Royalist Lawyer Seeks Dissolution of Thai Opposition Party

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Royalist Lawyer Seeks Dissolution of Thai Opposition Party

The petition was filed a day after the Constitutional Court ordered the Move Forward Party to stop advocating the reform of Thailand’s harsh lese-majeste law.

Royalist Lawyer Seeks Dissolution of Thai Opposition Party

Pita Limjaroenrat, the former leader of Thailand’s Move Forward Party.

Credit: Facebook/Pita Limjaroenrat – พิธา ลิ้มเจริญรัตน์

A Thai ultra-royalist lawyer has lodged a petition seeking the dissolution of the country’s progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), over its plan to amend the country’s harsh lese-majeste law.

Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a former senator and “serial petitioner” with a track record of initiating legal campaigns against opposition politicians, filed the petition with the country’s election commission yesterday, Reuters reported.

The petition was filed just a day after the Constitutional Court ordered the MFP to stop its campaign to reform Article 112 of the Thai penal code, which criminalizes any criticism of the king and the institution of the monarchy.

Responding to a petition filed by in July by another lawyer associated with royalist politics, the court’s nine judges said that it was unconstitutional to advocate a change to Article 112, which it said amounted to an attempt to overthrow the country’s system of constitutional monarchy.

“The court unanimously voted that the act of the two accused exercised the rights and freedom to try to overthrow Democratic System under His patronage …  and order to cease all opinions including speech, writing, publishing, advertising to amend 112,” read the court’s ruling, according to The Associated Press.

The MFP began advocating the reform the lese-majeste law after it was used to quash the student-led mass protests that took place in 2020 and early 2021. The protests, which followed the court-ordered dissolution of the MFP’s predecessor party, Future Forward, broke the taboo against advocating reforms to the untouchable power of the Thai monarchy. Since the 2020 protests, at least 262 people have been charged with lese-majeste, according to the advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

This policy, along with its other promises to abolish military conscription and break up powerful business monopolies, proved a hit at last year’s general election, when the MFP won more seats than any other party. But the party’s successes have prompted a full-blown backlash from Thailand’s royalist establishment, which blocked it from forming government and have initiated

Although the Constitutional Court did not have the power to sanction the MFP, Wednesday’s ruling was always likely to prompt further legal challenges against the party.

Sure enough, Ruangkrai barely waited until yesterday’s news had faded from the headlines before filing a formal petition seeking the MFP’s dissolution. This alone suggests that the petition was drafted and ready to go, which speaks to the almost scripted nature of the recent developments. In some ways, his request flows quite naturally from Wednesday’s Constitutional Court ruling: if the MFP is guilty of seeking the overthrow the country’s political system, then it would be shock if further sanctions, such as the dissolution of the party and the banning of its leaders from politics, were not forthcoming.

The events of the past week offer a textbook example of how the Thai political establishment has used the tools of the state to prevent the emergence of any effective source of opposition. It employed similar tools repeatedly against the political movement led by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (in addition to launching two military coups to remove governments headed by Thaksin and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra), as well as against the Future Forward Party in 2020.

Whether or not the MFP survives this challenge, it will be lucky to remain intact by the time Thai voters next go to the polls in 2027. Its popularity, and its status as the center of democratic energy in Thai politics, cannot have been harmed by its being exiled into opposition. The frustration of its young, urbanized support base

With the Thaksinite Pheu Thai Party sacrificing its progressive bona fides by serving in coalition with parties backed by the military establishment that sought its ouster for so many years, the MFP is well placed to expand further its share of the vote further at the next election. On top of this, the military-appointed Senate will not have the right to vote to confirm the prime minister after the country’s next election, as it did in 2019 and 2023. The question, then, is not whether the royalist establishment will seek to disqualify the MFP, but when and how.