Thai commission urges that ruling party be dissolved

By Tim Johnston
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

BANGKOK -- Thailand's electoral commission recommended Monday the dissolution of the country's ruling party for allegedly misusing campaign donations, as protesters paraded through the streets of the capital bearing the coffins of comrades killed in violence over the weekend.

Pressure has mounted on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign since the army's failed attempt Saturday to clear the "Red Shirt" protesters from a site in central Bangkok. The clashes left 21 people dead, including four soldiers, and more than 800 injured.

The electoral commission has passed its recommendations to the attorney general's office, which will either reject them or refer them to the constitutional court. Under normal circumstances, the process could take up to six months, but lawyers say it could be accelerated.

The court would have the power to dissolve Abhisit's Democrat Party and ban the prime minister from politics, a maneuver with a precedent in Thai politics. In 2008, the constitutional court ejected Somchai Wongsawat, Abhisit's Red Shirt predecessor, citing electoral irregularities.

People close to Abhisit said Monday that the move could present a way to break the deadlock between the prime minister and the protesters.

So, too, did some opposition figures. Chaturon Chaiseng, who many say could be a future prime minister, echoed the sentiment. "This is a very good opportunity for this country to rearrange the system, to return to the rule of law," he said.

If the courts intervene to dissolve the Democrat Party, Abhisit would no longer be in office. But he would avoid being seen as having given in to the protesters' demands.

Meanwhile, the political turmoil is starting to take its toll on tourism, the lifeblood of the Thai economy. More than 40 countries have issued travel warnings amid reports of thousands of tourists canceling trips.

The Ministry of Finance that growth in gross domestic product, once estimated at between 3.5 and 4.5 percent for 2010, will decline by 0.2 to 0.5 percent because of the unrest. Eknitti Nitithanprapar, executive director of the Macro-Economic Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Finance, said tourism and consumption-related industries will be hit hardest.

Tourism draws visitors to the temples of Bangkok, the beaches of Andaman Sea and the mountains of northern Thailand. It accounts for almost 7 percent of Thailand's GDP and is a key source of employment.

Tomas Oyarzun, 19, a Chilean who arrived with his family Saturday to stay in Bangkok's Khao San Road, a budget tourist hub on the fringe of the fighting. He said the family is cutting short its holiday and is going to Bali.

"It feels strange here," he said, echoing the feelings of many other visitors interviewed Monday.

The demonstrators who took on troops Saturday have been campaigning for a month for Abhisit's resignation. The street battles erupted when soldiers moved in to clear one of the main protest sites near the Khao San Road.

-- Financial Times

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