- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2010

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Election Commission ordered the ruling party be dissolved for purportedly misusing campaign donations, in a potential victory for protesters who paraded slain comrades through Bangkok on Monday to demand the prime minister’s resignation.

The decision, which must be endorsed by the Constitutional Court to take effect, came soon after Thailand’s influential army chief appeared to back the protesters call, saying new elections might be needed to resolve the country’s political crisis. The standoff descended into the deadliest political clashes in nearly two decades on Saturday, when 21 people died in clashes.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was largely seen as having the backing of the powerful military, has remained defiant in his refusal to resign. But the about-face of the head of the army, which has not hesitated to stage coups during previous political instability, puts Abhisit under unprecedented pressure.

“If the issue cannot be resolved through political means, then parliament dissolution seems to be a reasonable step … I just want peace to prevail,” army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda told reporters. Parliament’s dissolution is a necessary step for new elections.

The latest turmoil is part of a yearslong struggle for power, pitting the rural supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra against members of the country’s traditional ruling elite, which includes business leaders, the military brass and bureaucrats — supported by the urban middle class.

Thailand has seen three governments in the four years since a coup drove Thaksin from power in 2006. Protesters have taken to the streets each time their rivals came to power.

In 2008, anti-Thaksin protesters besieged the government headquarters for months and occupied the airports for a week. The crisis was defused by a court ruling similar to Monday’s that unseated the pro-Thaksin government. Subsequently, Mr. Abhisit became prime minister.

The repeated unrest has threatened to ruin the country’s reputation as a stable haven for commerce, investment and tourism.

The Election Commission found the Democrat Party — Thailand’s oldest — guilty of misusing campaign donations. No date was set for the Constitutional Court to hear the case.

The Election commission was ruling on a complaint filed by the Red Shirts that the Democrat Party received more than $8 million in donations from a private cement company, TPI Polene, without declaring it, as required by law, and used it for election campaigning. The party was also accused of misusing 800,000 from a political fund.

The commission had scheduled the ruling for April 20, but announced it more than a week early without explanation. It came on the eve of a four-day holiday for Songkran, the traditional new year when many urban Thais visit relatives in the countryside. Many people had feared that the festival — where people douse friends and strangers alike with water — would be marred by the political unrest and demonstrations.

Associated Press writers Kinan Suchaovanich, Thanyarat Doksone, Jocelyn Gecker, Grant Peck and Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.

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