Thailand’s Constitutional Court dismissed a second charge of illegal funding against the ruling Democrat Party yesterday, removing the threat that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva might have to step down.
Thailand’s oldest party was let off the hook because the Election Commission president did not follow correct procedures in filing the case, stemming from allegations the party received an illegal donation ahead of a 2005 election.
It was the second time in less than a month that the Democrats had escaped funding charges due to technicalities related to the way the commission had filed cases.
A guilty verdict in either case could have led to the party’s dissolution and a political ban on Abhisit and several ministers.
The pre-trial acquittal is likely to draw more criticism from opponents of the government, in particular the “Red Shirt” protest movement, which accuses the judiciary of bias in favor of Thailand’s mostly pro-Democrat establishment elite.
The court said the commission chief had not personally made the final call, as required by law, on whether the commission thought the party was guilty of unlawfully obtaining a 258 million baht (US$8.6 million) donation from a Thai cement maker, TPI Polene PCL.
“The Election Commission did not have the authority to agree or disagree,” a judge said in reading the decision.
The stock market climbed slightly after the ruling, which analysts said removed one element of risk to government stability in Thailand.
“It takes out another risk factor that could have resulted in instability. But longer term, it’s still hard to gauge how anti-government protesters will react,” said Warut Siwasariyanon, head of research at Finansia Syrus Securities in Bangkok.
Street protests led by opposition Red Shirt supporters resulted in dozens of deaths in April and May.
The court decision was the latest twist in a five-year political crisis studded with street protests, party dissolutions and military intervention.