21 July 2024

“When the upper level of government uses a law and the court mechanism to dissolve a party on behalf of their interest or dislike, it means that they murder the democracy.”

“They murder the future of the next generation living under good principles of democratic and political practices as well,” the Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), Mercy Chriesty Barends, said in response to Move Forward’s lèse majesté case.

Move Forward, the main opposition party in Thailand, is facing possible dissolution after the Election Commission (EC) filed a petition with the Constitutional Court, claiming that the party’s intention to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lèse majesté law, is tantamount to an attempt to overthrow the Constitutional Monarchy.

In an exclusive interview with Thai PBS World, the APHR Chair noted that the reputation of Thailand could be severely damaged if the ongoing court case eventually leads to dissolution.

“If the democracy continues to decline, it will have a major impact on the reputation of Thailand’s current government globally, ultimately affecting its economy,” the Chair said.

While this case is seen as an internal matter, Barends stressed that the dissolution could lead to significant fallout on the democratic landscape and harm the principles of political and democratic ecosystems in the region.

From left to right, Mercy Chriesty Barends and Franc Han Shih

The Chair said that international organisations and other governments should uphold democratic values and political fairness in the region, because what is happening in Thailand is a clear sign of democratic backsliding.

Barends said that preventing Members of Parliament from deliberating particular laws is preposterous, which means that checks and balances in Parliament is compromised. she added that Asian lawmakers should bolster the rule of democratic principles.

“These cases are deeply troubling, as they can potentially infringe on the right of every Thai citizen to participate in public affairs, as voters and candidates. Freedom House (a US based political advocacy group) has also reported that Thailand’s judiciary tends to be politicised and is influenced by political affairs,” the Chair opined.

Not a stranger to authoritarian regimes, Barends explained that her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, survived after the Suharto regime and into the current era, after the original party, the Indonesian Democratic Party, diminished due to political interference.

She strongly urges the Thai judicial system follows the global standards of democracy and respect the will of the Thai people, protecting the integrity of Thailand’s democratic process by rejecting the petition to disband Move Forward.

As Move Forward won the most seats, albeit not an overall majority, in the 2023 General Election, representing millions of Thai voters in the legislature, the APHR Chair underscored that it violates freedom of expression, if the party is dissolved merely for campaigning to reform a particular law.

A dissolution could also have a chilling effect on other politicians and political parties, discouraging lawmakers from amending controversial laws due to the threat of political destruction, according to Barends.

She also noted that Thai student activist, Netiporn Sanesangkhom, who pushed for judicial reform in Thailand, eventually died in jail, which deepens concerns about judicial impartiality and impacts the protections of human rights.

To maintain the democratic system in Thailand, and in other countries in Asia, the Chair suggests that each country should support the democratic values by engaging with global institutions and other like-minded nations.

The charter court has set the date for the first hearing of Move Forward’s lèse majesté case for July 3rd.

By Franc Han Shih, Thai PBS World