Thai court to rule on election winner's bid to change royal insults law

Pita Limjaroenrat (centre) leaving the Constitutional Court in Bangkok, on Jan 24, 2024 after the court ruled that he can retain his seat in Parliament. - AP

BANGKOK: A Thai court will on Wednesday (Jan 31) rule on whether an opposition party plan to amend a law against insulting the monarchy is unconstitutional, in what could set a precedent for future moves to change one of the world's strictest lese majeste laws.

Move Forward, the biggest party in parliament, won last year's election on a progressive platform that included a once unthinkable proposal to amend the lese majeste law, which carries penalties of up to 15 years in jail for each perceived insult of Thailand's powerful crown.

In a country where reverence for the monarch has for decades been promoted as central to national identity, the law, under which at least 260 people have been prosecuted in the past few years, is seen by many royalists as sacrosanct.

Move Forward's plan outraged conservatives and saw the party's attempt to form a government torpedoed by lawmakers allied with and appointed by the royalist military.

A case was also lodged with the Constitutional Count to decide if Move Forward's plan was tantamount to an attempt to "overthrow the democratic regime of government with the king as a head of state."

The ruling will be the court's second involving Move Forward in a week, in what the party's supporters fear is the start of a campaign to stifle a hugely popular, anti-establishment movement pursuing bold reforms to upend the status quo.

The court last week cleared its leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, 43, of breaking election laws, but the charismatic former prime ministerial hopeful is also implicated in the second case, in which Move Forward could be compelled to abandon its quest to change the royal insults law.

Activists say article 112, as the law is known, has been abused by conservative politicians to sideline and smear liberal opponents. Move Forward argues changing it would strengthen the constitutional monarchy and stop the law being misused.

Though Wednesday's court ruling will not prescribe punishments for Pita or his party, some politicians have suggested it could pave the way for an effort to seek its dissolution and political bans for its leaders.

The verdict could have repercussions that go far beyond Move Forward, according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"It could set precedent for future efforts to amend article 112," he said.

"It is also about sovereignty... whether the people's representatives are allowed to amend or revise laws." - Reuters

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Thailand , court , Pita , lese majeste , law


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