Supporters of embattled Thai opposition party hold big rally

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Thailand's Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gestures as he talks to his supporters during rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. Several thousand supporters of a popular Thai political party, under threat of dissolution, packed a concourse in central Bangkok on Saturday in one of the largest political demonstrations in recent years. (AP Photo/Str)

BANGKOK – Several thousand supporters of a popular opposition party in Thailand that is under threat of dissolution rallied Saturday in the nation's capital in one of the largest political demonstrations since a 2014 coup.

The crowd, which gathered mostly on an elevated walkway connecting malls and mass transit stations and spreading out to the streets below, heard the leader of the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkrit, make an impassioned speech urging them to stand up and fight for democracy.

The party came from nowhere to finish third in this year's general election, the first poll since the military in 2014 staged a coup that was led by Prayuth Chan-ocha, the current prime minister. Its progressive, anti-military agenda has needled Thailand's conservative establishment but has struck a chord with the young.

Since the election, Future Forward has faced a string of legal cases. Last month, the Constitutional Court stripped Thanathorn of his lawmaker status, ruling that he violated a regulation on media ownership.

This past Wednesday, the Election Commission ruled that the party had broken the law by accepting an illegal loan from Thanathorn, who is a billionaire, and recommended it be dissolved. Few people expect the Constitutional Court, which is seen as closely aligned with the country's military-royalist establishment, to disagree.

The concerted legal moves have angered supporters of the opposition party, who believe it is the victim of a conspiracy.

"I think it shows that people will not tolerate dictatorship anymore," Thanathorn said of the large turnout as he left the rally.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok earlier this month, Thanathorn said that the legal cases against him and his party were "ïrrelevant" compared with an effort by the establishment to not allow "peaceful transitions through democracy to happen.”