Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party has survived a legal challenge which could have seen it dissolved and a new government formed after the Constitutional Court dismissed a charge that it misused an election fund.
The court ruled that the case brought by the Election Commission had not followed proper legal procedure – a point the party stressed in its defence.
The ruling will likely meet widespread criticism that the court applied double standards, as previous verdicts have run against the Democrats’ political opponents.
If found guilty by the court, the party could have been disbanded and about 40 of its executives – including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – banned from politics for five years, forcing the formation of a new government.
The Election Commission accused the ruling party of spending some of a 29 million baht (£605,000) government fund without proper approval during the 2005 election campaign. Mr Abhisit was the party’s deputy leader when the alleged incident took place.
Thailand’s turbulent politics puts unusual pressure on the Constitutional Court. The country has been polarised since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup. The divisions have led to deadly violence.
Demonstrations by so-called Red Shirt supporters of Mr Thaksin led to bloodshed in the streets of Bangkok last May with about 90 people killed and more than 1,400 wounded before the protests were crushed by the army.
Mr Thaksin and his supporters have complained of double standards within the legal system. Mr Thaksin’s opponents, known as the Yellow Shirts, have yet to be prosecuted for occupying the prime minister’s office for three months and taking over Bangkok’s two airports for a week.
Mr Abhisit’s two predecessors – both Thaksin allies – were removed from office by court decisions.
Mr Abhisit’s government came to power in December 2008, when it attracted support from enough politicians from other parties to cobble together a governing coalition. Political opponents claim it came to power illegitimately, and the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts have sought early elections. The government’s term expires in December 2011.