Thai opposition figure will fight 'tooth and nail' for party's survival

  • World
  • Tuesday, 27 Feb 2024

Former Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat reacts on the day Thailand's Constitutional Court delivers its verdict on his media shareholding case, in Bangkok, Thailand, January 24, 2024. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand's opposition leader and former prime ministerial hopeful said on Tuesday his Move Forward Party will "fight tooth and nail" for its future amid legal threats that could see the pro-reform group dissolved and its leaders banned from politics.

With a platform appealing to young and urban voters, the party is seen to threaten Thailand's status quo, colliding with the interests of powerful conservatives and the royalist military that blocked its bid to form a government last year.

Pita Limjaroenrat, who led the party to an election victory last May on an anti-establishment platform but was unable to form a government, said it could be the bridge to create a new political consensus.

"Instead of looking at us as a choice of the people and the enemy of the parliament, use us as a bridge," he told Reuters in an interview.

However, the party could be disbanded and its leaders banned from politics after the Constitutional Court last month said their plan to change a law on insulting the monarchy undermined the crown, paving the way for legal complaints.

"We'll fight tooth and nail to make sure that this worst-case scenario doesn't happen," Pita said.

The party's liberal agenda targets issues and institutions long seen as untouchable, with plans to tackle business monopolies, end army conscription and keep the military out of politics.

Its boldest aim, which led to its current legal woes, is to change the royal insult law or article 112 of the criminal code, used to charge hundreds of people with insulting the monarchy, an offence that carries jail terms of up to 15 years.

Move Forward's predecessor, Future Forward, had championed similar policies and was disbanded in 2020 for violating campaign funding rules.

"I feel like it's a vicious cycle," said the 42-year-old leader. "We keep going around in circles and we never move forward."

Pita said Move Forward's popularity stemmed from its call for social change and it could work with other political forces in a democratic way.

"I can never monopolize the change that I want to do, because I have to do it through parliament," he added. "There's checks and balances."

However, the establishment's response to the call for change had displayed a "paranoia" that led to unreasonable decisions, he said. "It's out of proportion."

Pita added, "What we're trying to do is to make sure that Thailand stays a constitutional monarchy as long as possible."

He wanted to work towards an economy that worked for everyone providing the kind of political space that allows diverse views and a safe space to work out differences, he said.

The party has a succession plan with a pipeline of talent to perpetuate its ideals even if it is dissolved, he said.

"They can never take away our legacy," Pita said, "They can never take away our ideology."

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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