One of Thailand’s most prominent progressive politicians has been banned from standing for political office for life for breaching “ethical standards” in a photo that she posted online 13 years ago. Pannika Wanich, 35, is a member of the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), and was elected to parliament under its predecessor, the now-dissolved Future Forward Party.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a complaint that was filed against her by Srisuwan Janya, an ultra-royalist demagogue often described as a “serial petitioner” for his frequent filing of complaints against those he deems as insufficiently respectful of the Thai monarchy.
Srisuwan filed the complaint to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in 2019 over posts that were published on Pannika’s personal Facebook account. The posts included a number of photos, including one image taken at her university graduation in 2010, in which she appears pointing at a portrait of the then King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In doing so, Srisuwan claimed, Pannika had breached the “ethical standards” necessary for those holding public office.
The NACC subsequently concurred with these allegations, claiming that she breached ethical standards while serving as an MP because she had failed to remove the posts or block public access to them. It then sought a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
“The Court ruled that she has violated the ethical standards of a person who holds the political position,” Pannika’s lawyer Krissadang Nutcharat told the AFP news agency. “The court has banned her from enrolling in politics for the rest of her life.”
The lifetime ban on running for office comes on top of the 10-year ban handed down by the Constitutional Court in February 2020, when the Future Forward Party was dissolved. The ruling also handed similar bans to Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and 14 other prominent members of the party.
Following the party’s dissolution, Pannika joined Thanathorn and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul in forming the Progressive Movement, a policy institute affiliated with the MFP that seeks fundamental reforms to Thai politics. Indeed, the Progressive Movement is responsible for the party’s ambitious agenda, which included pledges to break up powerful monopolies, abolish military conscription, and – most controversially – reform the lese-majeste law, which criminalizes any criticism of the monarchy. Despite – or rather, because of – this overtly anti-establishment platform, the MFP scored a surprise victory at the country’s general election in May.
The Supreme Court ruling against Pannika is just the latest in a long line of examples of Thailand’s conservative political and legal establishment closing ranks to stymie the emergence of an effective anti-establishment alternative. As Jonathan Head, the BBC’s longtime Bangkok correspondent, noted yesterday on X (formerly Twitter), similar court rulings have shaped the trajectory of Thai politics profoundly over the past decade. “So many parties dissolved, political figures banned, governments deposed,” he wrote. “It’s endless political supervision and intervention by the judiciary.”
The ruling comes after the MFP, despite winning the most seats at general elections in May, was prevented from forming the government by the military-appointed Senate, which voted along with conservative members of the House of Representatives to block the party’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, from the prime ministership.
Move Forward was subsequently forced into opposition, and a unity government was formed under its former ally, the Pheu Thai Party, which included parties linked to the military. The party’s future is also uncertain, given that it faces a number of similar royalist “petitions” accusing it of seeking to overturn Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. Based on past precedent, the courts are very likely to rule against the party.
Speaking to the media after yesterday’s ban, Pannika pledged to continue her political fight. “No one can deprive me of my right to engage in political work. Everything remains unchanged regarding my missions under the Progressive Movement banner, and I will continue to contribute to election campaigns in the future,” she said, according to the Thai Enquirer. “We have come this far, and we will not halt our progress until we reach the finish line. Positions do not matter; what truly matters is the extent of the country’s advancement.”