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Setback for Thailand's Move Forward Party as court accepts dissolution case

Published 04/03/2024, 01:07 AM
Updated 04/03/2024, 07:47 AM
© Reuters. Move Forward Party supporters gather to protest a day after  the party's leader Pita Limjaroenrat failed to win parliamentary support to become prime minister, in Bangkok, Thailand, July 14, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

By Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand's Constitutional Court on Wednesday accepted a case seeking the dissolution of the opposition Move Forward Party, in another blow for a popular anti-establishment movement pushing major institutional reforms in the country.

The court agreed to take on a complaint filed by the election commission asking to disband Move Forward for its controversial campaign to reform a law that shields the powerful monarchy from criticism, under which at least 260 people have been prosecuted in the past few years.

The case follows a January ruling by the same court that found Move Forward's plan to amend the law was unconstitutional and tantamount to an attempt to overthrow the system of government with the king as head of state.

Move Forward has denied that was its intention. Spokesperson Parit Wacharasindhu on Wednesday said it would prepare its defence and was ready for all scenarios.

The party pulled off a stunning feat in winning last year's election but was blocked from forming a government by lawmakers allied with the royalist military.

Its progressive platform resonated among young and urban voters, including the plan to amend the law protecting the crown, which carries a punishment of up to 15 years jail for each perceived insult of the royal family.

Thailand's monarchy is constitutionally enshrined to be held in a position of "revered worship" and many royalists see the law as sacrosanct. The palace typically does not comment on the law, which is among the strictest of its kind in the world.

CONTENTIOUS AGENDA

If the court rules against Move Forward, it faces dissolution and lengthy political bans for its leadership, the same fate suffered by predecessor, Future Forward, after it was dissolved in 2020 over a campaign funding violation.

A similar complaint over the royal insults law has also been filed with a Thai anti-graft body seeking life bans for 44 of Move Forward's current and former lawmakers.

Move Forward is the biggest party in the lower house with about 30% of seats and recent opinion polls show it is still Thailand's most popular party.

Its reform agenda, including ending military conscription and curtailing business monopolies, has threatened to upend Thailand's conservative status quo, and resulted in a once-unthinkable governing alliance between the populist Pheu Thai Party and proxies of its bitter enemy, the military.

© Reuters. Move Forward Party supporters gather to protest a day after  the party's leader Pita Limjaroenrat failed to win parliamentary support to become prime minister, in Bangkok, Thailand, July 14, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

Move Forward has argued its policies reflect the will of the people and its campaign to change the royal insults law had sought to strengthen the constitutional monarchy and prevent the law from being misused to stifle political opponents.

Its former prime ministerial hopeful Pita Limjaroenrat in February told Reuters his party would "fight tooth and nail" for its future amid efforts to bring down the party, which he said showed paranoia by Thailand's conservative establishment over its reform plans.

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