Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit
Thai students are expected to stage a protest on Saturday against a court's decision that dissolved the country's second largest opposition party, less than a year after an election to end direct military rule.
The Constitutional Court on Friday disbanded the upstart Future Forward Party, which won more than 6 million votes last year and came in third, for accepting loans from its founder.
The court also banned 16 party executives from politics for 10 years, including its charismatic billionaire leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
The ban strengthens the position in parliament of a coalition led by Prime Minister Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former junta leader who first took power in a 2014 coup.
The court’s ruling brought swift criticism from human rights groups and democracy advocates.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok also said on Saturday that the decision "raises questions about their representation within Thailand’s electoral system."
The Student Union of Thailand said it will hold a "No Justice in the Country" rally at Thammasat University, to protest against unjust laws and the dissolution of Future Forward.
"We are holding the rally against the injustice in the country," student union president Jutatip Sirikhan, 21, told Reuters.
The health ministry warned against public gatherings during the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"A political gathering is not appropriate at this time and could increase risk of an outbreak," health official Tanarak Pipat said but added if there is a gathering, organizers should filter participants with flu-like symptoms and provide masks and hand gel.
Thailand has recorded 35 cases of the coronavirus.
Having been barred from office, Future Forward's leaders vowed to continue advocacy and political work across the country, including military reform and welfare policies from the former party's manifesto.
On Sunday, the former Future Forward Party's spokeswoman, Pannika Wanich will hold a "no-confidence motion" event in Bangkok ahead of a censure debate in parliament on Monday.
Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said the court decision "illustrates how the authorities use judicial processes to intimidate, harass and target political opposition. Thai authorities must reverse the dissolution decision and restore genuine rights to freedom of expression and association in the country."
The party's dissolution was "a knockout blow for Thailand’s teetering efforts to restore democratic rule after a military dictatorship,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said.
“This decision seriously weakens the political opposition for the benefit of the military-backed ruling party and unjustly cancels the votes of over six million Future Forward Party supporters,” Adams said.
"We hope that the will of Thai people will be adequately reflected by the Thai parliament," the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok told Reuters.