July 15, 2008

Thailand: Coup? New Politics? Rule of Law?

Thai politics six months from now?

Some people have given up trying to understand current events in Thailand. They figure, I suppose, that they will pick up the thread once it’s all sorted.

That thread has several possible endings.

It might be a Democrat Party led coalition government in power, aided by military machinations of some form. Thaksin Shinawatra would be in exile (if he can get away), with ex-prime minister Samak sunk by allegations of corruption relating to the time he served as Bangkok Mayor. This possibility emerges on the assumption that the various court cases against Thaksin and the government proceed, and the coalition government splinters in the face of indictments and the dissolution of pro-Thaksin political influence.

Another possibility would be a resurgent People’s Power Party (PPP) government (sans Samak?). This outcome would require more of the counter demonstrations that are breaking out across the country against the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). This is the so-called “Udon model”, which entails breaking up PAD rallies wherever they occur in the provinces. Empowered by the mass mobilisation of its support base, the government would simultaneously amend the constitution and in doing so end the cases on corruption and party dissolution. This outcome would assume significant military support to offset anti-Thaksin forces in the military.

To get that outcome would require a judicial revolution of its own. It would mean invalidating the work of the Assets Examination Committee (which was the body that forwarded some of the corruption cases to the courts) by claiming that it had no legitimate legal status because it was established by the coup group. But for sixty years, laws that have been issued by military juntas have been judged legally binding by the Supreme Court. Such decrees and laws remain in force today. The status of ‘coup law’ was recently re-affirmed by the Constitution Court in regard to the AEC. However, in the face of mass mobilisation - and one assumes some degree of military backing to the government - the courts might revisit the question.

Alternatively, pressure may be applied to have the various cases withdrawn, thus avoiding a legal challenge that might unravel the entire system. For that to occur some deal might be done that brings about a political truce. Not many people can imagine a truce right now.

Another possibility is a coup d’etat against the government. It is hard to imagine such a coup d’etat merely restoring the situation preceding the elections in 2007. This is where PAD’s ideas of recasting politics into a “functional democracy” of occupational representation comes to the fore. By appointing most representatives to parliament in the post-coup environment, and making this permanent in accordance with PAD's New Politics , pro-Thaksin forces would be marginalised. Such a system could only emerge with immense acts of repression and endure with the same.

There is a less destabilising possibility.

The PPP government could muddle through in its own way, surviving or stumbling according to parliamentary convention. An agreement could be reached on a constitutional amendment that abolishes Article 237 (see below) dealing with party dissolution, and which currently looms over the Coalition government. In return, the cases relating to corruption would proceed. All parties would pledge to non-interference in the courts and support a fair trial.

Undoubtedly, something else will happen.

Article on Party Dissolution in 2007 Constitution

"Section 237. Any candidate in an election, who has committed, created or supported any person to commit any act in violation of the Organic Act on Election of Members of the House of Representatives and the Taking of Office of Senators or orders and announcements of the Election Commission, causing the election not to be proceeded in an honest and fair manner, shall be deprived of his or her voting rights in accordance with the Organic Act on Election of Members of the House of Representatives and the Taking of Office of Senators.

If any such act of person under paragraph one appears to have convincing evidence that the leader or an executive member of his or her political party has acknowledged or ignored that action or has known of the act but failed to prevent or rectify it in order to ensure an honest and fair election, that political party is assumed to have sought to gain power in state administration by means other than what is provided in Section 68 of the Constitution, and in case the Constitutional Court consequently orders its dissolution, the voting rights of its leader and executive board members shall be revoked for a period of 5 years as from the date of issuance of the party dissolution order."

Taken from an unofficial translation of the constitution.

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