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Thai poll body asks court to dissolve MFP party

Election commission says reformist party’s bid to change lese-majeste law undermines governance system
Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat leads a victory parade with fellow party members and supporters on May 15, 2023.

Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat leads a victory parade with fellow party members and supporters on May 15, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 13, 2024 05:12 AM GMT
Updated: March 13, 2024 05:18 AM GMT

Thailand's election commission says it will ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve the reformist Move Forward Party (MFP), which won the most seats at last year's polls.

The MFP upended the kingdom's political order in May's election, scoring the most votes after a campaign promising reform of the military, business monopolies and to amend the lese-majeste laws.

But their audacious bid shocked the Thai establishment and ended with them locked out of a coalition government following months of political and legal wrangling.

The election commission (EC) said on March 12 in a statement it had agreed "unanimously" to seek the dissolution over MFP's campaign pledge to reform the kingdom's tough royal insult laws.

It follows a Constitutional Court decision in January that ruled MFP's pledge over the laws protecting the Thai royal family amounted to an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

"The EC has studied the ruling and agrees unanimously to submit a case to dissolve the Move Forward Party to the Constitutional Court," the EC said in a statement.

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

"What happened today is not what we want to see, and we do not want it to happen -- but it is not unexpected," MFP spokesperson Parit Wacharasindhu told reporters.

"Most importantly, I do not want everyone to think party dissolution is normal, no matter what party it happened to," he said.

"I do not want everyone to conclude that the MFP has been dissolved until the decision is made," Parit added.

There is no clear time frame from the court, however, the Future Forward Party was dissolved just months after the EC decision.

The ruling helped spur huge numbers onto Bangkok's streets in 2020, with unprecedented calls to reform the kingdom's lese-majeste laws.

MFP built on that protest movement, appealing to millions of Thais wearied by a lack of change after a near decade of military-backed rule.

But despite their success in May, then-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.

Lese-majeste 

The lese-majeste law is intended to protect the king -- a revered, semi-divine figure in Thai society -- from insult, and those breaking it can face up to 15 years in jail per offence.

But critics say the legislation has been interpreted so broadly in recent years as to shield the royal family from any kind of criticism or mockery.

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

Hundreds of people have faced royal insult charges in the wake of the protests, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal group that handles many cases.

They include senior protest leaders and at least one elected MP.

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