As important as the recent decision by the Electoral Commission to seek a dissolution of the Move Forward Party is, it is not surprising in the least.

If anything, this decision had seemed inevitable after the ruling by the Constitutional Court that the Move Forward Party, by calling for an amendment of the lèse-majesté law, sought to overthrow the democratic system of government with the King as head of state. Whether or not one agrees with that ruling, once this conclusion was reached there appeared to be little leeway for the Electoral Commission: political parties in Thailand have been dissolved for less.

Yet exactly because parties have been dissolved in Thailand so many times in the past twenty years, we know almost exactly how things will play out if Move Forward is to be dissolved.

For one, a new party will be set up. Move Forward spokesperson Parit Watcharasindhu has already told the media that “there will be a new vehicle to continue driving our set of ideas in Thai politics.” Thai Rak Thai’s dissolution led to the formation of the People’s Power Party, which then morphed into the Pheu Thai Party, or how Future Forward reincarnated as the Move Forward Party. The formation of a successor party is now a well-rehearsed act in our political scene.

What we can also anticipate, based on recent political history, is that the damage to the fabric of Thai progressivism will be real but temporary. The dissolution of Thai Rak Thai did nothing to prevent Thaksin Shinawatra’s affiliates from winning the most seats at every single election from 2007 to 2019. Meanwhile, the dissolution of Future Forward was followed by Move Forward winning the most votes last year. By now we know that it is easy to dissolve a political party, but to dissolve political loyalties is far more challenging.

Yet the damage, while limited, will also be real. Every party dissolution presents a setback for the movement behind that party. A new party has to redo the work of collecting members and forming local branches. But most importantly, Move Forward will lose a key set of leaders that won the previous election. The party’s executive committee is likely to be banned from politics. In addition, it appears that all 44 MPs who had signed the motion proposing an amendment to Section 112 back in March 2021 could be banned from politics for life. 

All of this means that current leader Chaithawat Tulathon and former leader Pita Limjaroenrat could become ineligible for office. The same would be the case for Sirikanya Tansakun, the party’s deputy leader who curiously does not serve on the party’s executive committee, despite speculation that she was a potential successor to Pita. The party would thus be tasked with finding a whole new set of leaders who would have to build a new public profile. 

But would it matter in the long run? A NIDA poll from December last year had found that Move Forward’s political support currently leads Pheu Thai by 20 points, at 44 percent to 24 percent. That is a massive lead. Voters can be fickle and no lead is completely safe. But the conditions are all there for Move Forward to win, and win big, at the next election. Its ejection from the Pheu Thai coalition was a public relations victory, a made-for-TV drama that has leaves the lasting impression in voters’ eyes of a deed to be corrected. The party has been untainted by political compromise and retained the purity of opposition. Its opponents are in ideological disarray. Any successor party is likely to benefit from these same conditions, and may in fact receive a post-dissolution boost in support.

Perhaps this analysis gets ahead of ourselves. The ruling from the Constitutional Court has not yet arrived, and there is a chance (although slim) that the party will survive. Regardless of what happens, however, the political facts remain the same: either Move Forward or its successor is unlikely to deviate from a trend established over twenty years: that parties can be dissolved but never truly killed off.

The post A Post-Move Forward Political Landscape? appeared first on Thai Enquirer.

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Author: Ken Mathis Lohatepanont