Ex-PM Thaksin charged with insulting monarchy as Thailand braces for court cases amid risk of political crisis

Ex-PM Thaksin charged with insulting monarchy as Thailand braces for court cases amid risk of political crisis
Ex-PM Thaksin charged with insulting monarchy as Thailand braces for court cases amid risk of political crisis

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, 74, a powerful backer of the ruling government, could face pre-trial detention if he is denied bail today after being formally indicted for insulting the monarchy in a 2015 media interview. ― Reuters file pic

BANGKOK, June 18 ― Influential former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a powerful backer of the ruling government, was formally indicted today for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a 2015 media interview, a spokesman for the attorney-general's office said.

It is the first of four high-profile cases involving key political players that are before the courts today, in the latest legal wrangling that could see Southeast Asia's second-largest economy plunged into a new period of uncertainty.

The cases involve some of Thailand's most powerful politicians, including its current prime minister, and could deepen a decades-old rift between the conservative-royalist establishment and its opponents, such as the populist ruling Pheu Thai party and the opposition Move Forward party.

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“The prosecutor has sent the suspect to court,” Prayuth Bejraguna from the Attorney General's office told reporters, referring to the 74-year-old Thaksin.

Thaksin, who denies any wrongdoing, could face pre-trial detention if he is denied bail by a criminal court, following the indictment.

Thailand's lese-majeste law, one of the world's toughest, carries a maximum jail sentence of up to 15 years for each perceived royal insult.

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Separately, the Constitutional Court will conduct a hearing in a case lodged by a group of senators that could potentially see Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin dismissed from office for breaching the law in appointing a lawyer with a conviction record to his cabinet.

The same court will also hear a case seeking to disband the popular opposition Move Forward Party for their campaign to amend the country's royal insult law, following a complaint by the Election Commission.

The court is expected to announce the next hearing or verdict date for cases involving Srettha and Move Forward today.

The Constitutional Court will also rule whether the ongoing selection process for a new upper house, which started earlier this month and is scheduled to conclude in early July, is lawful.

If the court cancels or delays the process, it would temporarily extend the term of military-appointed senators who have a played crucial role in the formation of the previous government.

Powerful courts, rattled markets

“The political parties and representatives that voters have chosen are being systematically and repeatedly stymied,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, told Reuters.

A single petition can bring down a sitting, elected government or oust a prime minister, he said, outlining the power of the country's courts.

“There's a judicial assertiveness that has been damaging to Thailand, subverting popular will and popular mandates.”

Such tensions have previously triggered violent street protests, dissolutions of political parties, airport closures and military coups that have hamstrung the economy.

Thai stock markets have already been rattled by the spectre of a political crisis. The main stock index dropped to its lowest level since November 2020 yesterday, and has fallen 8.4 per cent so far this year, making it Asia's worst-performing market. ― Reuters

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