Thai court: Gov't, protesters didn't defy charter

AP News
Posted: Feb 12, 2014 6:12 AM
Thai court: Gov't, protesters didn't defy charter

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected petitions by both the ruling and main opposition parties accusing each other of attempting to overthrow the country's system of government during recent elections.

The court said there was no validity to the claims by either Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's ruling Pheu Thai Party or the opposition Democrat Party.

If the case against the government had been accepted and the Cabinet found guilty, the government could have been forced out of office.

The decision not to accept the cases only slightly narrows the battlefield on which the two sides are fighting for power.

Anti-government protesters barged into the headquarters of the Forestry Department on Wednesday in what they said was an effort to keep employees from working. Disrupting state offices, by siege or occupation, is a hallmark of the People's Democratic Reform Committee protest group, which has been active for three months.

The protesters are demanding that Yingluck resign to make way for an unelected interim government to institute anti-corruption reforms.

They charge that Yingluck is just a tool for her billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile to escape a two-year jail sentence imposed in 2008 for a conflict of interest conviction.

Since the coup, Thaksin's supporters and opponents have battled for power, sometimes violently in the streets. But Thaksin's opponents have also used the courts to their advantage, relying on the legal system to depose two pro-Thaksin prime ministers in 2008.

Thaksin's supporters say the courts are biased against them as part of a conservative ruling class that feels threatened by the former prime minister's mass appeal, reflected in impressive election victories.

Yingluck's party had said that efforts by the protesters to interfere in the Feb. 2 elections violated a constitutional provision against illegal seizure of power. The Democrats said the elections, called by Yingluck in response to weeks of anti-government protests, were an unconstitutional attempt to hold on to power.

The Democrats boycotted the elections, insisting that reforms had to been instituted before the polls could be considered fair. They are closely linked to the street protesters, whose leaders are mainly former party executives who stepped down to lead the demonstrations.

In their petitions to the court, both sides cited the constitution's Article 68, which makes it illegal to overthrow the democratic system of government with the king as head of state.

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The lawsuit filed against the government by former Democrat lawmaker Wiratana Kalayasiri cited a failure to hold all voting on the same day and an imposition of a state of emergency as unfair measures violating Article 68, contentions rejected by the court.

Petitions by Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit and two other plaintiffs maintained that the protesters' attempts to gather, block roads and obstruct voting were violations of Article 68.

The court ruled that such actions were covered by the constitutional right to protest, and that any action against the protesters should be taken under the relevant statutes of criminal law.

Voting could not be completed in more than 10,000 polling stations in 69 constituencies because protesters blocked voters or election officials and prevented ballot papers from being distributed.

The state Election Commission this week resolved that voters kept from taking part in advance balloting would get a second chance on April 20, and that those who could not take part in the main Feb. 2 vote would have a chance again on April 27. The government has yet to agree to the dates.