Thai Election Body to Seek Dissolution of Progressive Party That Won Last Year’s General Election

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The Move Forward party’s leader, Chaithawat Tulathon, center right, and its former leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, center left, talk to reporters during a news conference at parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, on 31 January 2024. (Photo: AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Election Commission said on Tuesday, 12 March it will seek the dissolution of the progressive Move Forward party, which won last year’s general election, after a court ruled that the party’s proposal to amend a royal anti-defamation law was unconstitutional.

The commission said that after studying the Constitutional Court’s ruling, its members unanimously agreed to file a case with the court seeking the party’s dissolution because they believed the proposal was an attempt to overthrow Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.

It was unclear whether the court would accept the petition.

Parit Wacharasindhu, a spokesperson for Move Forward, said the party’s legal team would “try their best until the last second to prevent the party from being dissolved,” and that proving its innocence would also help “create a proper standard for Thai politics in the future.”

The Constitutional Court ruled in January that the party must stop advocating changes to the law, known as Article 112, which protects the monarchy from criticism, by imposing penalties of up to 15 years in jail per offense. It did not set any punishment for the party.

Critics say the law is often used to quash political dissent. Student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020 openly criticized the monarchy, previously a taboo subject, leading to vigorous prosecutions under the law.

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

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

But the military-installed Senate blocked the party from taking power by refusing to approve then-party leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s nomination as prime minister. Senators said they opposed Pita because of his intention to reform the monarchy.

Move Forward also came under multiple legal attacks following its election victory. Pita was suspended from Parliament after being accused of violating the election law by owning shares in a media company. The Constitutional Court on 24 January cleared Pita of the charge, allowing him to resume his duties as a lawmaker.

The dissolution in 2020 of the Future Forward party, a forerunner of Move Forward, by the Constitutional Court triggered vigorous street protests by pro-democracy activists.