Thai Junta Files Sedition Complaint Against New Party Leader

By KAWEEWIT KAEWJINDA Associated Press

Thailand’s Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit thanks people who came out to vote in Bangkok, Thailand, on April 3, 2019. Thailand’s ruling junta has filed a complaint that accuses the leader of the popular new political party of sedition and aiding criminals. The Future Forward Party ran a strong third in the elections last month that also featured a pro-military party. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s ruling junta has filed a complaint accusing the leader of a popular new political party of sedition and aiding criminals, a move that its target described as politically motivated.

The party, Future Forward, ran a strong third in elections last month that were also contested by a pro-military party.

Future Forward’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, said he would report to police on Saturday to receive the summons against him. The potential penalty he would face is nine years in prison. The summons he received did not specify what actions were the cause for the complaint.

Thanathorn and his party already have several criminal complaints and protests to the Election Commission lodged against them.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday before a tour of a Bangkok neighborhood to thank voters, Thanathorn said the new legal action against him was expected and “nothing new.”

“We are prepared mentally. There’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “We believe in our innocence. We believe these cases are politically motivated.”

Before hitting the streets, Thanathorn gave more detailed thoughts about the summons on his Facebook page, where he said it is clear “that old political games don’t end after elections but in turn become even more intense because they are afraid of Future Forward, afraid of our victory that surpassed many people’s expectations.”

He said he would answer the summons to show his innocence and to “prove that Thailand’s justice system will not submit to becoming a tool for dictators.”

Preliminary results of the March 24 general election failed to give any single party a majority, making it unclear whether pro- or anti-junta parties would hold a majority in the House of Representatives. The Future Forward Party is a junior partner in an anti-junta coalition that claims have a majority of seats, but the final official voting results won’t be released until May 9.

Between now and then, there could be shifts in party alliances, and there is concern that the state Election Commission, widely regarded as sympathetic to the junta, could disqualify the already elected candidates of its opponents.

The army has several times publicly shown its disdain for the left-leaning political line that the Future Forward Party stands for. The country’s influential army chief on Tuesday issued a thinly veiled attack on the party, not mentioning it by name but implying that it has foreign-influenced ideas unsuitable for the “Thai-style democratic system,” which is a constitutional monarchy.

Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, the ruling junta’s secretary-general, said the army would do its duty, “which is to protect, maintain and defend the institutions of nation, religion, and monarchy.”

Respect for the monarchy is a sensitive and emotional issue in Thailand, and accusations of disrespect are sometimes used by opportunists to smear their political opponents. Thailand has a lese majeste law that makes criticism of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Self-interest could also play a part in the junta’s actions against Thanathorn. He has said his party’s primary agenda is to stop Thailand’s military from intervening in politics, and also suggested its budget be slashed.

The new party’s critics also have tried to tried to sow suspicion that it is allied with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is treated as the arch-enemy of Thailand’s royalist establishment. The party denies any such ties, and a large part of its appeal appears to be that it supports neither the military nor Thaksin.

The co-founder of Future Forward, law scholar Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, has come under pressure as well, including a summons to be a witness in what appears to be Thanathorn’s case.

Piyabutr has been in hot water with conservative Thais who see him as a threat to the monarchy after social media began circulating footage of a Feb. 17, 2013, lecture in which he described the role of the monarchy in democratic governments. He responded that the posting were misleading and were not about Thailand’s system.

But an obscure conservative organization filed a complaint about him with the Election Commission, and on Wednesday singer and actress Haruthai Muangboonsri formally submitted a legal complaint to police accusing him of being a threat to national security.

The military has governed Thailand since then-army commander Prayuth Chan-och staged a coup in 2014 against an elected government. Since then, Prayuth has been serving as junta leader and prime minister, and is the candidate of the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party, which according to preliminary results grabbed the biggest share of the popular vote in last month’s election.

According to a constitution implemented under the junta, it takes a joint vote of the elected House of Representatives and the appointed Senate to name a new prime minister, giving Prayuth a great advantage. However, his opponents could still control a majority in the lower house, making it difficult for him to pass laws or get a budget approved, and making any government he would head unstable because of the possibility it would face a vote of no confidence.

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Associated Press writer Grant Peck contributed to this report.

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