Thailand's constitutional court on Tuesday disbanded the ruling People Power Party (PPP) and two of its coalition partners for electoral fraud. The parties' leaders, including Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, have been banned from politics for five years. The announcement came hours after an antigovernment protester was killed at a Bangkok airport.
A panel of judges found the PPP, the Chart Thai party – the second largest in the ruling coalition – and the Machima Thipatai party guilty of vote-buying and dissolved them, reports Agence France-Presse.
"As the court decided to dissolve the People Power Party, therefore the leader of the party and party executives must be banned from politics for five years," said Chat Chonlaworn, head of the nine-judge court panel.
"The court had no other option," he said.
The verdict came amid a confrontation between Somchai, the brother-in-law of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and anti-government protesters occupying Bangkok's airports.
According to the BBC, news of the PPP's dissolution angered government supporters. Earlier on Tuesday, before the court's verdict was announced, PPP supporters had forced the constitutional court to change the venue of its final hearing to the administrative courthouse.
Outside the court, where a large crowd of pro-government activists had gathered ... there was a furious reaction.
Prime Minister Somchai's supporters accused the judges of sabotaging democracy and going against the people's will.
Despite the presence of a large number of riot police, the protesters soon blocked all access to the building and vowed not to let the judges out....
The BBC's Jonathan Head, outside the courthouse, says the court's ruling will provoke anger right throughout the heartland of the government's supporters in the north and north-east.
When the court decision was announced, demonstrators at the international airport wept and cheered at a makeshift stage outside the departure gates. "I'm glad, I feel relieved, its like something that we have been carrying is now gone," said Tonkla Maksuk, a volunteer nurse at the airport protest. "I feel that this is still a country of laws."
The constitutional court's announcement came shortly after a PAD supporter was killed and 22 others injured in a blast at a Bangkok airport, reports the BBC. So far, six people have been killed and dozens injured in recent clashes between government supporters and opponents and the police.
Emergency services officials said the explosion at Don Mueang airport had occurred overnight, and killed a male PAD activist.
Channel 7 television said a grenade had been fired from a nearby flyover and hit a terminal window, spraying protesters with shrapnel.
According to the Bangkok Post, a Thai daily, the airport explosion occurred just hours after the PAD abandoned protests at Government House and relocated to Bangkok's two international airports, which the PAD had taken over last week.
Maj-Gen Chamlong said all five PAD leaders agreed to move protesters out of Government House not because of pressure from any party, but because after occupying the compound of Government House since August 26, it was time to vacate it.
The move was also intended to accommodate royal ceremonies, including the Trooping of the Colour on Tuesday afternoon, to commemorate His Majesty the King's 81st birthday on Friday (Dec. 5).
Maj-Gen Chamlong added that the PAD leaders also agreed the two airports were safer places for protesters to encamp than Government House after a series of grenade attacks by unknown assailants there killed one and injured scores of protesters.
A court-ordered breakup would trigger a constitutional tussle over the shape of a caretaker government ahead of new elections. PAD activists want a period of rule by their allies in military and royal circles so that a semidemocratic constitution can be imposed over the wishes of elected politicians.
According to The New York Times, members of Parliament who have not been banned from politics will keep their seats under another party name and have promised to form another government.
Officials from Mr. Somchai's party said they had made plans to join a new political party, the Party for Thais, and would meet in Parliament to select a new prime minister.
In May 2007, a similar court ruling accused the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) – formed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – of electoral fraud during the April 2006 elections and announced its dissolution, reported Time magazine. Mr. Thaksin and his allies were banned from participating in politics, but members of Parliament affiliated with the TRT simply registered under the PPP. For that reason, antigovernment PAD supporters accuse the PPP of being corrupt and complain that Mr. Somchai is a proxy for his brother-in-law, Thaksin.