Thai court orders halt to Move Forward Party’s efforts to reform Royal Insult Law

The Constitutional Court’s ruling on Wednesday concluded that the MFP’s advocacy for reforming Thailand’s strict laws safeguarding King Maha Vajiralongkorn amounted to an endeavor to “undermine the monarchy”.

The Move Forward Party (MFP), which emerged victorious in the previous election, was instructed to cease its campaign advocating for reforms to the nation’s stringent royal defamation laws on Wednesday.  This ruling came from a top court, which deemed the party’s policy initiative unlawful.

The MFP, which secured a majority of seats in last year’s election, ran on a progressive platform that included a bold proposal to amend the lese majeste law. This law imposes harsh penalties of up to 15 years in prison for each perceived insult directed at Thailand’s revered monarch.

However, the party’s pledges to overhaul not only the military and business monopolies but also the lese majeste laws unsettled Thailand’s influential conservative elite. As a result, then-leader Pita Limjaroenrat was prevented from assuming the role of prime minister, and the MFP found itself excluded from the ruling coalition.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling on Wednesday concluded that the MFP’s advocacy for reforming Thailand’s strict laws safeguarding King Maha Vajiralongkorn amounted to an endeavour to “undermine the monarchy”. The court stated that the proposed amendments to the royal defamation law suggested an intention to disconnect the monarchy from the Thai nation, which was viewed as a considerable risk to the state’s security.

The court further emphasized that certain restrictions on the exercise of rights and freedoms were necessary to safeguard the country’s security, maintain peace, and order, and uphold moral standards. Consequently, it mandated Pita and the MFP to immediately cease their campaign for lese majeste reform.

Pita, who relinquished his position as party leader last year, recently returned to parliament after the same court acquitted him of violating election laws—a verdict that could have potentially barred him from political participation.

Prior to the court’s ruling, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the former leader of the Future Forward Party—a precursor to the MFP dissolved by court order—asserted that the lese majeste law should be open for discussion. He argued that laws are not immutable and can be amended by human hands, suggesting that failure to do so might indicate underlying issues within the country.

The lese majeste law, designed to protect the king—a figure of reverence and semi-divinity in Thai society—from insult, has faced criticism for its broad interpretation, effectively shielding the royal family from any form of criticism or ridicule. Recent instances include a man receiving a 50-year prison sentence for Facebook posts deemed insulting to the monarchy, and another individual jailed for two years for selling satirical calendars featuring rubber ducks that were deemed defamatory.

The reform of the lese majeste law, also known as Article 112, was a central theme of the mass protests that rocked Bangkok in 2020. These demonstrations witnessed unprecedented public condemnation of the royal family. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, over 250 individuals, including senior protest leaders and an elected MP, have faced charges of royal insult in the aftermath of these protests.