Thailand’s Democracy On The Brink: Constitutional Court Considers Shutting Down Main Opposition Party

On 3rd April, Thailand’s Constitutional Court announced the acceptance of a petition presented by the Election Commission (EC) demanding the dissolution of the main opposition movement, the Move Forward Party (MFP), based on its controversial attempt to reform the law that shields the monarchy from criticism. According to the Court, “The action of the accused displays the use of freedom of thought to demand the destruction of the democratic system of governance with the King as the Head of State, hidden within, and through the call to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code as party policy”. This is just the latest attempt to put an end to the existence of the MFP, which is seen by the conservative and pro-status quo parties as an anti-establishment force threatening the traditional political landscape of Thailand.

It all began on 31st January, when the Constitutional Court ruled that the party had violated the Constitution with its plan to reform the lese-majesty law, included in Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. The MFP proposed an amendment that would rewriting the provision, so that any complaint of lese-majesty ought to be filed by the Royal Household Bureau, and not by politicians or other parties. Since Thailand’s monarchy is enshrined in the Constitution and held in a position of “revered worship”, this kind of measure to change the law is seen as threatening the very existence of the monarchy in the country.

The Move Forward Party has justified its program by arguing that the reform plan is an answer to the will of the people and a way to strengthen the Constitutional monarchy and protect the law from being abused by political opponents seeking to use it as a weapon to browbeat their adversaries. Notwithstanding the MFP’s motivations, a series of further attacks on the movement’s existence ensued following the Court’s decision. On 12th March, the Election Commission Political Party Registrar submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court asking for the party’s dissolution, believing that the MFP presents a threat to the monarchy and therefore needs to be dismantled, as noted in Section 92 of the Organic Law on Political Parties. This request poses a serious danger to the survival of the MFP.

Several activists and supporters of the Move Forward Party (MFP) have denounced the various petitions presented against the movement, especially the one by the Electoral Committee (EC). For example, on 23rd March, a group led by lawyer Phattarapong Supaskson submitted a complaint to the Central Investigation Bureau demanding to investigate the EC for its alleged malpractice in its handling of the MFP’s dissolution case. Since it is the EC’s responsibility to make sure that the policies of the political parties are legitimate and constitutional, it should have banned the MFP and its lese-majesty policy when the party wanted to register itself for general elections in May 2023. Given that the request for dismantlement came almost a year later, when the party and its leadership had become more popular and received more public support, the EC’s decision is considered questionable, biased, overly favourable to conservatives in power, and likely to hinder the existence of the main opposition force.

Thailand is no stranger to this sort of event. The Move Forward Party’s predecessor, Future Forward, which supported similar policies, was dismantled in 2020 following an accusation of having violated campaign funding rules. If the Constitutional Court were to find the Party in breach of Section 92 of the Organic Law on Political Parties, as the Election Commission claims, not only would the MFP be disbanded, but its leadership would face a political ban for life. This would result in the silencing of the opposition, which is believed to be threatening Thailand’s political status quo based on conservative and royalist ideals. The MFP’s reform agenda, which seeks to end military conscription, restrict business monopolies, and reform archaic lese-majesty laws, is seen by other parties as a serious menace to the very essence of Thailand.

What the Move Forward Party is trying to accomplish is far from unconstitutional or an existential  threat to the country. Through its reform plan, it hopes to make Thailand a stronger democracy, free from the manipulation and malpractice of conservative forces which have often used laws, especially the lese-majesty one, to dispose of unwanted opponents. In recent years, more than 260 people have been arrested and prosecuted on the grounds of having insulted the monarchy.

As MFP’s leader Mr. Chaithawat Tulathon stated, “What we [MFP] are confronting is because our success is too much and too fast for them [the party’s political opponents]. We have made them feel that things are not the same. […] Thai politics and society are changing so fast that they fear this will affect their power structure so they are trying all they can to get rid of us by using independent agencies and laws to stop change. They see Move Forward as a threat.”

Banning political parties is just one many tools at the disposal of opposing parties fighting for their survival and the maintenance of an outdated status quo. If the Constitutional Court were to side with the Election Committee, and decide to dismantle the Move Forward Party, this would represent a grievous blow to democracy in Thailand. The will of the people, who elected the movement almost a year ago, would be overlooked; their voices would be silenced and unheard.

Many other movements akin to Move Forward have been banned throughout Thailand’s modern history. Another setback in the path towards a stronger democratic state could, on this occasion, culminate in social unrest and even civil war. As Mr. Chaithawat Tulathon stated previously, times are changing and the Siamese people are ready to embrace such change. The fate of democracy is in the hands of the Constitutional Court. Will justice prevail, or will Thailand remain trapped in its status quo? Only time will tell. One can only hope for the best outcome to prevail and for democracy to triumph.


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