Thai court mulls fate of ruling Democrat Party
Associated Press
2010-08-09 10:13 PM
A Thai court on Monday began hearing an electoral law case against the ruling Democrat Party, which if found guilty of financing violations could be disbanded and cause the collapse of its coalition government.

Police were among the witnesses who testified Monday in the case against the Democrats _ Thailand's oldest party_ who are charged with misusing 29 million baht ($907,000) of a government fund allotted for political parties.

If found guilty by the Constitutional Court, the party could be disbanded and about 40 of its executives _ including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva _ banned from politics for five years, which would force the formation of a new government. The punishment is at the discretion of the court.

Abhisit's government came to power in December 2008, when it attracted support from enough lawmakers of other parties to cobble together a governing coalition. Political opponents claim it came to power illegitimately, and the government struggled to survive sometimes violent street protests in Bangkok between March and May. Its term runs out December 2011.

The Democrats also face the possibility of the same punishment in a case involving a donation of 258 million baht ($8.1 million) from a petrochemical conglomerate, though the court has yet to formally charge them in the matter.

Abhisit's two immediate predecessors as prime minister were removed from office by court decisions. In 2008, Samak Sundaravej was found guilty of violating a conflict of interest law by accepting payment for hosting a cooking show, and later that year Somchai Wongsawat was forced out when a court ruled that his People's Power Party had committed fraud during the December 2007 general election.

Both men were political allies of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup. Thaksin's supporters oppose Abhisit and form part of the Red Shirt movement seeking to force him to call early elections.

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