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Thailand's popular Move Forward party faces dissolution threat

Thailand's Constitutional Court ordered Move Forward and its former leader Pita Limjaroenrat (pictured) to stop all attempts to amend or abolish the l...

Thailand's Constitutional Court ordered Move Forward and its former leader Pita Limjaroenrat (pictured) to stop all attempts to amend or abolish the l...

Thailand's Move Forward Party (MFP), which won the most seats in parliament during last year's general election, is facing the threat of being disbanded, according to many analysts and political commentators.

The Southeast Asian nation's Constitutional Court ruled last week that the progressive party must abandon its pledge to amend the law on royal defamation.

The court's nine judges deemed it unconstitutional to advocate a change in Article 112 in the country's criminal code — also known as the lese-majeste law.

The law protects the monarchy in Thailand from criticism by imposing severe penalties on those found to violate it, including up to 15 years in jail per offense. Critics have said the harsh law is often wielded as a tool to quash political dissent.

Petition seeking party dissolution

Following the court's ruling, the party was also hit by a succession of complaints seeking its dissolution and life bans for dozens of lawmakers over its stance on the contentious law.

The MFP, however, has denied accusations that it sought to undermine the monarchy and said it only wanted to prevent the wrongful use of the royal insults law.

Napon Jatusripitak, a political researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a Southeast Asia think tank based in Singapore, said Move Forward's dissolution is a "real possibility."

"There is a very real possibility that the MFP will be dissolved. Petitions have already been submitted to the Election Commission. It is difficult to imagine that the EC will be able to sit on this for a long time," he told DW.

"Failure to take action could be construed as neglect of its duty. The Constitutional Court's verdict will likely be cited as grounds to dissolve the party under Article 92 of party laws."

Article 92 of Thailand's Political Parties Act states that if a court finds a political party guilty of seeking to overthrow the Thai monarchy, the electoral commission can gather evidence and petition the Constitutional Court to consider dissolving the party and banning its members from elections for 10 years.

Move Forward blocked from power

The possible dissolution of the Move Forward Party comes about nine months after it came first in the 2023 general election, promising not only a change to the lese-majeste law but also other democratic reforms.

The elections were crucial for Thailand because of its recent political history, which has been marred by coups, protests and exiles. Over 75% of the country's voters cast their ballots in the polls.

Many young people, in particular, voted for Move Forward, hoping they would come to power and implement reforms.

But the military-installed Senate effectively blocked the party from power when they refused to approve then-party leader Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister.

Senators said they opposed Pita because of his intention to seek reforms to the monarchy. This paved the way for Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai party, which finished second in the election, to take over as prime minister.

The development underscored the dominance of the royalist conservative elite on Thailand's political landscape and state institutions.

Will Move Forward meet Future Forward's fate?

Nevertheless, Move Forward continues to enjoy huge appeal, particularly among young and urban voters.

If the party is dissolved, however, it would not be the first time in Thailand.

Five years ago, the hugely popular Future Forward Party (FFP), a reformist political party that preceded Move Forward, urged reforms and ran for government in the 2019 general election.

The party didn't win in the polls. Still, its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was disqualified as a member of parliament over shares he owned in a media firm.

The party was later dissolved by the Constitutional Court for violating election laws by receiving an illegal loan, and party leaders were later banned from politics for 10 years.

The move sparked mass protests in 2020 and 2021, drawing hundreds of thousands of young people to the streets calling for government and monarchy reform.

Political researcher Napon said a Move Forward dissolution now could lead to another severe bout of political unrest.

"For the establishment, what it should have learned is that dissolving the party is an ineffective solution. Keeping the Move Forward Party half dead should be a better alternative than letting it die and fuel for another movement, in a repeat of what happened after the dissolution of Future Forward Party," he said.

Napon said Move Forward "should have already learned and prepared for the worst-case scenario."

"The best possible course of action for Pita would be to prepare the party and its MPs to transition to a successor party. Even if the Move Forward Party is kept afloat, the looming threat of dissolution and bans could prove destabilizing and even paralyzing."

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru