Thanit Kesawapitak, one of nine judges on the tribunal that examined charges against the party, said after the verdict: "The facts cannot prove that the Democrats did any wrongdoing so there is no reason to dissolve the Democrats."

Political reactions

 

The Democratic Party's political opponent, Thai Rak Thai (TRT), formed by Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, welcomed the verdict.

 

They too hope to escape punishment when the verdict on their party is due to arrive later on Wednesday.

 

"As the Democrats survived the verdict, if Thai Rak Thai is dissolved it will not be fair for us, as we the party members have not done anything"

TRT supporter

Kudeb Saikrajang, a TRT party executive, said: "We have to congratulate them, the Democrats. The oldest party survived the verdict, and we do hope that TRT, who have less than 10 years of history, will get fair treatment as well."

 

The tribunal's senior judges cleared the Democratic party of four charges stemming from elections in April 2006, including slandering their opposition and obstructing campaigning.

The judges also ruled that none of the Democrat's executives will be barred from politics.

Tight security

A Bangkok police spokesman said 1,800 uniformed, riot and plain-clothes police were on the streets around the court with orders to evacuate the judges if the situation turned ugly after the rulings.

The verdict was met with joy by
supporters of the Democrats [AFP]

The military leaders and temporary administration also had 13,000 "emergency" police and troops "ready to come out if things escalate", Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd, a military spokesman, said.

TRT supporters were worried about the outcome of their verdict, but confident the party which swept the polls in 2001 would survive.

 

Thaksin, who is living in exile in London, and other top members of his party could be banned from politics for five years.

Few doubt the generals, who say they staged last September's coup to prevent violence as a street campaign against him grew, want Thaksin out of politics before a general election promised in December.

However, banning the telecommunications billionaire would anger millions of his supporters in the countryside who gave him two election landslide victories and still see him as the only politician who really cares about them.