Rights groups, EU, US speak out against FFP dissolution

Following the dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP) on Friday (21 February), several human rights organizations, along with the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) and the Embassy of the United States in Thailand, have spoken out against the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the popular opposition party, a decision which has been seen as damaging to the country’s return to democracy and as disenfranchising a large number of voters.

FFP supporters held their hands up in the iconic three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute, a recognized resistance symbol, and sang one of the party's songs following the Constitutional Court's ruling to dissolve the party.

British human rights organization ARTICLE 19, whose mission is to defend and promote freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide, issued a statement immediately following the ruling, stating that the dissolution of FFP and the ban on its leaders “further contracts civic space and threatens political discourse in Thailand” and called on the Thai government to “respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, as well as the right to participate in public affairs and elections.”

“The ruling is merely the capstone of a concerted campaign of obstruction and judicial harassment against the Future Forward Party and pro-democracy activists,” said Matthew Bugher, Head of Asia Programme for ARTICLE 19. “The government would both like to claim a return to democracy and narrowly circumscribe political discourse. Politicians face grave consequences for colouring outside the lines drawn by the establishment.”

ARTICLE 19’s statement also noted that, since 2007, the Constitutional Court has dissolved five political parties, which were all associated with “anti-establishment political forces,” and that “in recent months, Thai authorities have also harassed and obstructed pro-democracy activists and others exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” such as the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship and its parallel events.

“A large cross-section of Thai society will feel disenfranchised by today’s decision”, said Matthew Bugher. “In the weeks ahead, authorities must defend the right of Thais to discuss the political situation in the country and peacefully express their frustrations, regardless of their political stripes.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement earlier today (22 February), which said that the Court dissolved FFP on “politically motivated allegations” and that the decision “seriously [damaged] the country’s return to genuine democratic rule.”

“The Constitutional Court’s ruling to dissolve the Future Forward Party is a knockout blow for Thailand’s teetering efforts to restore democratic rule after a military dictatorship,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “This decision seriously weakens the political opposition for the benefit of the military-backed ruling party and unjustly cancels the votes of over six million Future Forward Party supporters.”

Adams then called for “Thailand’s friends abroad” to “denounce this jarring setback to a return to political pluralism and democratic rule.”

“When an up-and-coming political party that calls for reforms and represents dissenting voices can be dissolved on specious grounds, the democratic rights of all Thais are at risk,” Adams said.

HRW said that the court proceedings “raise serious fair trial concerns, highlighted by the court’s refusal to allow the Future Forward Party to present its case,” and that the ruling “violates the rights of Future Forward Party members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has ratified.”

Amnesty International, meanwhile, called for the international community, “which has on the whole remained silent about human rights violations in Thailand”, to “demonstrate it will not accept the outlawing of political opposition.”

Amnesty’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said that the ruling “illustrates how the authorities use judicial processes to intimidate, harass and target political opposition” and called for the Thai authorities to “reverse the dissolution decision and restore genuine rights to freedom of expression and association in the country.”

The spokesperson of the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) also issued a statement following the ruling, calling FFP’s dissolution “a set-back for political pluralism in Thailand”

“Dissolving political parties or banning Members of Parliament runs counter to the process of restoring pluralism initiated last year. Political space in Thailand should remain open,” said the EU statement. 

“It is important that the authorities ensure that all legitimately elected Members of Parliament are able to continue fulfilling their parliamentary mandates, irrespective of the party from the list of which they were elected.”

The statement from the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Thailand, like the statement from the EEAS, note that the FFP won more than 6 million votes in the 2019 general election and stated that the decision to dissolve the party “risks disenfranchising these voters and raises questions about their representation within Thailand’s electoral system.”