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The Constitutional Court yesterday (12 June) ordered the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) to submit a list of additional evidence in support of its petition for the dissolution of the Move Forward Party (MFP) and the disqualification of MFP leaders before it reconvenes on 18 June.

Move Forward Party leaders onstage at their final campaign event before the May 2023 general election.

The petition was filed after the Constitutional Court ruled on 31 January that campaigns put forward by the MFP and its former leader Pita Limjaroenrat to amend the royal defamation law are treasonous.

The Court issued a press release yesterday (14 June) stating that, following a discussion among judges, it has ordered the ECT to submit evidence in support of its petition by next Monday (17 June), before the Court reconvenes on Tuesday (18 June).

The MFP previously submitted its defence on 4 June. On Sunday (9 June), the Party held a press conference explaining its defence. Former Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat noted that the Constitutional Court has no jurisdiction over the petition, since the Constitution does not give it the authority to dissolve political parties.

Pita also said that the ECT had not followed its own procedures when submitting the petition. Under its own regulations, the ECT is required to notify the party it is seeking to dissolve and allow the party to defend itself before submitting a petition seeking dissolution. However, the MFP was never notified or allowed to submit evidence to defend itself before the ECT sought its dissolution.

The Court will have to consider the ECT’s petition independently from the 31 January ruling, Pita said. It cannot be taken for granted that the party had committed treason, and the Court will have to reconsider all the facts, including whether the allegedly treasonous actions are those of the Party or whether they are treasonous.

Pita said that dissolving a party should only be used as a last resort and only to protect democracy. The MFP’s actions, including proposing legislation and party members acting as guarantors for people charged with royal defamation, are not treason. Complaints against the party for these actions have previously been filed with the ECT, and all of them have been dismissed. The MFP also never received a warning from the ECT about its policies or campaign while another party did receive a warning for mentioning the monarchy at one of its campaign events and another has been asked to explain how it intends to use the national budget for its proposed policies.

Meanwhile, the amendment to the royal defamation law proposed by MFP MPs has not been included on parliament’s agenda, and even if it had, it could be dismissed or amended during the parliamentary process. The Constitutional Court can also intervene if it deems a bill unconstitutional. The MFP’s alleged offenses, Pita said, have not taken place and are something that can be prevented by mechanisms built into the legislative process. Because of this, he said, there is no urgent need to dissolve the party.

Party leader Chaithawat Tulathon said yesterday (14 June) that the party will be filing more evidence with the Court, including a record of an interview given by the chair of the ECT saying that the ECT has not followed its own procedure before seeking the party’s dissolution.

The Court has not set a date for the verdict or ruled whether to hold a hearing. However, Chaithawat said he hopes there will be a hearing so that the party can fully defend itself.

Human rights organizations have spoken out against the MFP’s dissolution. Mookdapa Yangyuenpradorn, Human Rights Associate at Fortify Rights, said that the action against the MFP “highlights a troubling disparity between its international commitments and domestic practices.” She calls on the international community to question Thailand’s commitment to human rights if the authorities continue to seek the MFP’s dissolution.

“Silencing political opposition through the dissolution of the Move Forward Party sends a chilling message about Thailand’s stance on freedom of expression,” Mookdapa said, noting that choosing to dissolve the MFP would undermine Thailand’s credibility on the international stage, especially when it intends to run for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. 

“Thailand is at a crossroads. Choosing to dissolve the Move Forward Party will not only damage Thailand’s democratic fabric but also cast a long shadow over its aspirations to lead in human rights,” Mookdapa said.

“Protecting freedom of expression and ensuring judicial fairness are crucial pillars for any democratic society and indicators of a country’s alignment with international human rights standards. The Move Forward Party’s dissolution would leave an indelible mark on Thailand’s human rights record.”

Meanwhile, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) have called on the international community to monitor and take action to discourage the MFP’s dissolution, noting that the “probable judicial overreach” risks encroaching on the prerogative of the legislative branch and disregarding the separation of powers. The international community should also explore the possibility of holding accountable those committing judicial harassment in Thailand.

APHR Chair and Indonesian MP Mercy Chriesty Barends said that preventing parliament from deliberating on the royal defamation law undermines democracy, since it puts the law beyond amendment.

“APHR urges the international community to continue monitoring the deteriorating human rights and democratic situation in Thailand and to take appropriate measures to protect not only parliamentarians at risk but also other political prisoners,” said Barends.

Charles Santiago, APHR Co-chair and former Malaysian MP, said that democracy in Thailand is “backsliding, not only due to a military coup, but also through dubious interpretations of laws employed to target opposition politicians.”

Santiago said that banning the MFP would disenfranchise millions of voters and likely lead to unrest that could destabilize the country. “This would not only hurt Thailand’s democratic development, but would further harm the economy and damage the reputation and legacy of the current Thai government,” he said.

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