Thailand’s top two opposition parties agreed to form a coalition after a momentous victory over a military-backed government whose leaders seized power in a 2014 coup, setting the stage for a U.S.-educated liberal former tech executive to take over as prime minister.
The Move Forward Party, which finished first after Sunday’s election, ran on a platform of removing military influence in Thai politics and reforming the country’s relationship with its monarchy. Key among its pledges was a revision to the draconian lèse-majesté law, one of the world’s strictest anti- royal insult legislations with severe jail terms for anyone deemed guilty.
Here’s a closer look at the law and how the youth-led Move Forward captured young people’s votes in securing this historic win.
Under Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” can be punished with a jail term of between three and 15 years for each count of violating the law.
The legislation, which has been on the books since the early 1900s, has been strengthened over the years — and is both widely applied and prosecuted. The Economist called it “possibly the strictest criminal-defamation law anywhere.”
In 2015, a factory worker was charged and faced up to 37 years in jail for making a “sarcastic” post online about then-King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s dog.
Over the years human rights groups have documented how the law has been used by Thailand’s military rulers to target dissent in general, finding last year that over 200 people were charged with lèse-majesté in the previous 18 months including pro-democracy and free-speech activists.
In 2020, widespread youth-led democracy protests against Thailand’s military-backed government featured unprecedented calls to abolish the law.
Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party and the former executive director of the cab-hailing app Grab Thailand, said on Monday that he plans to form a coalition government with fellow opposition party Pheu Thai and become the country’s next prime minister.
While some fear the current government could block the opposition parties from taking power, the election results were seen as a blow to the military-aligned leadership.
At a news conference on Monday, Pita, who studied at Harvard on an international scholarship, reiterated his aim of reforming the lèse-majesté laws, the BBC reported.
“We will pass that in this parliament. And we will use the parliament to make sure that it is a comprehensive discussion with maturity, with transparency, in how we should move forward in the relationship between the monarchy and the masses,” he said.
- Thailand’s current government has used the lèse-majesté law to crack down on press freedoms. When The New York Times’ international edition tried to publish its story about the man who was charged for mocking the king’s dog, the paper’s Thai printer blocked the story.