Move Forward targeting 112 law in huge political gamble ahead of general election
The opposition Move Forward Party has launched a new push to amend the draconian lèse-majesté law with its policy pledge for the upcoming general election, following failed attempts over recent years.
However, the reformist party appears to be alone in its effort, with most other political parties insisting they will not seek changes to Article 112 of the Penal Code on royal insults. The opposition Pheu Thai Party is the only other major party to have made no clear stance on the matter.
Move Forward’s new move also triggered a fresh threat of dissolution against the party after conservatives accused it of seeking to undermine the constitutional monarchy. Just days after the party issued its controversial election promise, a complaint was lodged with the Election Commission (EC) requesting a probe into whether Move Forward had violated the Political Parties Act.
Calls for repeal of Article 112
Opposition politicians mainly from Move Forward began calling for Article 112 to be repealed in January last year, after it was wielded to charge people attending anti-establishment protests that erupted in late 2020. The calls triggered another heated national debate on the lèse-majesté law, with supporters and opponents clashing on social media.
Article 112 states that “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.”
Lèse-majesté prosecutions have risen sharply since the 2014 military coup, with leaders of anti-establishment protests arrested after openly insulting the Thai monarchy. Police complaints have also been filed against people accused of using social media to attack prominent members of the royal family.
In the face of strong opposition from conservatives, Move Forward submitted a draft bill in February last year seeking to amend the lèse majesté law. However, the House of Representatives Secretariat and the Office of House Meetings rejected the bill on grounds that it was unconstitutional, citing Article 6 of the charter which states that, “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.”
The proposed law sought to remove lèse majesté as a criminal offense against national security and place it under a new chapter relating to the monarchy’s honor. Under Move Forward’s bill, punishment for the offense would have been reduced sharply to a maximum of one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 300,000 baht. The draft bill also stipulated that only the Royal Household Bureau could file lèse majesté complaints with the police, instead of any citizen as is the case under the current law.
The move to amend the law triggered legal action against the second-largest opposition party. Natthaporn Toprayoon, a former adviser to the Ombudsman, lodged a case with the Election Commission (EC) in February last year.
He accused the party of taking a series of actions between August 2020 and January 2021 that were aimed at overthrowing Thailand’s rule of democracy with the King as head of state — a serious charge that threatened the party with dissolution if upheld. However, the EC in June decided not to forward the complaint to the Constitutional Court.
Reviving an old push
Move Forward revived its intention to amend the lèse majesté law by including this as a pledge in its policy platform for the next election, tentatively scheduled for May 7.
The party’s amendment would do away with severe penalties and prevent the law from being arbitrarily used for political advantage or stifling dissent, according to spokesman Rangsiman Rome.
Observers view the platform as the party’s attempt to win support from young voters looking for reform of the monarchy. Move Forward and key figures from its previous incarnation, the Future Forward Party, have actively campaigned for monarchy reform. The opposition party has also sought cuts to the budget allocated to crown-related agencies.
Secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon says Move Forward spent a long time considering and discussing the matter before deciding to include the controversial pledge despite realizing it would be unpopular with many voters.
“Staying idle and quiet would have prompted the question, why does this party exist? We know well that our popularity will be affected if we go ahead with this push,” he said.
‘Lacking political courage’
Chaitawat said there was a pressing need to amend the law, claiming it leads to a “serious problem” in Thai society. He said more than 200 political activists, many of them children below the age of 18, have been prosecuted for violating Article 112 since 2020, citing data from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
He also claimed that many Thai politicians were aware of the problem but lacked “political courage and ethics” to do what should be done. “They are hiding behind the cloak of loyalty to the monarchy so as to achieve political power,” Chaitawat said.
Move Forward’s policy campaign manager Parit Wacharasindhu insists Thailand cannot develop as a “normal democracy” if Article 112 is not amended. He said the law is not in line with international standards.
So far, Move Forward is the only political party to clearly announce its intentions to amend Article 112 if elected. At least 11 political parties, big and small, in both the government and opposition camps, have separately maintained that they see no need to amend the clause.
They include the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, the coalition Democrat, Bhumjaithai and Chart Thai Pattana parties, the royalist Thai Pakdee Party, and the Thai Local Power Party.
Pheu Thai seems to be evading all invitations to make its stance on the matter clear. When confronted by the media for an answer, deputy party leader Sutin Klungsang said only that the priorities for Pheu Thai were the country’s economic problems and financial security, as well as building a “true democracy”.
Move Forward’s latest move has also attracted much criticism from conservatives and royalists outside Parliament, who suspect the reduced penalty is aimed at helping repeat offenders convicted for insulting the monarchy.
Natthawut Wongneam, an expert in public law, recently questioned whether Move Forward’s proposal to reduce the penalty for lesé majestè would discourage future offenses. He suggested that penalties for repeat offenders should instead be increased.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk