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Thailand’s Constitutional Court says it will rule on whether to dissolve popular Move Forward party

Thailand's Constitutional Court says it will rule on whether to dissolve popular Move Forward party
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday said it will rule on whether to dissolve the political party that won the most seats in last year’s election for allegedly violating the constitution by proposing to amend a law against defaming the country’s royal family.

The court said it had accepted a petition from the state Election Commission to hear the case against the Move Forward party after finding there was enough evidence, and instructed the party to submit evidence on its own behalf within 15 days.

It said the petition requested the party’s dissolution and a 10-year ban on political activity by the party’s executives.

The court’s decision is the latest move in what is seen as a yearslong attack against the country’s progressive movement by conservative forces trying to keep their grip on power. Move Forward’s predecessor, the Future Forward party, was dissolved by a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020 for violating election laws on donations to political parties. The dissolution was one of the triggers for youth-led pro-democracy protests that sprung up across the country in 2020.

Those protests pushed the boundary for the progressive movement even further by openly criticizing the monarchy and demanding its reform, a subject that was previously taboo. It led to vigorous prosecutions under the law against defaming the monarchy, which Move Forward had campaigned to have amended.

Party leader Chaithawat Tulathon told reporters after Wednesday’s court announcement that the party has been preparing for the case and will seek to prove its innocence. He said the verdict could come within weeks, and the party will hold a news conference then to explain its position.

The same court already ruled in January that the party must stop advocating changes to the law, known as Article 112, that protects the monarchy from criticism by imposing penalties of up to 15 years in jail per offense. That ruling did not set any punishment for the party.

Move Forward came under multiple legal attacks following its election victory. Pita Limjaroenrat, the party’s former leader, was suspended from Parliament after being accused of violating the election law for owning shares in a media company. He argued he was holding an insignificant number of shares merely as an executor of his late father’s estate. Pita resumed his parliamentary duties in January after the Constitutional Court cleared him of the charge.

Thailand’s courts, especially the Constitutional Court, are considered a bulwark of the country’s traditional royalist establishment, which has used them and nominally independent state agencies such as the Election Commission to issue rulings to cripple or sink political opponents.

The Move Forward party finished first in the 2023 general election after campaigning to amend Article 112 and introduce other democratic reforms. The victory indicated that many Thai voters were ready for change after nearly a decade of military-controlled government.

But the military-installed Senate blocked the party from taking power by refusing to agree to Pita’s selection as prime minister. Senators said they opposed Pita because of his intention to enact reforms to the monarchy.

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