Billionaire Thai opposition frontman to hear court ruling

Illustration for article titled Billionaire Thai opposition frontman to hear court ruling

The billionaire frontman of Thailand’s anti-military parliamentary bloc is set to hear a court ruling Wednesday that could lead to him being banned from politics and jailed for up to 10 years.

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The leader of the upstart Future Forward party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, has been a fierce critic of the army’s role in Thailand’s turbulent politics, which has seen at least 12 coups since 1932.

His success at the ballot box has shaken up the arch-royalist power structure after millions of youthful supporters helped Future Forward become the third-largest party in March elections ending five years of outright junta rule.

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The party’s popularity also earned the charismatic leader a spot in Time’s 100 Next list released earlier this month.

But he has been suspended from attending parliament since the Election Commission accused him of breaking laws by holding media shares.

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Thailand’s Constitutional Court is set to rule on the case at 0700 GMT, which could see him removed as an MP.

If Thanathorn is stripped of his status as an MP, the Election Commission could seek to levy criminal charges that carry penalties including a ban from politics and a jail term of up to 10 years.

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Thanathorn says the legal challenge is intended to hobble the party, which has called for an end to military conscription and a slash in defence spending.

In a message posted on Instagram late Tuesday, Thanathorn said he does not have a “back up” plan if the court rules against him.

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“No alternative, no turning back,” said the defiant leader.

The court disbanded a different anti-military opposition party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra right before the March vote.

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Thanathorn has repeatedly insisted the 675,000 shares he held in V-Luck Media were sold to his mother on January 8 — weeks before he registered to run as a candidate.

But he told AFP last week that regardless of the decision, the reformist Future Forward is much stronger than it was a year ago.

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“It is not about me. It is about other dreams,” he said, adding that whatever ruling is handed down he will not step away from politics.

His rival is Thai premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a general who led the coup in 2014 and was voted in as civilian premier with the help of junta-appointed senators.

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Future Forward has also come under fire for being a rare voice of criticism against Thailand’s royalist establishment.

The monarchy, one of the world’s richest and headed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is at the apex of Thai power.

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Last month, 70 Future Forward MPs voted against a royal decree transferring two key army units to the direct control of the king — an unprecedented political objection to a royal command.

The decree still passed parliament with an overwhelming majority.

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