified in laws and the constitution.

Strict and Draconian Lèse Majesté laws

Thailand has strict and draconian lèse majesté laws designed to insulate the monarchy from potentially harmful public discourse and preserve the status of the institution as one above politics.

To many activists concerned about the future of the country, this principle must particularly be upheld at times of potential political division or possible strife in the country.

New party pursues a ‘progressive’ agenda

The new Future Forward party formed by 41-year-old Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and 40-year-old Piyabutr Saengkanokkul in 2018 has its roots in student activism and academia where Mr Piyabutr is a well-known lawyer, legal expert and lecturer with Thammasat University.

Mr Thanathorn, although a wealthy businessman, was also formerly involved in student politics. He has worked for NGOs and holds three master degrees from Chulalongkorn University, Stern School of Business at New York University and the University of St. Gallen. These are in political economics, global finance and international business law.

The party is pushing what it terms as a ‘progressive’ social agenda which in the modern context is associated with the worldwide movement towards radical reform of society and the economy.

Striking claims linking the party to the legendary ‘Illuminati’ group of the 18th century

This perception led to one of the most striking claims in the suit before and rejected by the court today, namely that the party was linked to the ‘Illuminati’ movement which was historically a shadowy group said to have been formed originally in Germany to infiltrate the lodges of Freemasonry and European power structures at the end of the 18th century.

Operated in the shadows of world history

The Illuminati group is said to have infiltrated and influenced efforts to undermine the French monarchy, leading to the bloody 1789 French revolution.

Afterwards, it was said to have worked behind the scenes to bring about a collapse of traditional hierarchies. Ultimately, the Illuminati became a discredited force at the shadows of world history.

A group brought to life in today’s world of elites and populism in western countries especially Europe

The term was resurrected in the last few decades following the rise of popular culture in western countries surrounding the activities of the super-rich and powerful termed in modern parlance as the ‘elite’ which has arisen due to neoliberal economic policies pursued from the 1990s until recently alongside the rise of the large corporations and globalism.

Fears among the public of erosion of national power

This has given rise to traditional forces and populism in western countries where working-class people are revolting against a loss of power and effective representation in national states brought about by a more global emphasis.

This has come about due to social policies such as feminism and birth control leading a lower birth rate and economic stagnation which has prompted liberal-minded thinkers to promote inward immigration as a solution which has further precipitated the division which is still widening in western countries.

Growth of conspiracy theories

Some of this has been driven by an online commentary which refers to clandestine and elitist cabals.

It is in the context that the legend of the Illuminati has rearisen as a threat to national and traditional forces worldwide in what is claimed to be an attempt to create a new world order dominated by a handful of people.

Exacerbated by online media controls

To many, this is a nonsensical conspiracy theory while to others, there is a grain of truth in it given the disparity and inequality the see and the erosion of the powers of the nation-state.

The situation has been exacerbated by new attempts in western countries to curb free speech over the issue of immigration which has added to a growing distrust and division in European states between the public and the government.

This has led to parallels between the comments of Thailand’s ultra royalists and traditionalists and growing populism in western countries which is growing increasingly more powerful and normal. 

Esteemed lawyer and activists took the case under Section 49 of the Thai Constitution

The call to have Future Forward banned was taken by esteemed lawyer Nathaporn Toprayoon who was at court today and looked dejected after the judgment was read. Mr Nathaporn is a former legal adviser to Thailand’s Ombudsman.

The lawyer brought the case under Section 49 which allows a Thai citizen to file such a petition if they believe their rights or freedoms under the constitution may be impinged by those seeking to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

No remedy to dissolve the Future Forward Party today

Today, it appeared that the Constitutional Court, in this case, did not have the specific remedy to dissolve the Future Forward Party but could have taken action to redress any threat or erosion of rights that it deemed were an infringement of Mr Nathaporn’s constitutional rights. The court, however, found that no such situation existed.

Party regulations prioritised the constitution rather than referring to the King claimed lawyer

Mr Nathaporn has argued that the Future Forward party’s constitution and legal regulations did not refer to the King but rather to the national constitution in its promises to uphold the laws in Thailand.

The petitioner also was concerned by calls by Future Forward to have Thailand ratify the Rome Treaty terms establishing the International Criminal Court in 2002 which would have relinquished the immunity that the Thai monarch currently holds under Thai law from prosecution.

The United States has also categorically refused to ratify this treaty and some African states have withdrawn from it citing bias and double standards.

The case also referred to the Future Forward Party logo as being similar to  Illuminati symbols if upended.

Case before the court over ฿192 million in loans is stronger and specifies dissolution as the remedy

The Constitutional Court last month took up a case referred to it by the Election Commission after that body ruled that ฿192 million in loans to the party was, in fact, an illegal donation under the terms of Thailand’s strict Electoral laws.

The commission asked the court specifically to dissolve the party as it contravened Article 72 of the Political Parties Act. Article 92 of the law provides clearly for the dissolution of the party under these circumstances. 

The Election Commission has defined the loans advanced by Mr Thanathorn to his party as a donation and because they are in excess of the prescribed limit, they have therefore adjudged them to be an illegal donation. 

The case targets Mr Thanathorn’s role as the wealthy benefactor of the new political party portraying this, in effect, as a distortion of the law which was designed to keep politics and big money separate.

This harks back to the Thaksin era and was the goal of those seeking democratic reform in the protests that blighted both the latter Thai Rak Thai and later Pheu Thai governments. This was part of the agenda of the yellow shirt movement.

Former election commissioner claims 16 other Thai parties have similar loans and arrangements

The matter has since become even more controversial since a former member of the election commission, Somchai Srisutthiyakorn has suggested that there are 16 other parties with similar funding arrangements and loans openly declared and set up on an arm’s length basis as was the case with Future Forward loans facility last year.

Leaked documents of Election Commission subcommittee highlighted by Future Forward

Also in recent weeks, the Future Forward Party has published what it claims to be leaked documents which they claim to show that investigative subcommittees of the Election Commission had recommended that no action be taken on the loan issue linked to Mr Thanathorn and the party he founded.

The commission subsequently voted in a 7 to 2 decision to petition the court on the matter to take up the case which called for the party’s dissolution as provided for by law. This has led to the current case before it.

Election Commission rejects Future Forward claims and stands by its call to the court

The Election Commission denies these claims and says the leaked reports relate to a separate criminal matter involving Mr Thanathorn. It has also threatened legal action against those involved in leaking its internal documents. 

The statutory body also previously emphasised that the law prohibits political parties using members funds and subscriptions to repay loans. It is standing by its call to the court to have the Future Forward Party disbanded.

Further reading:

Future Forward leader predicts inter-generational strife if the new political party is dissolved by law this Tuesday

Political rallies in Bangkok pass off peacefully as moderate crowds turn out for rival events early on Sunday

Polls show the public becoming more polarised as Deputy PM assures public there is nothing to worry about

Army chief’s comments show that a showdown with the Future Forward Party is coming sometime in 2020

Prime Minister not concerned at plans for a street protest as Thanathorn issues a warning