Thai PM says he accepts court ban on him, his party (Lead)

December 2nd, 2008 - 3:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Dec 2 (Xinhua) Thailand’s Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said Tuesday he accepted the ruling by the constitutional court banning him from politics for five years and dissolving his party for electoral fraud. Somchai reacted calmly to the verdict by saying: “I did my best to administer the country.”

Thailand’s Constitution Court Tuesday ruled the three constituents of the ruling coalition — People Power Party (PPP), Chart Thai Party and Matchima Thipataya Party guilty of electoral fraud and ordered them to be dissolved.

The ruling also banned the executives of the three parties from engaging into politics for five years.

The verdict effectively removes Somchai from his post as the government leader.

The verdict was handed down while Somchai was chairing the weekly Cabinet meeting in Chiang Mai, which he made a temporary government seat since his return from a summit of the Asia-Pacific counties in Peru last Wednesday.

The opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) occupied the Government House, and then besieged the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports in a showdown to topple his government, which the protesters said was a proxy of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

DPA added: The verdict was rejected by hundreds of pro-government demonstrators wearing red shirts who had gathered outside the court house to protest the controversial case, which was widely predicted to go against the PPP.

“Today the court has dissolved the PPP, but PPP followers nationwide will not accept the ruling,” said a leader of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), as the pro-government supporters have dubbed themselves.

“We don’t accept the verdict,” said Paporn Boonkhan, a 46-year-old pro-government protestor from Chiang Rai province. “We will only accept democracy.”

The nine Constitution Court judges on the case had to shift the venue to the Administrative Court building in northern Bangkok to avoid a gathering of the pro-government DAAD, but the protesters quickly moved to the new court.

The Administrative Court was initially under the protection of Thai soldiers armed with M-16 rifles who were later replaced by riot police, eyewitnesses said.

The DAAD is a pro-government movement that is a reverse image of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the anti-government protesters who have occupied Bangkok’s two airports, closing off the capital to air traffic in their bid to topple the administration.

The Constitution Court speeded up the final hearing of three election fraud cases involving the People Power, Chart Thai and Matchimathipataya parties, which comprise the current coalition government. The court’s critics see the hasty sentences as an effort to end Thailand’s political crisis through the judiciary.

The three parties were charged with colluding in violating election laws in the Dec 23, 2007 polls, by allowing top party executives to participate in vote-buying.

Under the Thai constitution, parties must be dissolved and their key executives banned from politics for five years if even one of their members is found guilty of election fraud.

In the ensuing power vacuum, several scenarios are possible, political observers said.

The remaining members of the People Power Party, which won about 230 out of 480 contested seats in the 2007 general election, are expected to shift to the Puea Thai party, which would hold enough seats to form a new coalition government with remnant members of the Chart Thai and Matchimathipataya parties.

A parliament session will need to be held to elect a new prime minister.

Another possibility is that certain clauses in the constitution may be used to allow the judiciary to appoint a non-elected prime minister and interim government to rule the country on an interim basis prior to a new election.

Such as option might require an endorsement by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is head of state under Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.

While that option is favoured by many Thais as a means of placating the anti-government protesters who are holding Bangkok’s two airports hostage, it is not expected to be accepted by government supporters.

The pro-government DAAD, or “red shirts,” are expected to protest any guilty verdict against the People Power party and reject any effort to establish a non-elected government.

Government politicians suspect the Constitution Court of working hand-in-hand with the PAD, a loose coalition of groups united only in their desire to prevent a political comeback by fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinwatara, a populist politician who dominated Thai politics during his two-term 2001-06 premiership and now lives in self-exile.

The PAD is known to have the support of members of Thailand’s political elite, including leaders of the army, which toppled Thaksin with a coup in September 2006.

There are worries that the DAAD will launch the kind of street protests and civil disobedience tactics practiced by the PAD over the last six months that have brought the country to its knees.

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