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Thai Court Dismisses Campaign Violation Charges Against Ruling Party

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is kissed by a supporter at his Democrat Party headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 29, 2010. The ruling Democrat Party survived a legal challenge Monday that could have seen it dissolved and a new government forme

A Thai court has dismissed charges of violating campaign rules against the ruling Democrat party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The case threatened to dissolve the Democrats, the oldest party in Thailand, and ban Mr. Abhisit and other leaders from politics for up to five years.

Thailand's Constitutional Court on Monday dropped a case accusing the ruling Democrat Party of misusing part of a $900,000 government grant in 2005. The court ruled the Election Commission did not file the case according to legal procedures.

Justice Udomsak Nitimontree read out the decision, broadcast live on national television.

Since the case was brought in April 2010, he said, it was not within the 15-day legal deadline, so the process was unlawful. Therefore, the Constitutional Court does not need to interpret the matter any further, he said, adding the case against the Democrats was dismissed with a vote of four judges in favor and two against.

Had the court convicted the party, it could have been dissolved and its leaders, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, banned from politics for five years.

The ruling is likely to raise accusations of double standards by opposition groups who say the Democrat Party is backed by elites who conspired to remove elected opposition leaders.

Many in the opposition support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra whom the military ousted in 2006, after he had been elected twice. He now lives in exile to avoid jail time for corruption charges.

Two of Thaksin's successors, both his allies, were removed from power by controversial court orders and after demonstrations by protesters wearing yellow who claimed to protect democracy and the monarchy.

The so-called yellow shirts surrounded the central government offices for months and shut down Bangkok's airports to force a change of government.

No one has yet been prosecuted for those protests.

Thousands of their opponents, known as the red shirts, mimicked those tactics earlier this year, occupying parts of Bangkok for two months to demand new elections.

The government ordered the military to end to the occupation, leading to clashes with armed protesters that left 90 people dead, most of them civilians.

Red shirt leaders were charged with terrorism and if convicted could be sentenced to death.

Although the charge of violating campaign rules was dismissed, the Democrat party still faces a charge of accepting an illegal $8 million dollar campaign contribution.

Party officials deny the charge.