Shinawatra parties rally across Thailand as ruling looms

Bangkok: Parties aligned with Thailand’s powerful Shinawatra clan staged major rallies ahead of a court ruling that could deal a gut punch to their prospects in national elections later this month.

Public gatherings were taking place across the country – including in the Chiang Mai hometown of divisive billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Shinawatra-linked Pheu Thai party members addressed throngs of supporters in a stadium in Chiang Mai as the sun went down, promising development and incentives for entrepreneurs in the northern city.

Thaksin, who lives in self-exile to avoid jail in Thailand, is adored by rice farmers and large sections of urban working-class voters for his pro-poor policies and steering of the economy.

But he is despised by the royalist elite, whose allies have failed to beat him at the polls since 2001 and instead have relied on coups and court rulings to topple Shinawatra-backed governments.

Thousands of people also massed in Bangkok’s historic centre late Friday for a defiant campaign by Thai Raksa Chart, another political party linked to the Shinawatra clan.

But Thai Raksa Chart could be dissolved by the Constitutional Court on March 7, after its bid to run a princess as candidate for prime minister spectacularly unravelled.

Supporters say the court has the future of Thai democracy in its hands -- with the junta determined to return as a civilian government.

“If it is dissolved it will damage our hopes for democracy badly,” said rally participant. — AFP