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Thailand court opens trial against ruling party

The Constitutional Court of Thailand [GlobaLex backgrounder] on Monday conducted the first hearing in the electoral fraud trial of the ruling Democrat Party [party website, in Thai]. The case, brought in June [JURIST report] by the Election Commission of Thailand [official website], could result in the dissolution of the party and the exclusion of its leaders, including current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva [official website, in Thai; BBC profile], from politics for five years. The commission alleges the party violated [Bangkok Post report] the Political Party Act [LoC backgrounder] by misusing 29 million baht (USD $907,000) of public campaign funds by over-reporting expenses for campaign purchases during the 2005 election. The court heard the testimony of two members of the Department of Special Investigation and Puea Thai Party [party website, in Thai] MP Kiatisak Menasawat at the opening of the trial and is expected to call a total of 15 witnesses. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for August 23, and the court is expected to hand down its decision in October. The Democrat Party is also being investigated [AP report] in relation to unreported corporate donations of 258 million baht (USD $8.1 million).

In April, the Election Commission called for the dissolution of the ruling party for failing to report donations and alleged misuse of those donations. The commission's decision came amid some of the deadliest political clashes Thailand has experienced in nearly two decades, as Thai protesters, known as red shirts [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], called for new elections and Vejjajiva's resignation. Thailand's chief of the army, General Anupong Paojinda, has given his support [Bangkok News report] to the opposition's call for new elections in a hope that dissolution will provide an end to the current standoff between the Abhisit government and the opposition. In 2008, former prime minister Samak Sundaravej [BBC profile] and his cabinet were ousted following a guilty verdict [JURIST report] from the Constitutional Court on the charge that Samak violated the constitution when he accepted payment for his appearance on a television cooking program.

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