Thai election body rules loan to opposition party illegal

 Thai election body rules loan to opposition party illegal
FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2019, file photo, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, center, leader of the anti-military Future Forward Party is surrounded by his supporters on his arrival at Constitutional Court in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand's Election Commission has found Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, that Thanathorn had violated an election law by giving the recently formed party a loan, a ruling that could lead to its dissolution and unsettle the country's political climate. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe, File)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Election Commission has ruled that the head of a popular opposition party violated the law by giving the recently formed group a loan, a decision that could lead to its dissolution and unsettle the country’s politics.

The commission announced Wednesday that Future Forward Party chief Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit violated election laws by providing the 191 million baht ($6.3 million) loan, and said it will forward the case to the Constitutional Court, which could dissolve the party and force its lawmakers out of Parliament. The brief statement from the commission implied that it considered the loan to be a donation, which is legally limited to 10 million baht ($330,000).

Thanathorn’s party, which finished third in a March general election, has been an irritant to Thailand’s conservative establishment, in whose favor the courts have consistently ruled. The party is disliked by the establishment not only for its anti-military stance, but also because of its strong popularity.

The coalition government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha currently holds a shaky majority in Parliament, and the expulsion of Future Forward Party members would strengthen its position.

However, it could also energize Prayuth’s opponents, who believe that the March election was conducted under unfair rules implemented by the military regime he headed from 2014 until earlier this year. They also feel the Future Forward Party is being unfairly targeted, contending that members of government parties have acted in a similar manner without punishment.