- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

BANGKOK | Two corruption cases threaten to unseat Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, dissolve his political party and hobble the bickering coalition that administers Thailand’s military-backed government.

Prosecutors in the office of the attorney general have presented charges to the Constitutional Court accusing Mr. Abhisit’s Democrat Party of receiving illegal donations worth more than $8 million from a major cement petrochemical company, TPI Polene, in 2005.

In a separate case, prosecutors accuse the Democrat Party of misusing a $900,000 grant in 2005 from the Election Commission’s political development fund.

If the Constitutional Court returns a guilty verdict in either case, the party could be disbanded and its leaders — including Mr. Abhisit — could be ousted and banned from holding public office for five years.

“We will respect and follow the decision of the court,” the soft-spoken prime minister said.

However, Mr. Abhisit and Democrat Party leaders reportedly are looking for a loophole that would allow them, if convicted, to remain in power under the guise of a new political party.

The Political Party Act of 1998 calls for the liquidation of political organizations found guilty of corruption, including accepting illegal donations and misusing public funds. In 2007, the punishment was expanded to include banning top party officials from holding public office for five years.

Democrat Party officials are expected to argue that any violations they may have committed in 2005 should not be subject to the increased punishments, which came into effect two years later.

If the party is convicted and dissolved under the 1998 version of the act, Mr. Abhisit and his top executives could jump to a new political party to try to stay in power. Parliamentarians then could make deals to unite the coalition behind the new party and even keep Mr. Abhisit as prime minister.

The Constitutional Court, however, has ruled twice that the act’s 2007 version is valid when applied retroactively, and has dissolved five political parties and banned their leaders from holding office. The court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.

Conviction under the 2007 version would create a vacuum at the top of Thailand’s squabbling political pyramid. The toppled politicians could try to staff a new party headed by unblemished Democrat Party officials, one of whom could be tapped to fill the prime minister post.

A new party, named Thai Khem Khaeng (Strong Thailand), was registered on June 4, prompting speculation in the Thai media that the Democrat Party was behind the move.

Details about the new party are murky, and Democrat Party politicians have tried to tamp down speculation that they supported its registration in response to the corruption trials.

However, there are some facts that suggest the Democrat Party’s influence:

• The new party’s name apparently is inspired by Mr. Abhisit’s $44 billion “Thai Khem Khaeng 2012” economic stimulus program, which he announced in 2009 to support Thailand’s economic recovery and make the country more competitive within three years.

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