Triple court cases in Thailand ramps up uncertainty, puts markets on edge: Analysts

- The Nation/ANN File Photo

BANGKOK: Three court cases in Thailand, including one that has ensnared the Prime Minister, have heightened political uncertainty in South-East Asia’s second-largest economy and sent investors fleeing its stock market.

The Thai Constitutional Court on Wednesday (June 12) will take up a case that could potentially dissolve the progressive political party that won the closely contested 2023 General Election, besides considering another that could lead to the dismissal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin (pic).

In another case next week, influential former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be formally indicted for allegedly insulting the monarchy.

The outcome of the cases could leave Thai politics in disarray, raising tensions between the powerful conservative, royalist camp and its rivals – a pattern that has dogged the political landscape for decades, said analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

“They can keep (people) out and kick out office-holders. But they cannot take office themselves because they cannot win the election,” said Professor Thitinan, who teaches at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, referring to the conservative establishment.

“I think certainly we’re seeing another round of turmoil.”

The looming politically charged cases sent Thailand’s main stock index down to its lowest level in 3½ years on June 10.

The bourse has fallen 6.9 per cent so far in 2024, making it Asia’s worst-performing market.

Deputy Finance Minister Paopoom Rojanasakul told reporters on June 11 that the market decline reflected the country’s “not good” economy.

Worst-case scenario

The case against Srettha took hold following a complaint by 40 military-appointed senators in May alleging that the Prime Minister breached the Constitution while making a Cabinet appointment.

The Constitutional Court subsequently accepted the complaint but has not announced a schedule for its proceedings on this case.

“Prime Minister Srettha’s case will have the greatest impact because, in a worst-case scenario, if he loses his position, a new prime minister must be chosen and a new Cabinet must be formed, which would take at least two months,” said senior strategist Apichat Poobunjirdkul of Tisco Securities.

On June 12, the Constitutional Court will deliberate on a case seeking the dissolution of the opposition Move Forward Party, which controls about 30 per cent of seats in the Lower House after winning the 2023 election.

The Election Commission in early April filed a complaint seeking to disband Move Forward for its controversial campaign to reform the strict lese majeste law.

In January, the Constitutional Court ruled that the party’s plans to change the law were a hidden effort to undermine the monarchy.

The law carries a punishment of up to 15 years in jail for each perceived insult to the royal family and has been applied to prosecute more than 270 people since 2020, according to the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The court has not set a verdict date for the case.

Meanwhile, former premier Thaksin – who returned to Thailand in August 2023 after 15 years of self-imposed exile – will be formally indicted for lese majeste and computer crimes next week.

Thaksin is the force behind the populist ruling Pheu Thai Party, and his family’s parties have won all but one election since 2001, with three Shinawatra-backed governments toppled by coups or court rulings.

“The petition to remove Prime Minister Srettha on May 23, which was soon followed by the indictment of ex-PM Thaksin on May 29, raises concerns over the stability of the Pheu Thai-led government,” financial services group Nomura said in a recent report. - Reuters

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