Skip to main content

Thailand: Court Ruling Could Subvert Democratic Rule

Move Forward Party Faces Dissolution, Banning of Leaders from Politics

Former leader of the Move Forward Party Pita Limjaroenrat, left, and the party's current leader Chaithawat Tulathon at a news conference at parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, January 31, 2024. © 2024 AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

(Bangkok) – Thailand’s Constitutional Court will rule on a petition that could result in dissolving the country’s main opposition party and banning its leaders from politics, Human Rights Watch said today. The Move Forward Party (MFP), which won the largest number of seats in the May 2023 general elections, faces politically motivated allegations of high treason.

The Constitutional Court ruling, expected in the last week of April 2024, could have a serious impact on Thailand’s return to genuine democratic rule.

“From the start, the Thai Election Commission’s petition to the Constitutional Court against the Move Forward Party was a politicized battering ram,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It is crucial for the court to issue its ruling free from political pressure since it will have long-term implications for democracy in Thailand.”

On April 3, the Constitutional Court accepted a petition from Thailand’s Election Commission alleging that the MFP committed high treason by advocating reform of Penal Code section 112 on lèse-majesté (insulting the monarchy). The Election Commission contended that the Constitutional Court should dissolve the party and impose the maximum 10-year ban from politics on its executives under section 92 of the Act on Political Parties. The Election Commission filed its petition without allowing the party to counter the allegations.

The Constitutional Court should provide the Move Forward Party with the opportunity to present evidence and elaborate its defense in person, Human Rights Watch said. The court has given the party until April 18 to file its defense.

The Election Commission’s case is based on the Constitutional Court’s ruling on January 31 that the Move Forward Party’s campaign to amend the lèse-majesté law amounted to an attempt to abolish Thailand’s constitutional democracy with the king as head of state, contravening the constitution. Article 49 of Thailand’s constitution prohibits people from using their rights and freedoms to overthrow the monarchy.

In its January ruling, the Constitutional Court said that the MFP tried to either change or revoke section 112 on March 25, 2021, when its 44 members of parliament submitted a bill to amend the section. The court also ruled that party members in parliament gave tacit support to monarchy reform movements by taking part in civil society activities and providing bail guarantees to detained activists. The Constitutional Court held that such actions showed an intent to subvert the monarchy, which is “significantly dangerous to the security of the state.”

The Constitutional Court then ordered the MFP to cease its actions – including expressing opinions, speaking, writing, publishing, advertising, and conveying messages by any means – in pursuit of amending section 112. The party said that while it accepted the ruling, Thai society would lose an opportunity to use its parliamentary system to find solutions to conflicts. It reiterated that the party had no intention to overthrow the monarchy.

Disbanding the Move Forward Party would violate the rights of its members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996.

Article 25 of the ICCPR ensures the right of citizens to participate in public affairs, and to vote and run for public office in free elections. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts who review state compliance with the convention, has stated that this article protects the right to “join organizations and associations concerned with political and public affairs,” and that “political parties and membership in parties play a significant role in the conduct of public affairs.”

Eliminating the Move Forward Party would also seriously undermine Thailand’s efforts to fully restore democratic rule after years of military dictatorship. It would weaken checks-and-balances by the political opposition and unjustly cancel the votes of over 14 million supporters of the party.

Thailand’s allies and relevant UN agencies should publicly make clear that dissolving the party would severely affect Thailand’s standing as a generally rights-respecting country, Human Rights Watch said. Concerned governments should withdraw support for Thailand’s bid for the UN Human Rights Council for the 2025 to 2027 term if the MFP is dissolved.

“If a hugely popular political party that calls for reforms can be dissolved on specious grounds, the democratic rights of all Thais are at risk,” Pearson said. “Thailand’s allies should be clear that disbanding the Move Forward Party will damage the country’s efforts to achieve greater respect for human rights and democratic rule.”

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country