Thailand’s most popular political party could face dissolution after the country’s Constitutional Court ruled its signature policy illegal.
The Move Forward Party won the most votes and seats at last year’s election on a progressive platform, the centre of which was a proposal to amend the country’s strict royal defamation laws.
The laws, known as Section 112, are some of the strictest of their kind in the world and carry penalties of up to 15 years in jail for criticising or insulting Thailand’s monarchy.
Move Forward’s proposed amendments included reduced sentences and a requirement that complaints must be filed by the royal household.
As it stands, anyone can file a complaint of lese majeste against anyone else and police are obliged to investigate – a situation Move Forward argues allows the law to be used for political purposes.
The Constitutional Court ruled the party’s campaign to promise to amend the lese majeste law violated the constitution and was tantamount to an attempt to overthrow the entire political system in Thailand.
The court said the plan to amend Section 112 showed “an intent to separate the monarchy from the Thai nation, which is significantly dangerous to the security of the state”.
While the verdict carries no penalty, it is expected to open the door to legal challenges that could seek to dissolve the party and ban its leaders – something Thailand’s progressive parties have faced before.
Already, former senator Ruangkrai Leekitwattana has declared he will file a complaint with the Election Commission to seek dissolution.
The member of the conservative Palang Pracharat Party filed similar petitions with the Election Commission last year but was previously rejected.
Mr Ruangkrai also filed the complaint with the Election Commission over former Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s ownership of shares in a media business, which was dismissed last week, allowing Mr Pita to be reinstated as a member of parliament.
Human Rights Watch has said that in a worst-case scenario, 44 Move Forward MPs who signed the proposal to amend Section 112, including Mr Pita, could face lifetime bans from politics.
Speaking at a press conference after the ruling, Mr Pita expressed disappointment.
“It’s an opportunity lost, that we can use the parliament to find different views and an opportunity to find the consensus building for such an important and critical and fragile issue, that parliament would be the best place to do it, and we lost that opportunity today,” he said.
When asked what his message was to the millions of Thai voters who supported the party and its proposed change to Section 112, his message was simple.
“We’ve tried our best and we have a very true intention of finding the proportionality of law between the protection of the monarchy and the proportionality of freedom of speech in modern Thailand, so we’ve tried our best.”
The Constitutional Court in 2020 ordered the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, the predecessor of Move Forward – sparking widescale youth-led protests openly criticising the monarchy.
Many of the protest leaders and participants have since faced lese majeste charges.
Last month, a Thai court sentenced a man to 50 years in jail for comments deemed to be defamatory to the monarchy – the highest-ever sentence handed down under the lese majeste law.
Details of what prompted the harsh sentence for Mongkol Thirakot have not been published.