Thailand's Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gestures to supporters at the party's headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Thailand's Constitutional Court acquitted the country's third-biggest political party of seeking the overthrow of the country's constitutional monarchy. The court ruled Tuesday that the Future Forward Party showed no intention of committing the offense, and that the complaint had not been filed according to the correct legal procedure. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Thai court acquits opposition party of sedition charge

January 21, 2020 - 2:13 am

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's Constitutional Court on Tuesday acquitted the country's third-biggest political party of seeking the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy in another legal case that highlights the political divisions in the Southeast Asian nation.

The court ruled the Future Forward Party showed no intention of committing the offense and the complaint had not been filed correctly.

The party still could be dissolved under another pending charge of breaking election laws by taking a large loan from its leader. The party was founded in 2018 during military rule, and takes progressive positions that are anathema to Thailand's royalist ruling elite.

The party's surprising finish in an election last year and its popularity among young people rattled the government, which is led by the same people who staged a military coup in 2014.

The case drew special attention because the complaint to the court had sought to link the party to the mythical conspiracy known as the Illuminati, which is alleged to be an elite organization seeking world domination.

The complaint, filed last year by lawyer Natthaporn Toprayoon, listed statements by party officials supposedly critical of Thai traditions, and pointed out that its logo is an inverted triangle, which if turned upright vaguely resembles the alleged symbol of the Illuminati. It claimed the Illuminati had sought to overthrow European monarchies and influence the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

“This is the first time I've ever heard about the Illuminati being invoked in a genuine political dispute," David Bramwell, a British writer who has researched the conspiracy theory, told The Associated Press last week. "It's a rather preposterous idea, to be honest. ... It smacks of political oppression and paranoia.”

Tuesday's case was one of a series filed against the party and its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkrit. In November, the Constitutional Court stripped Thanathorn of his lawmaker status, ruling that he violated a regulation on media ownership.

There is a widespread belief that one way or another, the party will end up being disbanded, with its leaders banned from political office for several years.

The party has taken positions explicitly critical of the military for its interference in politics. It also seeks to amend the constitution, drafted after the 2014 coup, to make it more democratic.

The party’s initial support came from youth and young professionals, but it proved to have wider appeal around the country.

The military and the courts are the two main pillars of the Thai establishment, and have consistently acted to curb threats to the status quo.

The Constitutional Court ordered Future Forward to clarify its regulations to comply with the constitutional provision that any political party must not oppose the constitutional monarchy.

The party's popularity was underlined last month when several thousand of its supporters rallied in Bangkok in one of the largest political demonstrations since the 2014 coup.

"I think it shows that people will not tolerate dictatorship anymore," Thanathorn said at the time of the large turnout.

Thanathorn is a 41-year-old billionaire who family fortune was made in the auto parts industry.

His opponents have tried to smear him by accusing his party of being a stalking horse for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist whose policies and popularity upset royalists, and who was ousted by the 2006 coup. His ouster set off a long and sometimes violent power struggle between his supporters and opponents.

Rights group Amnesty International has called on Thai authorities to stop using court cases "to intimidate and harass the leaders and members of the Future Forward party,” saying such a trend had been seen since the lead-up to the March 2019 general elections.

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