Thai Election Commission Requests Dissolution of Move Forward Party

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Thai Election Commission Requests Dissolution of Move Forward Party

If the MFP is disbanded, the party’s political energy is almost certain to re-emerge in an alternate, and likely more radical, form.

Thai Election Commission Requests Dissolution of Move Forward Party

Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of Thailand’s opposition Move Forward Party, speaks in Udon Thani, Thailand, March 2, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/Pita Limjaroenrat – พิธา ลิ้มเจริญรัตน์

Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) has taken another step toward the disbanding of the Move Forward Party (MFP), which finished first in last year’s general election on a progressive platform. In a decision yesterday, the Commission said that it would ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve the MFP, because of its campaign promise to amend Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, which criminalizes critical comments about the country’s monarchy.

The decision came after the Constitutional Court ruling on January 31, which found that the party’s proposed amendments to Article 112 constituted an attempt to overthrow Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.

“There is evidence that Move Forward undermines the democratic system with the king as the head of state,” the EC said in a statement yesterday, Reuters reported.

“The Election Commission has considered and analysed the Constitutional Court verdict and has decided unanimously to ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Move Forward party.” If the MFP is dissolved, its leaders could be banned from politics for 10 years.

Responding to the EC’s decision, Move Forward said that its campaign was aimed at strengthening the constitutional monarchy and was merely about preventing the law from being misused.

“We have no intention to overthrow the democratic system with the king as the head of state,” MFP spokesperson Parit Wacharasindhu was quoted by Reuters as saying. “We will prove our innocence at the Constitutional Court.” Parit said that the party had already prepared for the EC’s decision, and had prepared backup plans for various scenarios.

The MFP won a surprising victory at last year’s general election, on a progressive platform that included pledges to break up business monopolies and end military conscription. But the party was blocked from forming a government by the military-appointed Senate and has since come under legal scrutiny for its campaign pledges to amend Article 112, often referred to as the lese-majeste law, which it claims has been used as a tool to silence political dissent.

Given its previous ruling regarding the MFP’s Article 112 campaign pledge, it is hard to see the Constitutional Court refusing to accept the EC’s recommendation and ordering the disbanding of the MFP, a move that would effectively nullify the votes of 14.4 million Thai voters.

Indeed, there is both an inexorability and predictability to the legal proceedings against Move Forward. Since the turn of the century, every time a political party has emerged that is deemed to pose a threat to the Thai conservative establishment and its sustaining institutions – the monarchy and Royal Thai Army – they move swiftly to neutralize the threat.

In 2020, the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of Future Forward, the MFP’s predecessor, on a legal technicality, and banned many of its leaders from politics for lengthy periods. Before Future Forward, there were many attempts to hobble the political movement associated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which involved two military coups (in 2006 and 2014) and the dissolution of several Thaksin-aligned parties.

The emergence of the MFP as a serious force at last year’s election, and the demonstration that there is a broad popular appetite for the reforms it promised, has clearly set alarms screaming at the heights of Thai politics. Indeed, the threat from the MFP is serious enough to prompt the rehabilitation of the once-hated Thaksin, who returned to Thailand last year and is now effectively a free man, the various corruption-related charges from this time in power conveniently expunged.

All this leaves the question of what might follow the Constitutional Court’s expected dissolution of the MFP. The disbanding of Future Forward prompted the emergence of a youth protest movement in 2020 and 2021 that went much further than any previous ones in its diagnosis of Thailand’s political problems, connecting it to the previously unchallenged institution of the Thai monarchy. Broad popular frustration, especially among Thailand’s youth, helped transform the MFP, initially founded under a different name in 2014, into a de facto successor of Future Forward and propelled it to victory at last year’s election.

As the past few decades have demonstrated, each thwarting of the popular will has prompted democrats to undertake more and more searching critiques of Thailand’s current power arrangements. In 2020, this led many to broach the dangerous topic of the monarchy, which has long been used to sacralize the country’s agglomerations of power and wealth. (Many protest leaders have since been charged with lese-majeste.) As the MFP’s electoral success suggests, these more searching critiques have been no bar to broad popularity, with nearly the entirety of the capital Bangkok, previously considered a stronghold of “yellow shirt” conservatism, voting for the MFP.

The political energy captured by the MFP is therefore almost certain to re-emerge in alternate, and likely more radical, form. This points to the circular and self-defeating nature of the Thai establishment’s attempts to place certain institutions beyond popular scrutiny, and continuing cyclical political crises in the coming years.

History offers some examples of how these social dynamics might play out. In early 1848, Austria’s Chancellor Prince Metternich wrote to Lord Palmerston requesting British support to put down the rising forces of revolution that would rise across the continent during the course of that year, from Paris to Cologne. Palmerston demurred, warning that the coming combustion was in many ways the product of Metternich’s own reactionary inclinations. “Your politics of oppression, which tolerates no resistance, is a fatal one,” he wrote, “and leads as surely to an explosion as a hermetically sealed cauldron which has no safety-valve.”