Putting on a brave face
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Putting on a brave face

ABOUT POLITICS: Stuck in the middle of dissolution proceedings, a 'nervous' MFP is being vague as to what will happen if it is disbanded v Rumours suggest the Democrats are mulling whether to omit Chuan Leekpai from their party list in next polls

Pita: Could face life ban
Pita: Could face life ban

Finding itself in the middle of dissolution proceedings, the main opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) needs plenty of cheering up as it may not be hiding its apprehension well.

And by the looks of it, the "new home" which its MPs are reportedly considering moving to in the event the party is dissolved by court order, is not currently fit to accommodate them.

The MFP is going through yet another turbulent phase with its future hanging by a thread after a damaging ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court on Jan 31 that said the MFP's efforts to change Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law, indicated an intention to "chip away" at the constitutional monarchy.

The court also ordered the MFP to cease all attempts to rewrite Section 112.

The ruling provided the basis for a further court decision which could make or break the party.

On March 12, the EC unanimously agreed to ask the charter court to disband the MFP and the court has agreed to hear the case.

Referring to the court's Jan 31 ruling, the commission argues that the MFP violated Section 92 of the organic law on political parties. The section authorises the court to dissolve any party posing a threat to the constitutional monarchy.

It said campaigning for constitutional amendments of Section 112 amounted to an attempt to end the constitutional monarchy, a breach of Section 49 of the constitution.

The MFP's proposed amendments included a requirement that any lese majeste complaint must be filed by the Royal Household Bureau as opposed to any ordinary citizen. It also called for what some critics described as watered down jail sentences against lese majeste offenders.

The judges pointed to past actions by Pita Limjaroenrat, the former MFP leader, as well as those by the MFP in general, including its bail applications for people accused of lese majeste.

Forty-four of the party's MPs, including its now chief adviser, Mr Pita, could face a life ban from politics as they are currently the subject of a probe into whether they violated the code of ethics as lawmakers in seeking to overhaul the lese majeste law.

A political insider said MFP members were feeling increasingly jittery about the dissolution case.

Like other parties before it that were disbanded by court order, the MFP is assumed to have prepared for the worst. A contingency plan would naturally call for a spare party to fall back on.

Generally, any such outfit would be expected to be among those left "lying around" in the EC's registry, ready to be retrieved and "re-activated" to welcome the exodus of MPs from a disbanded party.

In the MFP's case, the closest party functioning as a fallback option was reported to be the Kao Mai Party (New Step Party) whose name has a familiar ring. In Thai, the MFP reads as Kao Klai Party.

However, records have revealed that the Kao Mai Party's registration with the EC was announced on April 14, 2020, only to be ordered dissolved by the commission two years later on the grounds the party failed to amend its regulations pursuant to the Political Parties Act and to secure a sufficient membership within a legal timeframe.

The termination of the party's status was published in the Royal Gazette in May 2022.

As soon as the fallback party news grabbed headlines, the MFP jumped to downplay the issue. However, its explanation did not sound reassuring to a lot of critics.

MFP list-MP Pakornwut Udompipatsakul described the fall-back party report as peppered with untruths.

He insisted no "Plan B" had cropped up at party meetings as reported, although he admitted the MFP was not being complacent.

"Whatever the situation, we stand fully prepared for what is to come," he said.

The MP said the party has not held a serious or detailed discussion on the likelihood of its dissolution since the ball is not in the MFP's court.

"But I will say this. Even if our party ceases to exist, we will continue to work as hard as we have to accomplish our goals," he said.

However, Mr Pakornwut said it was understandable that some of the party's first-time MPs might harbour a sense of apprehension from the uncertainty over the party's future.

"So we thought we should raise some morale and calm some nerves by telling a party meeting that there's absolutely nothing to it.

"The meeting agreed it's a matter of staying put in the same 'house' with only a change of address," the MP said.

He also clarified that it was MFP leader Chaithawat Tulathon who spoke about the "change of address", not Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, former leader of the now-defunct Future Forward Party (FFP) and chairman of the Progressive Movement, whom many MFP members hold in high esteem.

