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Thai Court Invalidates Move Forward's Campaign Against Lese Majeste Law

The Constitutional Court of Thailand has recently made a significant ruling that hampers the opposition Move Forward Party's attempts to amend the country's strict royal insult law. The court deemed the party's campaign to amend...

The Constitutional Court of Thailand has recently made a significant ruling that hampers the opposition Move Forward Party's attempts to amend the country's strict royal insult law. The court deemed the party's campaign to amend Article 112, also known as the lese majeste law, as a violation of the constitution. In a unanimous decision, the court argued that Move Forward's efforts amounted to an endeavor to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

The reformist party, led by prime minister candidate Pita Limjaroenrat, apparently pursued an agenda to "destroy" the government structure with the king as the head of state. The court accused the party of disguising its intentions under the proposal to amend the controversial law.

The campaign to abolish or modify the law, which can result in up to 15 years of imprisonment for each offense, has taken various forms, including protests, social media campaigns, and legislative processes. The court expressed concerns that allowing such actions to continue could ultimately lead to the overthrow of the democratic government with the king as the head of state.

Move Forward's pledge to reform the draconian law played a crucial role in its success during the general election in May, where it garnered 40% of the popular vote. Although the guilty verdict does not immediately dissolve the party, it does strip it of its flagship agenda that resonated strongly with urban voters and the youth.

Peter Mumford, the Southeast Asia practice head at Eurasia Group, highlighted the potential implications of the ruling on political and social stability. Thailand witnessed anti-government protests and unprecedented calls for monarchy reforms in 2020 following the disbanding of Move Forward's predecessor, Future Forward Party.

The court emphasized the importance of preserving the monarchy's politically-neutral status, perceiving any attempts to erode or weaken it as detrimental to the institution. Move Forward's leader, Chaithawat Tulathon, expressed concerns that the verdict might intensify the monarchy's prominence as a point of conflict in Thai politics. The party plans to study the court's full verdict to prepare for any legal obstacles that may arise.

Pita, the Move Forward Party leader, stressed that their attempt was not meant to cause any deterioration of the monarchy. He stated that the verdict has broader implications for Thai society, impacting the future, democracy, and the political landscape going forward.

The recent ruling follows a previous decision by the Constitutional Court, which cleared Pita of breaching election rules and lifted a six-month suspension on his lawmaker duties. The military-appointed Senate had previously cited Pita's media shareholdings to justify blocking his nomination for premiership, despite his coalition commanding a majority of lawmakers in the lower house.

Napon Jatusripitak, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, commented on the implications of the verdict, asserting that it eliminates much hope for changing the conservative status quo through formal parliamentary channels. This crisis of identity poses a significant challenge to Move Forward's role as a party institution.

Thailand has a history of taking action against pro-democracy parties, politicians, and activists. Move Forward's predecessor, Future Forward Party, faced dissolution in 2020 after the charter court found them guilty of illegal loans. Party founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and other leaders were subsequently banned from politics for a decade.

Since November 2020, at least 263 individuals have faced charges under the lese majeste law, as reported by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Pita Limjaroenrat, the Move Forward Party leader, makes a pro-democracy salute during a demonstration against Thailand’s lese majeste law, in Chiang Mai on Feb. 4, 2023. Pita and other Move Forward Party members make a pro-democracy salute during a demonstration against Thailand’s lese majeste law, in Chiang Mai on Feb. 4, 2023. (Source: Pongmanat Tasiri—SOPA/LightRocket/Getty Images)

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