May 19, 2024

Election commission says reformist party’s bid to change lese-majeste law undermines governance system but MFP promises to ‘prove innocence’.

Thailand’s election commission has taken action aimed at disbanding the Move Forward Party (MFP), a reformist party that finished first in last year’s election on a progressive platform.

The polling body said on Tuesday that it would ask the constitutional court to dissolve the MFP, whose campaign include a promise to change strict laws against insulting the country’s royals that outraged Thailand’s conservative elite.

The move follows the court’s ruling in January that the MFP’s plans to change the lese-majeste law shielding the monarchy from any criticism or mockery violated the constitution.

Having studied the ruling, which deemed that proposed amendments to article 112 of the criminal code constituted an attempt to destroy Thailand’s constitutional monarchy, the commission said it had decided “unanimously” that the party should be disbanded.

“There is evidence that Move Forward undermines the democratic system with the king as the head of state,” it said in a statement.

If MFP is dissolved, its leaders could be banned from politics for 10 years.

The party has argued its campaign was aimed at strengthening the constitutional monarchy and preventing the law from being misused.

“We have no intention to overthrow the democratic system with the king as the head of state,” Move Forward party spokesperson Parit Wacharasindhu told Reuters on Tuesday. “We will prove our innocence at the constitutional court,” he said.

Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, attends a press conference following the general election, at the party's headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, May 15, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo/File Photo
Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, attends a press conference following the general election, at the party’s headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 15, 2023 [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Locked out of government

The MFP upended the kingdom’s political order in May 2023’s poll, defeating military-backed parties with promises to reform the military and business monopolies, as well as amend the lese-majeste laws.

But the party’s audacious bid, which resonated among young, urban voters, ended with it being locked out of power, the royalist military torpedoing its attempts to form a government.

Former leader Pita Limjaroenrat was blocked from becoming prime minister by conservative forces in the Senate, ostensibly because of the threat he and the party posed to the monarchy.

He returned to parliament in January after the constitutional court cleared him of breaching election laws in a separate case that could have seen him barred from politics.

Thailand has a history of political parties being wound up by judicial intervention, including the MFP’s forerunner, the Future Forward Party, which was dissolved in 2020 over financial issues.

Divine status

Breaking the lese-majeste law, intended to protect the king, a semi-divine figure in Thai society, can land offenders with up to 15 years in jail.

Reform of the law, known in Thailand as 112 after the relevant section of the criminal code, was a major theme of massive demonstrations in 2020, which featured unprecedented public criticism of the royal family.

Hundreds of people faced royal insult charges in the wake of the protests, according to legal group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Anti-government demonstrators write a slogan on a street during protest demanding the release of arrested leaders charged with lese majeste law in Bangkok, Thailand March 6, 2021
Anti-government demonstrators write a slogan on a street during protests in Bangkok on March 6, 2021 [File: Jorge Silva/Reuters]

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