11 July 2024

The lawyer who successfully petitioned the Constitutional Court to block Move Forward’s reform push recently has now gone one step further by seeking the core opposition party’s dissolution.

Theerayut Suwankesorn says he wants to “finish off what he started” after the court on January 31 ordered Move Forward to cease all attempts to abolish or amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law, through “any illegitimate legal procedure”.

In a unanimous ruling by all nine judges, the court found that Move Forward’s campaigning on the issue threatened to undermine the Thai monarchy and was thus deemed an attempt to overthrow the country’s constitutional monarchy, as per Article 49 of the Constitution.

The clause in question, cited by Theerayut in his petition, empowers the Constitutional Court to take action against anyone found to have exercised their rights or liberties to overthrow Thailand’s democratic system with the King as head of state.

‘Finishing the job’

Just a day after the court verdict was issued, Theerayut asked the Election Commission (EC) to follow up on the ruling by seeking a Constitutional Court order to dissolve the party for allegedly attempting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

He cited Article 92 of the Constitution, which empowers the EC to ask the Constitutional Court to dissolve any political party it believes has tried to oust the democratic regime with King as head of state or to gain power by unconstitutional means.

Theerayut said that after carefully considering the court’s written verdict, he decided that as the original petitioner he was obliged to “take complete action” as per his constitutional rights.

“I have direct responsibility to follow up on the verdict, so I need to submit another petition [to seek Move Forward’s disbandment],” he told the media.

A lawyer since 2000

Theerayut, 50, graduated from Ramkhamhaeng University’s Faculty of Law and has worked as a lawyer for the past 24 years. He said he has been an ordinary lawyer dealing with everyday cases since 2000.

In 2013, Theerayut joined the monkhood for two months in a mass ordination held to make merit for then-head of state, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The lawyer entered Onoi Temple in Nakhon Pathom province under its then-abbot, Phra Buddha Isara.

At the time, the head monk was among the leaders of street protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government that began in November 2013.

Theerayut told BBC Thai last year that after leaving the monkhood, he was contacted by an old high-school friend who was also a close aide of Buddha Isara. His ex-classmate told him that the abbot needed a lawyer but found no suitable candidate, so he put Theerayut’s name forward.

Theerayut said he began working as Buddha Isara’s lawyer in 2015 after the monk was accused of criminal wrongdoing during the anti-government protests organized by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Buddha Isara was defrocked in 2018 after being sent to prison for his role in detaining two plainclothes policemen during the protests.

Theerayut was assigned by Buddha Isara to file police complaints against numerous politicians and political activists for alleged lese majeste and sedition following their campaign for reform of the monarchy.

Among those named by the lawyer in complaints were Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, Pannika Wanich, and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul.

‘No hidden agenda’

The lawyer, meanwhile, maintains he was acting independently when he filed the complaint against Move Forward last June. “I didn’t do it because of an order from anyone or because I wanted to be famous. I have no hidden agenda against Move Forward either,” he said.

Theerayut said his friends and colleagues had also voiced concerns for his safety after he sought legal action against the popular political party that had just won the general election and was forming a new government.

However, he said he received no physical threats, even from his neighbours whom he described as Move Forward supporters.

The lawyer said the harshest rebuke came from his younger sister, whom he described as a “hardline red shirt”. Red shirts is the collective name given to supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his proxy party Pheu Thai.

Theerayut said his sister came to admonish him after learning that he worked for Buddha Isara, a staunch critic of Thaksin and Pheu Thai. “She told me to change my last name. It took me a long time to calm her down,” he said.

The lawyer said that he had worked for Buddha Isara in his capacity as a disciple and that he had nothing to do with the then-abbot’s political beliefs.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk