BANGKOK, April 3 ––Thailand’s Constitutional Court agreed today to hear a case seeking the dissolution of the reformist Move Forward Party over its campaign pledge to reform the kingdom’s tough royal defamation laws.

The party upended the kingdom’s political order in last year’s May election, scoring the most votes after a campaign promising reform of the military, business monopolies and to amend the lese-majeste legislation.

But its audacious bid shocked the Thai establishment and ended with the party locked out of a coalition government following months of political and legal wrangling.

Last month, the Election Commission (EC) agreed “unanimously” to petition the Constitutional Court to dissolve MFP over the party’s campaign pledge to reform the kingdom’s tough royal insult laws.

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In a statement, the Constitutional Court said Wednesday it “accepts this request for ruling”, adding the party had 15 days to submit evidence.

It follows another court decision in January that ruled MFP’s campaign pledge over the lese-majeste laws amounted to an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

Thailand has a history of political parties being wound up by judicial intervention, including MFP’s forerunner the Future Forward Party (FFP), which was dissolved in 2020 over finance issues.

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Lese-majeste

Last month, the MFP spokesperson Parit Wacharasindhu told reporters the Constitutional Court decision was “not unexpected”.

“Most importantly, I do not want everyone to think party dissolution is normal, no matter what party it happened to,” he said.

While there is no clear timeframe from the court, MFP’s predecessor the FFP was dissolved just months after the EC decision.

The ruling helped spur huge numbers onto Bangkok’s streets in 2020, with unprecedented calls to reform the kingdom’s lese-majeste laws—known as 112 after the relevant section of the criminal code.

MFP built on that protest movement, appealing to millions of Thais wearied by a lack of change after a near decade of military-backed rule.

However it was undone at the final hurdle, with then-leader Pita Limjaroenrat blocked from becoming prime minister by conservative forces in the Senate, ostensibly because of the threat he and the party posed to the monarchy.

He returned to parliament in January after the Constitutional Court cleared him of breaching election laws in a separate case that could have seen him barred from politics.

The lese-majeste law is intended to protect the king—a revered, semi-divine figure in Thai society—from insult, and those breaking it can face up to 15 years in jail per offence.

But critics say the legislation has been interpreted so broadly in recent years as to shield the royal family from any kind of criticism or mockery.

Hundreds of people have faced royal insult charges in the wake of the protests, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal group that handles many cases.

They include senior protest leaders and at least one elected MP. —AFP