16 July 2024

After witnessing its figurehead, Pita Limjaroenrat, cleared in his media shareholding case last week, the opposition-leading Move Forward Party will be keeping its fingers crossed as the Constitutional Court prepares to issue another verdict on Wednesday.

While the court has not been asked to decide whether the reformist party should be disbanded, Wednesday’s ruling could support subsequent legal efforts to dissolve Move Forward.

The case stems from a petition by lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn, who in July last year accused the party and its then-leader Pita of seeking to overthrow Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. Theerayut asked the Constitutional Court to issue an order putting an end to the alleged acts.

He claims that Move Forward’s policy to amend the lese majeste law violates Article 49 of the Constitution, which states that: “No person shall exercise rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as head of state.”

The clause also states that any person who learns of such an act can call on the attorney-general to request a Constitutional Court order to halt the infringement. If the attorney-general rejects or fails to act on the petition within 15 days, the petitioner can take the complaint directly to the Constitutional Court.

Theerayut took the matter to court after petitioning the attorney-general in May but getting no answer for 15 days.

Not seeking disbandment

The lawyer said recently that his petition does not demand Move Forward’s disbandment but simply asks the court to order Pita and his party to stop trying to change Article 112 of the Penal Code, better known as the lese majeste law. Theerayut claimed the party’s draft amendments would completely alter Article 112 and remove legal protections for the Thai monarchy, undermining the key institution. He described the move to amend the law as hostile to the monarchy.

He said that if Wednesday’s ruling went against the party, he expected to see another petition asking the court to disband Move Forward for undermining the monarchy. However, he had yet to decide on whether to file such a complaint himself, he added.

He said a precedent for the current case was set when the Constitutional Court ordered the Thai Raksa Chart Party’s dissolution for “putting the monarchy at risk” after it nominated Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial candidate in the 2019 election. By involving the King’s elder sister in politics for its advantage, the party had ignored a fundamental principle of constitutional monarchy, and its action was deemed “hostile to the democratic regime of government with the King as head of state”, the court said.

‘Three options for court’

Asst Prof Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, director of Thammasat University’s Law Centre, reckons there are three possible outcomes for the current case against Move Forward.

The first possibility is that the court dismisses the petition on grounds that the party’s policy to amend Article 112 does not amount to an attempt to overthrow the country’s constitutional monarchy.

Or it could rule that Move Forward’s policy is not a direct attempt to topple the constitutional monarchy, but could still order the party to cease such activities.

The third possibility is that the court finds the party guilty of attempting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and orders it to be disbanded.

The academic said the third scenario was also the least likely since the petition had only asked the court to halt Move Forward’s campaign to amend the lese majeste law, and not to disband the party. Prinya views the second scenario as the most likely outcome.

‘Signs of faltering’

Move Forward seems to have toned down its campaign to reform the lese majeste law as “judgment day” approaches. Party mentor Piyabutr Saengkanokkul last week accused Move Forward of faltering in its commitment to change Article 112 ahead of Wednesday’s court verdict.

The law professor, a co-founder of Move Forward’s previous incarnation, Future Forward, said Pita, who is now chief advisor to party leader Chaithawat Tulathon, failed to mention Article 112 when he announced Move Forward’s plan for 47 draft laws to help transform Thailand into a “complete democracy” via constitutional amendments, reforms of the military and the bureaucracy, decentralization of power, and an upgraded social welfare system, among others.

Future Forward was dissolved by the Constitutional Court in February 2020 after judges ruled that it had violated rules on party donations.

Piyabutr has campaigned relentlessly for reform of the Thai monarchy and changes to Article 112, which carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison for anyone found guilty of insulting the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk