Thailand’s progressive Move Forward party is bracing for a lawsuit that could dissolve it


BANGKOK (AP) — The former leader of Thailand’s progressive opposition party Move Forward vowed Sunday to keep fighting as the party faces a lawsuit that could lead to its dissolution.

The Constitutional Court has agreed to govern on whether the party violated the constitution by proposing to change a law banning defamation of the country’s royal family. The petition requested the dissolution of the party and a ten-year ban on political activities by its executives. The court cannot yet say when the court will rule in this case.

Pita Limjaroenratthe former leader of Move Forwardexplained the details of the party’s legal defenses presented to the court during a press conference on Sunday.

“If there is a rule of law in Thailand, I am confident that the party’s arguments will prevail,” he said.

Pita said that the Constitutional Court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the case and that the Electoral Commission’s petition did not follow due process because Move Forward was not given the opportunity to defend itself before the case was referred to the court submitted.

The petition was subsequently filed the same court ruled in January that the party should stop advocating changes to the law, known as Article 112 in Thailand’s criminal code, which shields the monarchy from criticism by imposing penalties of three to 15 years in prison per violation.

That ruling did not impose any punishment on the party.

Move Forward shook up Thai politics by winning the most seats in last year’s general election, but was prevented from taking power and has since fought several legal battles to maintain its positions in parliament. The lawsuits are seen as part of a years-long attack on the country’s progressive movement by conservative forces seeking to maintain their grip on power.

Move Forward’s predecessor, the Future Forward party, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court in 2020 for violating election laws regarding donations to political parties.

Move Forward has emphasized that it wants to keep the monarchy above politics and not be exploited as a political tool.

Thailand’s monarchy is considered untouchable, but student-led pro-democracy protests sparked by the dissolution of Future Forward in 2020 began to challenge that sentiment by openly criticizing the monarchy. That led to strong prosecutions under the law, which critics say is often used as a tool to stifle political dissent.

The advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says that more than 270 people have been charged with violating Article 112 since the beginning of 2020. Some of these are Move Forward’s own lawmakers.

Thailand’s courts, especially the Constitutional Court, are considered a stronghold of the country’s traditional royalist establishment, which has used them and nominally independent government bodies such as the Election Commission to issue rulings to paralyze or sink political opponents.

Pita warned that getting rid of the country’s largest opposition party would represent “an attack on democracy” as it would weaken the mechanism of checks and balances on the government.

“The strength of democracy is not about how robust the government is, but about how honest and active the opposition is,” he said.

The Move Forward party finished first in the 2023 general election after campaigning to amend Article 112 and implement other democratic reforms. The victory signaled that many Thai voters were ready for change after nearly a decade of military-controlled government.

But the military-installed Senate prevented the party from taking power by refusing to endorse Pita, the party’s candidate for prime minister. Senators said they opposed Pita because of his intention to introduce reforms in the monarchy.

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