Thailand’s Progressive Move Forward Party Ordered to Halt Campaign for Reforms on Royal Defamation Laws

Bangkok, Thailand – The progressive Move Forward Party in Thailand, which emerged as the winner in the last election, has been ordered by the country’s top court to halt its campaign to reform royal defamation laws. The party’s victory in the May 2020 general election disrupted the political order, but its advocacy for military, business monopoly, and lese-majeste law reforms unsettled the conservative elite. As a result, former party leader Pita Limjaroenrat was prevented from becoming prime minister, and the Move Forward Party was excluded from the governing coalition.

On Wednesday, Thailand’s Constitutional Court deemed the party’s pledge to reform the strict laws protecting King Maha Vajiralongkorn as an attempt to “overthrow the monarchy.” Labeling the proposed amendment to the royal defamation law as a significant threat to national security, the court stated it demonstrated an intent to separate the monarchy from the Thai nation.

According to the court, such reforms pose a risk to the peace, order, and good morals of the country. Consequently, the court ordered Pita Limjaroenrat and the Move Forward Party to immediately cease their campaign for lese-majeste reform. Pita, who stepped down as the party leader last year, recently returned to parliament after the same court cleared him of breaching election laws, avoiding a potential political ban.

Prior to the ruling, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, former leader of the dissolved Future Forward Party, a forerunner to the Move Forward Party, advocated for a discussion on lese-majeste. Thanathorn emphasized that laws are not divine and can be amended by humans, questioning the state of the country if lawmakers cannot make changes.

The lese-majeste law, meant to protect the revered Thai king from insult, carries penalties of up to 15 years in jail per offense. However, critics argue that recent interpretations of the legislation have excessively shielded the royal family from criticism and ridicule. This month, a man received a 50-year prison sentence for Facebook posts deemed insulting to the monarchy.

In 2020, rubber ducks took on symbolic importance during youth-led street protests in Bangkok, resulting in a two-year prison sentence for a man selling satirical calendars featuring the ducks. With unprecedented public criticism of the royal family during the demonstrations, reforming the lese-majeste law became a central theme. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal group handling many cases, reported that more than 250 people have faced royal insult charges since the protests, including senior protest leaders and an elected MP.

The ruling by the Constitutional Court adds another chapter to the ongoing debate over the lese-majeste law in Thailand. While it upholds the strict protection of the monarchy, the move draws criticism from those who argue that open discourse and reform are essential for a healthy democracy. The verdict also exposes the deep divisions within Thai society and the challenges faced by progressive political parties seeking change.