Thailand's ousted leader, called on members of his Thai Rak Thai Party to accept a court verdict that dissolves the party and bars most of its top members from politics for five years. But as Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the party faithful have vowed to press on, raising fears of unrest.
Thaksin Shinawatra, now living in London, called for Thailand's military and government to hold general elections soon. He also urged Thai Rak Thai Party members to accept the constitutional tribunal's verdict.
Late Wednesday, the constitutional tribunal ordered the party Mr. Thaksin set up in 1998 to be dissolved. The judges banned more than 100 of its executives from politics for five years.
Thai Rak Thai or Thai Love Thai Party, was found guilty of election violations and bribery during the inconclusive April 2006 general election, which was later annulled.
Jakrapob Penkair, who had served as a Thaksin government spokesman, said the former prime minister considers the verdict too harsh.
"Khun [Mr.] Thaksin expressed deep regret that the result has come this way. He himself said that it should not have been this severe. It is up to the [party] members in Thailand itself to fight for rights," said Penkair. "All I can say is that members of Thai Rak Thai will not lay down and take it."
Jakrapob accuses the tribunal of issuing a political rather than legal verdict.
Party officials say they will appeal.
Mr. Thaksin's government was widely popular in rural areas, but was increasingly unpopular among the middle class. After nearly a year of anti-Thaksin protests in Bangkok, the military ousted Mr. Thaksin last September and appointed an interim government, which filed election fraud charges against both his Thai Rak Thai party and the leading opposition group.
The government has heightened security around the country. Protests against the verdict are expected in the northeastern provinces, which are Thai Rak Thai strongholds. In Bangkok, party supporters planned a rally Thursday.
The Democrat Party, which the tribunal cleared of election fraud charges, called for reconciliation. Media reports and political analysts say the ruling leaves the Democrats in a stronger position when elections are eventually held.
The military and the interim government have said elections will be held after a new constitution is drafted, probably before the end of the year.
Chulalongkorn University professor Somphob Manaragsan says the verdict should help the country move forward.
"There is some clearer picture of the Thai political economic development after one of the deadlocks has been broken through," said Manaragsan. "I think that was a very important step."
Somphob also says the public generally considers the tribunal to have been a legitimate way to resolve conflict in the country. But he doubts its verdict will end Mr. Thaksin's political aspirations.
Other analysts say party members believe the tribunal discriminated against them, raising fears that deep political divides will remain.