| Updated at: 0730 PST, Monday, October 18, 2010|
BANGKOK: Thailand's prime minister is due in court on Monday as his Democrat Party faces a corruption case that could lead to its dissolution and cause fresh upheaval in the deeply divided kingdom.
Abhisit Vejjajiva will be a witness for the defence at the Constitutional Court in what is expected to be the final hearing in the case which centres on
claims of misuse of a 29-million-baht (900,000 US dollar) state grant in 2005.
The Democrats -- Thailand's oldest party -- could be dissolved if found guilty, while the premier, who was deputy leader of the party at the time, could be handed a five-year ban from politics, alongside other executives.
Thailand's Election Commission (EC) in April called for the party to be abolished over the claims as well as a separate case alleging an undeclared political donation.
The Democrats are accused of paying 23 million baht to advertising firms, despite only having permission to spend 19 million on billboard marketing.
Abhisit has rejected accusations that a member of his party had attempted to influence the judiciary over the case and predicted a verdict next month.
Judicial rulings have played a pivotal role in shaping the kingdom's political landscape in the past.
The Democrats came to power two years ago after court decisions ousted allies of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was dislodged in a 2006 military coup.
Two premiers were deposed from office by the judiciary in 2008 -- one of whom, Samak Sundaravej, was removed for taking payments for hosting TV cooking shows.
Uncertainty over the government comes at a difficult stage for the country, which remains bitterly torn in the wake of deadly protests.
April's EC intervention coincided with a tense standoff between troops and "Red Shirts", which descended into violence that left over 90 people dead and almost 1,900 injured during two months of unrest.
The Reds accuse Abhisit's government of being undemocratic because it came to power in a parliamentary vote after the controversial court rulings and their protests have called for immediate elections.
Observers question whether powers thought to support Abhisit's ruling coalition -- including the military and Yellow Shirt movement, representing the Bangkok elite in palace circles -- would allow the Democrats to be toppled.
Author and former Thai diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun said he does not believe the party will be disbanded.
"What is the point of staging a military coup in the first place when they know the party they rely on will have to be dissolved?" he said.
However, he said one potential motive would be as a gesture to the Red Shirts to rebuff allegations of double standards in the legal system.
Pavin said "even then, they will have a plan B", with rumours that a new party would swiftly rise from the ashes of the old.