Thailand: Looming dissolution of main opposition party in breach of international law

Press release
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Matt Hunt / ANADOLU / Anadolu via AFP

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) call on Thailand’s Constitutional Court to dismiss the petition to dissolve the Move Forward Party (MFP) to ensure compliance with the country’s obligations under international human rights law.

Bangkok, Paris, 17 April 2024. On 3 April 2024, the Constitutional Court accepted a petition filed by the Election Commission (EC) to seek the dissolution of the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP), the political party that won the highest number of votes (14.4 million) and parliamentary seats (151) in the 14 May 2023 general election.

The case against the MFP stemmed from the party’s submission of a bill to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in March 2021 to amend Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code (known as lèse-majesté, or royal defamation), [1] as well as its campaign to amend Article 112 during the period leading up to the general election. If dissolved, the party’s leader and executive members face a ban on holding political office for 10 years.

"Proposing laws is a legitimate and natural prerogative of legislators and should never lead to the dissolution of a political party. The looming dissolution of the Move Forward Party would disenfranchise millions of voters and breach Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law. It’s time for Thailand’s so-called ‘independent institutions’ to stop unduly interfering in democratic processes and constantly nullifying the will of the voters", said FIDH Secretary-General Adilur Rahman Khan.

The dissolution of a political party and a ban on its leaders and executives from holding political office are inconsistent with several provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party. Such provisions guarantee the right to freedom of expression (Article 19), the right to freedom of association (Article 22), and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs and to be elected (Article 25). Thailand has an obligation to fully respect, protect, and fulfill these rights.

The right to freedom of expression is "particularly necessary to ensure the functioning of political parties in a democratic society", according to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee (CCPR), the body that monitors state parties’ compliance with the ICCPR’s provisions. [2]

The right to freedom of association includes the right to form and join associations concerned with political and public affairs, as well as the right of such associations to freely carry out their activities. The CCPR has regarded political parties as "a form of association essential to the proper functioning of democracy", including those whose existence and operation "peacefully promote ideas not necessarily favorably received by the government or the majority of the population". [3]

Under the ICCPR, the restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association are permissible only if they comply with the strict tests of legality, necessity, and proportionality. In particular, the ICCPR has emphasized that any restrictions on political parties must be necessary to address "a real and not only hypothetical threat to national security or democratic order" and "proportionate to the interest to be protected". [4]

FIDH, TLHR, and UCL believe that the dissolution of the MFP simply because of its legitimate proposal to amend legislation through lawful means guaranteed by Thailand’s Constitution and international law would amount to an unnecessary and disproportionate restriction on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, and, as such, is inconsistent with the ICCPR’s provisions.

In addition, the ICCPR reaffirmed that political parties and membership in parties "play a significant role in the conduct of public affairs". [5] According to the ICCPR, the exercise of the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs by citizens can only be suspended or excluded on "objective and reasonable" grounds. [6] It further noted that the full exercise of such right requires the full enjoyment of, and respect for, the rights to freedom of expression and association, including "freedom to debate public affairs, […], to criticise and oppose, […] and to advertise political ideas." [7]

The ban on party executives on holding political office, therefore, unreasonably deprives them of the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

 note that for more than a decade, many UN human rights experts and bodies have found Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code to be inconsistent with international human rights law and have called for its amendment or repeal;
 recall that, on 12 February 2024, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin stated that discussion around the Thai monarchy should be held in "appropriate venues", including Parliament [8];
 also recall the remarks made by Mr. Srettha himself on 6 April 2023 that Article 112 was "problematic in its enforcement", and that it needed to be reviewed "to prevent it from being used as a political tool". [9] On a separate occasion, on 3 May 2023, Mr. Srettha stated that Article 112 should be amended. [10]

A history of one-sided party dissolutions

The EC’s petition was based on the Constitutional Court’s ruling on 31 January 2024 that the MFP’s proposed policy to amend Article 112 amounted to an attempt "to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as head of state", stipulated in Article 49 of Thailand’s Constitution – an accusation the MFP has repeatedly denied. The Constitutional Court ordered that the MFP refrain from taking any further actions and expressing opinions that advocate for the repeal of Article 112. The ruling provided grounds for the EC to request the Constitutional Court to dissolve the MFP and ban its executives from holding political office under Article 92 of the 2017 Organic Act on Political Parties, which stipulates that the Constitutional Court can order the dissolution of political parties that commit acts to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

Over the past two decades, the Constitutional Court dissolved several key anti-establishment political parties on questionable grounds, and banned their executives from holding political office for up to 10 years.

On 30 May 2007, the Constitutional Court dissolved the Thai Rak Thai party, and banned 111 executives from politics for five years for allegedly manipulating the April 2006 general election.

On 2 December 2008, the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the then-ruling People’s Power party for electoral fraud in relation to the general election in December 2007. The Court also banned 37 party leaders and executives from politics for five years, including then-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

On 7 March 2019, the Constitutional Court dissolved the Thai Raksa Chart party and banned 14 executives from politics for 10 years for nominating King Rama X’s sister, Ubolratana Mahidol, as a prime ministerial candidate ahead of the March 2019 general election. The Court considered the nomination to be "hostile to constitutional monarchy", which it deemed to be in violation of Article 92 of the 2017 Organic Act on Political Parties.

On 21 February 2020, the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the MFP’s predecessor Future Forward Party (FFP) for violating election laws. The Court ruled that a 191 million baht (approx. US$6 million) loan the FFP obtained from its leaders was in violation of Article 66 and 72 of the 2017 Organic Act on Political Parties, which limit legal donations from individuals at 10 million baht (approx. US$316,000), although there is no specific provision prohibiting anyone from issuing a loan to a political party. The Court also banned 16 party executives from politics for 10 years.

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