Authorities in Bangkok stepped up security across the capital Wednesday as Thailand braced for a court ruling on whether to dissolve the kingdom's two main political parties.
The judgment, which some analysts warn could plunge the country into chaos, comes after more than a year of political upheaval, including in a bloodless military coup last September.
Thailand's Constitutional Tribunal will decide whether Thai Rak Thai (TRT), the party formed by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the Democrat Party are guilty of fraud over annulled elections in April last year.
If found guilty, the tribunal has the power to dissolve the two parties and ban their executives from politics for five years.
TRT has been charged with illegally financing smaller parties to contest the 2006 election in a bid to boost the polls' credibility.
The Democrat Party, which ruled Thailand on and off for a decade before TRT first swept the polls in 2001, faces four charges of electoral fraud including obstructing political campaigning and slandering TRT.
Analysts warn that disbanding Thailand's main parties could cause political disarray, even if they simply re-establish themselves under new party names and leaders.
They say the move would wipe out a generation of veterans and discourage younger politicians from stepping into leadership roles, significantly altering the kingdom's political landscape.
"If we send them all to the political wilderness, who would be there to administer the country?" said Michael Nelson, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
More immediately, fears that a negative verdict might spark violence among party supporters, particularly Thaksin loyalists, have prompted warnings that the ruling junta could resort to "an emergency decree" if necessary.
Already, thousands of government troops are on alert, said Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd, Council for National Security (CNS) spokesman.
"If (the situation) turns violent ... my government is ready to declare a state of emergency," Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said after meeting with top defence officials.
Leaders from both the TRT and Democrat Party have promised to respect the court's ruling.
"I am confident that the party will not be banned," said TRT head Chaturon Chaisang as he arrived at the court ahead of the verdict announcement.
A relaxed Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, told reporters his party would release a statement once it knew its fate.
About 15 onlookers stood outside the court, which was ringed by a cordon of police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs.
"From now on the situation is under control," said Lieutenant General Adison Noncie, metropolitan police chief, as the nine judges met behind closed doors.
Mobile phones will be blocked for the verdict announcement and checkpoints have been set up on highways into the capital to prevent party supporters from massing, police said.
"Based on intelligence reports, there are several groups of protestors, Surayud said earlier.
"But... I don't think there will be violence if they accept the court verdict," he added, urging people watch the ruling from home.
Despite the heavy security presence and warnings of possible trouble, the scene outside the courthouse was quiet, with police and reporters outnumbering the handful of curious onlookers.
A majority of shops in the area were closed, but vendors said they did not expect any clashes in their neighbourhood.
Last Mod: 30 Mayıs 2007, 13:08