The FFP, which also ended up being disbanded over an illegal loan it obtained from Mr Thanathorn, was reborn as the MFP.

Is it the end of the road?

Amid the speculation about a cabinet reshuffle, that some predict will come after the first reading of the 2025 budget bill, one rumour is unsettling Democrat Party supporters and suggests that the apparent calm within the party might have been deceptive.

Talk is circulating that the executive board led by leader Chalermchai Sri-on is mulling the possibility of not fielding former party leader and patriarch Chuan Leekpai as a party-list candidate in the next polls.

Chuan: Feels indebted to party

As the move is likely to cause a stir among party supporters, the board may opt to include Mr Chuan, who occupied second spot on the party-list in the last general election, on its list of candidates. But the chance of his name being high on that list is zero.

Given the Democrat Party's sharp drop in popularity, failing to secure a spot in the "safe zone" could potentially be a setback for Mr Chuan's political career, if he chooses to contest the next election.

With that poll still three years away, observers consider discussions about the party patriarch's political future to be premature.

However, Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a political scientist from the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), told the Bangkok Post that while much can change in politics during that time, the rumour is not completely unfounded.

The analyst pointed to differing views between Mr Chuan and the party's executive board, especially their disagreement regarding whether the Democrats should join the coalition government.

Mr Chuan made no secret that he was not happy when some Democrat MPs went against a party resolution and voted in favour of Srettha Thavisin becoming prime minister.

It is widely believed Mr Chuan and three party MPs -- former leaders Jurin Laksanawisit and Banyat Bantadtan as well as Sanphet Boonyamanee -- are not keen on being part of the Pheu Thai-led coalition. And that stance could jeopardise the party's chances of being accepted into the coalition, according to Mr Phichai.

Pheu Thai is reportedly considering bringing the Democrat Party into the coalition to bolster its stability and is prepared to give a ministerial and deputy ministerial post to the new partner. With 25 Democrat Party seats, the government would command a solid 336 seats in the House.

But if Mr Chuan and the three other MPs choose to remain in the opposition camp despite the party switching sides, it may cause complications for the ruling party. Pheu Thai is likely to abandon any approach to the Democrats to avoid trouble down the road, said the analyst.

"When the next polls come and the party doesn't field Mr Chuan on the party list despite his wish to contest the elections, the party will have a lot of questions to answer," said Mr Phichai.

"Mr Chuan is a widely respected figure among party supporters," he added.

Mr Chuan has an unblemished track record and is viewed as the most authoritative figure in the party. He served twice as prime minister -- first from Sept 20, 1992, to July 13, 1995, and again from Nov 9, 1997, to Feb 9, 2001.

However, the analyst noted that the Democrat Party faces a more pressing problem, which is how to reconnect with voters and rebuild support and trust. If the party cannot reverse its political fortunes, it may get only one party-list seat, if any, in the next polls. The top spot on the list is typically reserved for the party leader.

Mr Chuan, who will have reached 90 by the time the next election takes place, may consider retiring and help the party in its campaigning, according to Mr Phichai.

"The Democrat Party's popularity is likely to dip even further. It may be time [for Mr Chuan] to end his political career on a positive note," he said.

The Democrats suffered badly in last year's election when they captured only 25 seats -- sharply down from the 52 won in the 2019 election.

The party's future with Mr Chalermchai at the helm is precarious, with some fearing it will slip from a national force into a minor party.

After the leadership contest in early December last year, in which Mr Chalermchai was elected unopposed, high-profile members quit the party including former party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, Sathit Pitutecha, Sathit Wongnongtoey and Orn-anong Kanchanachusak.

Asked in early December whether he would stay with the party despite the upheaval, Mr Chuan said he was indebted to the party for giving him the opportunities to be where he is now.

"It was where I was elected party leader after being considered a person who was good enough for the position.

"I am obligated to repay this debt in the last chapter of my political career," Mr Chuan was quoted as saying.

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