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Dissolution or victory: Move Forward’s future in the balance

Written by World Events

The Move Forward Party has suffered a turbulent three-year ride since it emerged as the reincarnation of the disbanded Future Forward in 2020.

Not only was its leader suspended as an MP on charges of illegal media shareholding, but it also failed to form a government despite winning last year’s general election.

But all this pales in comparison with its latest predicament: a looming verdict that could see Move Forward dissolved just like its predecessor.

Political analysts calculate the main opposition party has limited options to secure its political future.

To survive, Move Forward must above all maintain its friendship with the ruling Pheu Thai Party and its patriarch, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a lecturer at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law, points out that Thai politics now has three centers of power – the old conservative power clique, Thaksin, and Move Forward.

In his view, Move Forward realizes that conservatives and Thaksin have joined forces to eradicate what is now Thailand’s most popular political party.

But Thaksin also wants to retain good ties with Move Forward, to boost his bargaining power with the conservative establishment.

It seems Thaksin’s strategy is to benefit from maintaining a balance between the conservatives and Move Forward.

Aware that signs point to its eventual dissolution over moves to reform the lese majeste law, Move Forward has been forced to play the political game by siding with Pheu Thai and provoking suspicion among the conservative establishment.

The opposition party has declined to scrutinize the Pheu Thai-led government over alleged double standards and VIP treatment for Thaksin during a six-month stay in hospital instead of prison.

Also, Move Forward has failed to call for a censure debate against the government, opting instead for the gentler scrutiny of a general parliamentary debate.

Political triangle

These moves have sparked suspicion among conservative powers that Move Forward has joined hands with Thaksin.

“Move Forward has no choice but to keep this balance of power for as long as possible.”

“The party considers the chances of its dissolution are high, and it has opted to conserve its popularity in preparation for the next election,” Olarn said.

He added that, after being recently banned by the Constitutional Court from campaigning to change the lese majeste law, the party would redirect its efforts towards reforming the country’s four major institutions – the military, police, justice system, and bureaucracy – which serve as pillars for the monarchy.

He claimed Thaksin and Move Forward were collaborating to undermine public confidence in the four institutions, to pave the way for reform of the monarchy.

Olarn expects the opposition party to focus on attacking the four institutions at the upcoming general debate.

The analyst also believes that Move Forward’s reformist agenda will retain support among voters.

If so, its long-term alliance with Pheu Thai will likely propel the party to power for the first time at the next election.

In this scenario, Pheu Thai would have no choice but to ally with Move Forward if it wants to return to power, Olarn said.

“In this power triangle, the old conservative clique is the most disadvantaged.”

“When Thaksin and Yingluck [Shinawatra, his sister] walk free, Pheu Thai will end its alliance with the conservatives and they will be doomed,” he predicted.

Thaksin was released on parole last month, while his sister and fellow ex-prime minister Yingluck is expected to return to Thailand later this year in a similar behind-the-scenes deal.

Dreaded lifetime ban

The analyst pinpoints Move Forward’s major challenges as the dissolution case and a separate case in which 44 of its MPs including former leader Pita Limjaroenrat are accused of severe ethical violation for backing a motion to amend the lese majeste law.

The Election Commission decided on Tuesday to petition the Constitutional Court to disband Move Forward and ban its executive members from politics.

The decision came after the Constitutional Court ruled in January that the party’s election campaign to amend or revoke Article 112 constituted an intention to subvert the monarchy.

Last month, the National Anti-Corruption Commission accepted a petition filed by lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn alleging severe ethical breaches by the 44 Move Forward MPs and asking it to send the case to the Supreme Court.

If found guilty, the MPs could be barred from politics and political office for life and banned from voting for up to 10 years.

Olarn calculates that Move Forward is more concerned about the possible lifetime bans for key figures than it is about dissolution.

He explained that a new party could quickly be launched after disbandment, whereas finding quality replacements for banned politicians would be much more difficult.

Last week, Move Forward filed a parliamentary motion to set up a special committee to study the Constitutional Court’s powers, arguing that the court sometimes interpreted the highest law in a way that gave it supremacy over the legislative branch.

Olarn described this as a “clever tactic”, as Move Forward could use any favorable findings from the study to boost support among voters.

Furthermore, even if the party is dissolved and its MPs banned from politics, Move Forward’s reincarnation could then use the study findings to seek reform of the Constitutional Court, the analyst said.

‘Radical all the time’

Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University’s Faculty of Political Science, sees Move Forward’s unbending reformist principles as its major challenge.

“The party’s radical position on various issues raises the risk of attacks. It’s unnecessary to be radical all the time,” he said.

“You need to be moderate to convince people who disagree with you. You need to know how to play the game without giving up your ideology. You need to know when to push and when to pull.”

In his view, the party’s problem lies with a strategy that sometimes results in undermining its stability instead of boosting its credibility.

The expert points to certain Move Forward MPs who he said had failed to back criticism with evidence, while others had shown extreme liberal leanings by, for example, proposing changes to National Day.

“Some MPs focus too much on criticizing, just like in the old politics,” he said, adding that they should gather sufficient information before criticizing, otherwise they make fools of themselves.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk  

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