A Thai Constitutional Court ruling in favor of the governing Democrat Party has ended months of uncertainty whether the country's oldest political party would be dissolved, allowing the political focus to turn to elections expected next year.
On Monday, a senior Thai judge read the Constitutional Court's decision this week to drop a case against the governing Democrat Party. Had the court ruled against the party, it would have been disbanded and its leaders banned from politics for five years, throwing the government into disarray.
But the Democrats, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, remain at the core of a multi-party coalition government that came to power two years ago. The verdict was based on a fair interpretation of the law, says Democrat spokesman Baranaj Smutharak.
"The decision is just, based on the law and laws that the court considered. Any application by any other court with regard to any other party, the verdict would have been the same," he said. "As a party we have always maintained that we acted strictly in accordance to the laws. The party can now shift its focus back to where it should be, that is solving the country's problems."
The court ruled that the Attorney General's office had been too late in filing charges that the Democrats had misused campaign funds.
Kudeb Saikrajang, a former government spokesman and a supporter of the opposition Puea Thai Party, says the ruling came as no surprise to the opposition. He thinks the Attorney General's office should be held accountable for the case being dismissed.
"It's so easy. We expect that it would turn out to be something like that given the fact that a Democrat is in power. But it turns out to be so easy to throw away the case," he said. "The Attorney General should be blamed then because they are the ones who filed the case. How can we believe in that institution, the attorney general?"
The ruling did not determine if the Democrats had breached election laws, says Kudeb.
"We have been kept wondering for a whole year just to come to know that okay, the whole process is wrong, just because the Attorney General and the Election Commission has submitted [documents] too late,” he said. “What we want to know is whether there are irregularities in the case, [if] the Democrats have done something wrong? If they have done nothing wrong, okay. "
The Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest political organization, took office in 2008 after court rulings ousted two governments aligned with Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister. He was ousted in a 2006 military coup. Mr. Thaksin remains influential here, and is particularly popular in rural areas and among the urban poor and working class.
Thousands of opposition supporters, known as the Red Shirts, this year staged mass protests in a bid to press the government to hold early elections. The Red Shirts, many of whom back Mr. Thaksin, occupied central Bangkok for more than two months before the army forced them out. About 90 people, most of them civilians, died during the protests.
Most of the Red Shirts are now focusing on preparing for the next election, says Chris Baker, an author and commentator on Thai history and politics who recently met with Red Shirt supporters in their stronghold in northern Thailand.
"Nobody took any notice of these cases at all," said Baker. "They knew it wouldn't make any difference. This stuff doesn't matter. They are very much concentrated on when the election will be and how that will be managed."
The government must hold elections by the end of next year. Some political analysts have said that Red Shirt politicians are likely to win.
Despite the court ruling this week, the Democrats face another charge over allegedly receiving more than $8 million in an undisclosed donation from a Thai businessman. Party leaders say they are innocent and that the funds were never received. A verdict in that case is expected in the next few months.