The Constitutional Court's unanimous ruling against the Move Forward Party (MFP) concerning its push to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lese majeste law, has established the limits on any attempts to change the law.
While the court found the main opposition party's campaign for the amendment is an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and ordered the MFP to end campaigns to change the law, it stopped short of punishing the party and its executives.
Political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana has asked the Election Commission (EC) to reconsider his petition calling for the MFP's dissolution in connection with its Section 112 policy after the EC previously dismissed it as groundless and no reason for the party's dissolution.
The Bangkok Post talked to political analysts and key party figures to find out how the ruling coud affect the MFP's political stance and goals, given that revising the lese majeste law is one of its flagship policies.
At a crossroads
There are two developments to be closely watched, according to Assoc Prof Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
First and foremost, the MFP is at a critical juncture as to whether it will press ahead or adopt a softer stance in the light of the court ruling. MFP leader Chaithawat Tulathon's remarks do not shed light on how the party will proceed, he said.
The court ordered the party and its former leader Pita Limjaroenrat to cease their actions, expressing opinions, speaking, writing, publishing, advertising or conveying messages by any means in pursuit of amending Section 112. They were prohibited from amending the section through a non-legislative process.
Mr Chaithawat said last Wednesday while the party accepted the ruling, society would lose an opportunity to use the parliamentary system to find solutions to conflicts.
"The MFP leader's statement [in response to the ruling] isn't clear. But it is deemed the party is ready to handle any situation. So we'll wait and see how it decides," said the analyst.
In addition, the ruling sets the stage for moves to seek the dissolution of the party and political bans for its executives, said Assoc Prof Yutthaporn. However, it is subject to debate if the ruling has retroactive implications for the party's past actions.
"There is still room for interpretation if it could pave way for serious consequences. It can be just a warning for the party to stop. Before the ruling, it was unclear if the campaign amounted to a breach of the charter," he said.
Asked if the court ruling will affect the MFP's goals, the analyst said the case offers an opportunity and also imposes limitations on the party.
The MFP can use the court's ruling to step back from the policy and focus on other matters instead which supporters are ready to understand, Assoc Prof Yutthaporn said.
However, given the MFP's growth was primarily due to its campaign to change the law, adopting a softer stance could undermine the momentum of its movement, he said. Some former party supporters are already critical of the party's toned-down campaign.
Assoc Prof Yutthaporn said if the party carries mon pursuing the issue and is disbanded as a result, it must be sure that campaigning from outside parliament will be enough to drive its agenda.
"I think the best course of action is to stick to the formal legislative process or it will end up like the Progressive Movement, which has limited capacity. Being part of the legislative process can result in changes," he said.
The Progressive Movement was formed after the dissolution of the Future Forward Party, predecessor of the MFP.
"Based on the ruling, it's clear Section 112 can't be abolished. An amendment must be through the legislative process and will end up in court for a review. It's really difficult to work on this issue outside parliament," Assoc Prof Yutthaporn said.
Yutthaporn: Court ruling may just be a warning
Focusing on Senate election
Thanaporn Sriyakul, director of the Political and Public Policy Analysis Institute, said the MFP is unlikely to be too concerned about the prospect of being dissolved or its executives being hit with a political ban.
Its supporters believe that such a move will only make the party stronger and help attract widespread support, a phenomenon they describe as "orange across the land".
Moreover, the ruling is anticipated to change the political landscape, he said, explaining that, before the ruling, the Pheu Thai Party was seen as good for serving two terms before the MFP takes the reins.
Now, if the party is eventually dissolved, the MFP is likely to form the government after the next general election albeit under a new name, according to the analyst.
The upcoming senate election, set for the middle of this year, could also see individuals affiliated with the MFP being elected. Party supporters believe that turning independent agencies into an "orange" alliance is hard work without control of the Senate, he said.
"No matter what name they pick [for the reincarnation of the MFP], they realise the Constitutional Court judges are appointed by the Senate. It's crucial for them to establish an alliance in the Senate to enable attempts to change the rules when circumstances change. This isn't a long-term issue for a new party," he said.
Mr Thanaporn said the MFP should focus on its role as the opposition party and leave its plan to amend Section 112 because the court has imposed restrictions concerning the amendment. While the ruling does not prohibit discussions, other parties are unlikely to engage in a debate, he said.
He added that major protests are unlikely this year as the party will put a focus on the upcoming Senate election mid-year and local elections late this year. A party dissolution ruling may spark small protests, but large-scale demonstrations are unlikely, he said.
Thanaporn: Ban will help attract widespread support
Prepared for what comes
Given the court ruling, the party is likely to focus on its work in parliament including its push for the passage of an amnesty bill which also covers offenders of the lese majeste law, said MFP list-MP Rangsiman Rome.
The MFP's proposed amnesty would cover all politically motivated cases since Feb 11, 2006, the first protest held by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) against the Thaksin administration, until the day the bill takes effect.
Groups likely to benefit include the People's Alliance for Democracy, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the People's Democratic Reform Committee. However, critics see it as an attempt to grant a blanket amnesty for lese majeste law offenders.
Mr Rangsiman said the lese majeste law has been used by authorities against people with differing political views and the proposed amnesty could serve as a resolution to the political conflict.
On the possibility of the party being disbanded, he said the party will confront all possible outcomes.
However, he said the MFP is not just a political outfit, but it is a "way of thinking" embraced by its members and supporters who must band together to demonstrate that it represents the way forward.
If the supporters remain steadfast, dissolution or legal warfare attempts against the party will fail, much like what happened with the Future Forward Party.
Rangsiman: Law used against political opponents
MFP list-MP Nutthawut Buaprathum expressed confidence the party's supporters would remain unwavering in the wake of the ruling and would support the party in carrying out its parliamentary duties.
He said the court ruling does not close the door on any attempts to amend the lese majeste law and the charter through the legislative process, but there are other pressing issues to prioritise and address.
He said the party harbours no ill intentions in proposing amendments to the lese majeste law and it is prepared to defend itself when faced with a dissolution petition.
Asked about the prospect of being dissolved, Mr Nutthawut said the party is not overly worried the ruling will lead to the party's disbandment. The party will study the full ruling before deciding its next course of action, he said.
Nutthawut: No ill intent in amendment proposal