MFP faces uphill battle in court
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MFP faces uphill battle in court

Academics say opposition party must focus on mounting defence in fight against dissolution attempt, write Aekarach Sattaburuth and Mongkol Bangprapa

The Move Forward Party holds a press conference at parliament on Jan 31. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)
The Move Forward Party holds a press conference at parliament on Jan 31. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

Critics have accused the Move Forward Party (MFP) of trying to portray itself as a victim of political persecution as it faces a case that could potentially lead to its disbandment.

Last Sunday, the MFP held a press conference at its headquarters to outline arguments to counter the allegations made against it in the dissolution case.

This was despite the Constitutional Court's warning that concerned parties -- the MFP and the Election Commission (EC) -- should refrain from expressing opinions on the issue pending a trial.

The court said that doing so could mislead the public and affect the trial.

At the press conference, the MFP said the court has no power to dissolve it and its previous ruling on the party's stance on the lese majeste law is irrelevant to the disbandment case.

MFP chief adviser and former leader Pita Limjaroenrat said he and his party's legal affairs team had studied the constitution and found no section that empowered the court to disband a party or revoke its political rights.

Mr Pita also said his party had been unable to receive adequate information about the dissolution case or any opportunity to defend itself against the accusations levelled.

This was despite the court extending its deadline several times for a defence from the party.

Mr Pita also responded to the court's warning to the party to halt its efforts to rewrite Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law.

Mr Pita said the warning concerned something that had not yet happened, while the hearing into the dissolution case should focus on what had already happened.

However, political observers said the arguments outlined by the MFP were not convincing and they believed the party is unlikely to escape disbandment.

In addition, on Wednesday the court also said it will hear the MFP disbandment case tomorrow.

Playing victim?

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, told the Bangkok Post the MFP was trying to tell the public that it has been treated unfairly and fallen victim to political persecution.

"This also shows the party refuses to accept the court's previous ruling [the party's stance on the lese majeste law] and has tried to link it with the present dissolution case.

"I believe the MFP is trying to play the victim to gain sympathy from the public," Mr Wanwichit said.

"I believe the MFP is now considering what should be done in the future. If the party is dissolved, it could be reborn and renamed. It will retain its popularity and continue to broaden its support base.

"However, the party may weaken as several key figures will be banned from politics as a result of the party's dissolution," Mr Wanwichit said.

He said the MFP is seeking to be a new key player to counterbalance the power of major parties, such as the Pheu Thai Party, and conservative parties.

If the MFP was dissolved and the Pheu Thai-led government still failed to live up to people's expectations, the new party which takes shape from the dissolved MFP will still have a better chance of winning a majority of House seats in the next election.

Wanwichit: MFP 'playing victim'

Unconvincing arguments

Pattana Reonchaidee, a lecturer at Ramkhamhaeng University's faculty of law, told the Bangkok Post the MFP missed the point when it countered the accusations in the dissolution case.

"There was no need for the party to tell the court how to proceed with the hearing. Instead, it should focus on defending itself against allegations brought against it.

"Its arguments were weak. The MFP will have a hard time [fighting the case in court]," Mr Pattana said.

Pattana: Focus on defence

Jade Donavanik, a legal scholar and dean of the faculty of law at Dhurakij Pundit University, told the Bangkok Post the dissolution case against the MFP is based on the Political Parties Act, not Section 112 of the Criminal Code.

"The MFP is trying to cause confusion. The MFP is trying to confuse the charter court proceedings with those of the Criminal Court. The party is not accused of violating Section 112, but Section 92 of the Political Parties Act," Mr Jade said.

Mr Jade, who was an adviser to the last constitution drafting committee, also rejected claims by the MFP that the Constitutional Court has no power to dissolve the party. In fact, such power is stipulated by the Political Parties Act, he said.

Jade: MFP trying to cause confusion

Komsan Phokong, an independent academic and former member of the 2007 constitution drafting assembly, echoed the view that a party dissolution case falls within the court's jurisdiction.

"The case against the MFP involved allegations that the party's actions [including its efforts to amend Section 112] indicated an intention to undermine the constitutional monarchy. Only the charter court has such power to rule on the case," he said.

"The MFP's arguments were not convincing," Mr Komsan said.

Komsan: Case 'not convincing'

The EC submitted a petition in March asking the court to rule on dissolving the party.

It was responding to the court's ruling on Jan 31 that the MFP's efforts to change Section 112 indicated an intention to undermine the constitutional monarchy.

Based on the ruling, the EC argued the party violated Section 92 of the organic law on political parties.

The section gives the court the power to dissolve any party seen as threatening the constitutional monarchy.

The court accepted the petition for hearing on April 3.

The EC asked the court to disband the party, revoke the rights of party executives to stand for election and prohibit anyone who loses those rights from registering or serving as executives of a new party for 10 years, under Sections 92 and 94 of the law.

The amendments proposed by MFP included a requirement that any lese majeste complaint must be filed by the Bureau of the Royal Household.

Currently, any individual or group can file a royal defamation complaint against anyone else, and police are obliged to investigate it. As a result, the party has said, the law has been used by politicians and other authority figures to stifle dissenting opinions.

The party has also called for reduced sentences for lese majeste convictions.

A Section 112 conviction carries a sentence of 3-15 years. Courts often cite the severity of the offence as the reason for denying bail to people awaiting trial or appealing their convictions.

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