Thai prosecutors open case against former PM's party

TESTIMONY:A day before the start of two hearings that could see Thailand's biggest political parties dissolved, Thaksin said he wanted to come home, but would eschew politics


Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 5

Thai prosecutors yesterday opened their case against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's party on vote fraud charges, a day after the ousted leader broke his media silence on the recent putsch.

Judges began hearing the case against the twice-elected Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party, which governed Thailand until a Sept. 19 military coup ousted Thaksin, its former leader and founder.

It is the first of two hearings that could see the kingdom's biggest political parties dissolved. The case against the opposition Democrat Party begins tomorrow.

There had been speculation that Thaksin might return from self-imposed exile to give evidence, before jitters over political stability prompted the junta to say he would testify by written statement.

But on Monday night, the fallen premier surprised many with his first media interviews since the coup, telling CNN and the Wall Street Journal Asia that he wanted to return to Thailand, but would eschew politics.

"I want to spend my life as a private citizen and I don't want to get involved in politics," Thaksin, 57, told the Wall Street Journal.

"I want to go back to my country, and spend time with my family and help Thai society through charitable activities," he added.

The billionaire businessman also said he had nothing to do with bomb blasts that killed three and injured dozens in the capital on New Year's Eve, which the junta has blamed on his political supporters.

Thaksin appealed for a return to democracy, and warned that the public would not tolerate military rule in the kingdom for long.

"Democracy is in the blood of Thais," he said.

TRT denied the timing of the interviews was planned to coincide with the hearing.

"It is not related to the hearing today, it's different," deputy TRT leader Phongthep Thepkanjana said.

He confirmed that Thaksin, who stepped down as TRT leader a month after the coup, would testify in a written statement.

The allegations of electoral fraud against TRT and the Democrat Party stem from inconclusive snap polls held on April 2, which contributed to the political turmoil that led to the coup.

The election followed months of protests demanding Thaksin's resignation over allegations of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin won the snap poll, but an opposition boycott led the constitutional court to invalidate the results.

TRT has been charged with breaking two laws during the annulled elections: illegally financing fringe groups to contest the election in a bid to boost the polls' credibility, and misusing the supposedly independent election commission.

Charges against the Democrat Party include obstructing campaigning and slandering the TRT. Both parties deny all charges.