Thai Court Dissolves Ruling Party, Bans PM From Politics For 5 Years
The Constitutional Court also barred the party's top leaders, including Somchai, from politics for five years, raising the risk of clashes between his supporters and anti-government protesters who are blockading the capital's two airports.
The yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrators at the airports have been seeking to topple Somchai, whom they accuse of being a pawn for his brother-in-law, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and is now in exile.
A grenade was fired from a flyover near the domestic airport hours before the court hearing, killing one anti-government protester and wounding 22 people.
The electoral fraud case was scheduled to be heard at the Constitutional Courthouse in Bangkok on Tuesday, but authorities moved it after hundreds of red-shirted government supporters surrounded the building.
The ruling on allegations of vote fraud in the December 2007 election will not necessarily mean a snap election as many PPP MPs will simply switch to a new "shell" party already set up.
Fears of violent clashes, or worse, are growing.
"It now seems that violence cannot be avoided. Some even predict what has been unthinkable for 700 years: a civil war," the Bangkok Post said in an editorial.
It also asked: "Does Thailand have a functioning government?"
That question could be even more pertinent after the court ruling forcing the PPP to disband.
Several thousand PAD supporters have occupied the prime minister's offices since August but the PAD has said it would hand the compound back to the authorities on Tuesday.
A Reuters reporter said only a handful of PAD activists remained at Government House early on Tuesday. There were no police present, but cranes had arrived to remove the shells of six buses used to barricade surrounding roads.
The PAD leadership apparently intends to move more supporters to the international airport, which has been blockaded for a week, adding to the pain of a tourist- and export-dependent economy already suffering from the global financial crisis.
Thousands of foreign tourists have been stranded and the air cargo industry has ground to a halt.
Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech told Reuters on Monday the economy might be flat next year, or grow by just 1-2 percent, after earlier growth forecasts of between 4-5 percent.
The chaos has worried Thailand's neighbors, due to meet in the country in two weeks for a regional summit. The Thai cabinet is expected to approve a delay to March when it meets in Chiang Mai on Tuesday. (Reuters)