The Constitutional Court on Tuesday (January 21) acquitted the Future Forward Party and its key figures, finding them not guilty of attempting to overthrow Thailand’s political system.
The court found that Future Forward and its executives including party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and secretary general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul did not clearly act in a way that could be deemed as attempting to bring down the country’s democratic system in which the King is the head of state.
The case was brought to court by lawyer Nataporn Toprayoon, a former adviser at the Office of the Ombudsman, in May last year. In his petition, Nataporn sought a court ruling for Future Forward to be dissolved. His complaint also claimed that the opposition party – because of its triangular logo – was linked to the Illuminati secret society believed to be behind plots to overthrow monarchies in Europe.
The court said in its first verdict of the year that there was insufficient evidence to support the complainant’s claim that the accused had exercised their constitutional rights in an attempt to overthrow Thailand’s democratic system with the King as the head of state.
Those acts cannot be deemed attempts to overthrow the system as far as the Constitution was concerned, the court said. However, it also ruled that other authorities, possibly the Election Commission, might determine whether or not the alleged acts were in violation of any other law.
Information from the Internet quoted by the complainant was insufficient to back his case against the defendants, the court said.
The court also mentioned that the petition reflected the complainant’s concern for the country.
Nataporn had cited Article 49 of the Constitution in his case against Future Forward and its executive members. To back up his case, the complainant also cited remarks made by key Future Forward figures – Thanathorn, Piyabutr and party spokesperson Pannika Wanich – in their interviews, public events and social media regarding the Thai monarchy.
Article 49 contains no penalty against the accused party in the event it is found guilty. The complainant asked the court to dissolve Future Forward and ban its executives from contesting any election, in accordance with Article 92 of the Political Parties Act. The court focused only on the constitutional clause.
Concerning Future Forward’s logo, which was claimed to be inspired by the Illuminati, the court noted that its registration with the Political Party Registrar had been approved by the Election Commission.
Regarding the complainant’s argument that Future Forward failed to mention Thailand’s democratic system with the King as the head of state in its party regulations and instead used the term “democratic principles under the Constitution”, the court ruled that this fact also did not support the complainant’s case.
However, the court said a political party’s regulations should contain no ambiguity and therefore relevant authorities, namely the Election Commission, should seek necessary changes in order to comply with the Constitution.
The verdict reading started around noon, half an hour behind schedule, and lasted about 10 minutes. The verdict was read by Taweekiat Meenakanit, one of the court’s nine judges.
Future Forward supporters gathered at the party’s headquarters were jubilant on hearing the verdict. Many of them reacted with loud cheers while raising their hands in triumph.
During a live television broadcast after the verdict reading was completed, Future Forward supporters were heard shouting, “Long live democracy” and “Thanathorn, fight on”. They also uttered “Prayut, go” and “Down with dictatorship”, obviously referring to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the powers Future Forward claims is behind the numerous legal problems against the party.
A number of foreigners were spotted in the courtroom during the verdict reading. They were believed to be representatives from foreign missions and organizations.
None of Future Forward figures mentioned in Nataporn’s petition came to the court on Tuesday. They were reportedly at the party’s head office at the Thai Summit Tower. Only the complainant was present for the reading of the verdict.
Nataporn said afterwards that he considered his mission as a patriotic Thai completed. “Now it’s the Election Commission’s duty to take action in accordance with the relevant law,” he told the media after learning of the verdict.
The complainant suggested that the Election Commission petition the Constitutional Court against Future Forward for allegedly violating the Political Parties Act. Article 92 of the law states that the Election Commission may seek a Constitutional Court ruling to dissolve any political party acting in opposition to the country’s democratic system in which the King is the head of state. If found guilty, that political party in question may face a court order to be dissolved.
Only the Election Commission is empowered by law to file a petition regarding this matter.
Nataporn said on Tuesday that in bringing the case to court, he simply wanted the public to know that “a particular party wants to change this country’s political system”. He added that his goal was not to seek Future Forward’s dissolution as “they can set up a new party anyway”.
At the Future Forward HQ, Thanathorn and Piyabutr thanked the party’s supporters for standing behind them and offering moral support during difficult times.
Piyabutr said “this Illuminati case” should not have been brought to court from the outset.
He maintained that Future Forward, Thanathorn and himself had not even thought of overturning the country’s democratic system in which the King is the head of state. The academic-turned-politician pointed out that in fact it was the coup-makers, with backing from the military, who had repeatedly overthrown the system through government takeovers.
Piyabutr also said “the movement” aimed at bringing about Future Forward’s dissolution was still continuing through the filling of legal complaints.
“This is not beneficial to Thailand’s politics and democracy. I call for this movement, this war of legalities, to be stopped,” he said.
Thanathorn thanked the party’s supporters, saying that without their loyal backing, Future Forward would not have “come this far and achieved this much”.
The party leader told the press conference that he believed the legal cases against Future Forward were politically motivated. “But our innocence and sincerity will help us get through those cases,” he added.
In November, Thanathorn lost his seat as a member of Parliament after the Constitutional Court found him guilty of violating the Constitution by still holding shares in a media company when he registered to run in the general election.