Constitutional Court to rule on FFP loan case ahead of no-confidence debate

This Friday (21 February), the Constitutional Court of Thailand will rule on whether the Future Forward Party violated Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties by taking a loan from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The ruling is scheduled to take place only a few days ahead of the no-confidence debate, which is scheduled to open on 24 February.

Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties states that no political party or individuals holding office in a political party shall receive money, property, or other benefit if they know, or could be expected to know, that it was illegally acquired, or if they have reasonable cause to suspect that it was illegally acquired.

The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) voted on 11 December 2019 to submit a request to the Court to rule whether the FFP taking a loan of 191,200,00 baht from party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is a violation of Article 72.  The penalties include dissolution of the party and barring the party’s executive members from running in elections for a number of years.

On 25 December 2019, ten days after the request was filed, the Court accepted the ECT’s request.

FFP Secretary-General Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said in a press conference this morning (18 February 2020) that a loan is a debt; it is not income or a donation, because a loan needs to be repaid. He also said that there is no law prohibiting political parties from taking out a loan, and that there are currently over 20 parties that have taken out loans.

Piyabutr also said that the party had to take a loan because when the party was registered in October 2018, they were informed by the ECT that they are not allowed to receive donations, and when the ECT finally allowed political parties to receive donations, it was too close to the election and they did not have enough time to raise the funds they needed.  

Meanwhile, historian Charnvit Kasetsiri started a campaign against the dissolution of FFP on 15 February, which has 150 signatures from well-known figures in various circles, including academics, writers, activists, film directors and actors, and now has over 30,000 signatures on Change.org.

The campaign states that “good politics should be a system which allows every side to compete fairly and be judged by the people, while trying to eradicate a particular political group will only create tension in society which is waiting to explode.[…] The best way out is to open up the political space as much as possible and to support the people’s political parties to become strong. Stop thinking that dissolving a political party or banning those who think differently is going to lead to peace.”

The Constitutional Court has previously ruled to dissolve a political party on three occasions: the Thai Rak Thai Party in 2008, the People’s Power Party in 2010, and the Thai Raksa Chart Party in 2019.

The loan case is yet another in a series of lawsuits thrown at the FFP since the start of 2019. On 21 November 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled to disqualify Thanathorn as an MP for holding shares in a media company, despite the company having ceased operations in 2017. Then on 21 January this year, the Court ruled to acquit the party and its leaders of anti-monarchy and sedition allegations, citing insufficient evidence.

The latest ruling is scheduled to take place three days before the debate on the motion of no-confidence filed against 6 ministers, including Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, which is currently scheduled to open on 24 February.

Other than Gen Prayut, the opposition has also filed a motion of no-confidence against deputy prime ministers Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Wissanu Krea-ngam, Minister of Interior Anupong Paochinda, Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai, and Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Thammanat Prompow.

With the exception of Don and Thammanat, the other four ministers all had roles in the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), which staged the military coup in 2014.