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Thai democracy faces pivotal week which could see poll-winning party dissolved

Thai democracy faces pivotal week which could see poll-winning party dissolved
Bangkok — Thailand’s democracy movement faces a pivotal week as the Constitutional Court considers whether to dissolve the election-winning Move Forward Party (MFP), a ruling which would effectively nullify the votes of 14 million people and trigger a new period of political instability.  MFP became Thailand’s largest party at the May 2023 polls, winning 151 parliamentary seats and igniting calls to cut the army from politics and redistribute wealth and power more evenly.   But it was blocked from forming a government and has since run into endless obstacles brought by a conservative establishment rattled by its success.   The court will meet on June 12 to consider MFP’s fate on an allegation that it breached the Thai constitution by calling for reform of the royal defamation law — which protects the monarchy from criticism — during its election campaign.  Party frontman Pita Limjaroenrat says MFP had no intention of overthrowing the monarchy, as alleged, with a call to amend a law that has seen scores of young pro-democracy activists charged since 2020.  The activists came out to protest when the same court dissolved Move Forward’s predecessor — Future Forward.   “No one can really say how the court is going to rule but if we are to be dissolved this would be two parties in five years,” Pita told reporters Sunday at a news conference.  “I don’t even want to think or forecast how this might affect Thailand especially when our society, economy, and politics are still fragile,” he added.    The court is widely expected to strike out the party, which has the potential to stir a new round of political uncertainty.  “In the short term, there may be big protests across the country like those that happened when they dissolved Future Forward,” Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang, a constitutional scholar at Chulalongkorn University, told VOA.  “But in the long term I’m more concerned that the conservative elite will actually succeed in slowly weakening the progressive movement, by banning MPs and dissolving whatever the next party incarnation is.”  The monarchy sits at the head of Thai power, backed by an army which has carried out 13 coups since the kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.  Where coups have failed to end the democracy cause, the courts have stepped in by banning parties and popular politicians, mainly from groups which threaten the status quo.   The Constitutional Court can also impose a decade-long political ban on the party leader — including Pita — when it renders a decision.  What happened  Move Forward emerged from last year’s poll as the most serious threat to the elite order in a generation. Harvard-educated leader Pita appeared primed for the premiership.  But he was blocked from taking office by senators who were appointed by generals after the last coup in 2014. The party was subsequently forced into the role of the opposition.  Instead, conservatives rallied behind the Pheu Thai party, formerly Thailand’s most radical group, to take the reins of government.  The courts have previously taken out parties linked with Pheu Thai’s founder, 74-year-old telecoms billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra. Until its deal to lead the government, Pheu Thai was seen as the gravest threat to the establishment.   Now it finds itself aligned with its former enemies.   “There’s no such thing as normal politics in this country,” Sirote Klampaiboon, an independent scholar and political commentator, told VOA.   Referring to the establishment’s opposition, Klampaiboon said, “A political entity can be destroyed at any time. Participatory democracy can be destroyed at any time.”  Even the current coalition government is now also being destabilized by court cases against its prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, and Pheu Thai’s patron, Thaksin.  Experts say it is a sign of the kingdom’s conservatives exerting their behind-the-scenes control over politics despite losing the popular vote.   If Move Forward is dissolved, most of its lawmakers are expected to regroup under a new banner, whose name has yet to be announced.   Others, however, may defect to coalition parties — a common practice in Thai politics — weakening its parliamentary hand.   Thailand’s latest democracy movement stems from Future Forward, founded by the billionaire scion of an auto parts empire, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.  Future Forward won 6 million votes in the 2019 election but was dissolved a year later with Thanathorn banned from politics for a decade for breaching media shareholding rules, which he denied.   Four years on, the party’s successor Move Forward won 14 million votes.  Thanathorn, a charismatic figure who still pulls large crowds wherever he goes, says the future belongs to a new era in politics.   “If Pita was our prime minister this would already be the beginning of a new era of progressive Thailand,” he told the audience at a June 1 screening of a documentary about his rise from nowhere to the center of Thai politics.  “I’m confident that by 2027, when we will have the next election, our political horizons will be closer. Whatever our party name will be… we will absolutely be ready.”
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