Democracy: 10) What does The Wall Street Journal say about Thailand’s emerging “Constitutional Crisis”

How does foreign press the see the developing Thai “Constitutional Crisis?”

  • When Human Rights Watch’s Thailand researcher, says the Thai Constitutional Court, is abusing powers, perhaps global press noticed.
  • When the Thai Commission to Develop the Rule of law, says the Thai Constitutional Court, is abusing powers, perhaps global press noticed.
  • When a group of about 400 MPs and Senators, says the Thai Constitutional Court, is abusing powers, perhaps global press noticed.
  • When the Thai Truth Commission, in charged of Thailand’s reconciliation, says the Thai Constitutional Court, should be “Especially Careful” in its use of powers, perhaps global press noticed.
  • When one after another highly credible academic and law expert, says the Thai Constitutional Court have breached the “Separation of Powers” between the judiciary, administrative and the legislative branch, perhaps global press noticed.
  • When even Thailand’s most influential newspaper, mostly right wing, Thai Rath says the Thai Constitutional Court, have created a new constitution on their own to govern Thailand, perhaps global press noticed.

But with even all of the above, very well reported in the local press, foreign press have different views. For example the Wall Street Journal and Reuters took a different position. Reuters blame the emerging Constitutional Crisis on Thaksin. Wall Street Journal said it was the old “State Within State” problem of Thailand. And it is not just position, anyone who reads global press such as Reuters or the local press, like Bangkok Post, would have seen, that both came out to protect the Thai Constitutional Court.

Other global news services, such as AFP, AP and DPA were reporting the Thai Constitutional Court crisis, very much as many Thais have pointed out-that the Constitutional Court, is abusing its powers.

Wh have the likes of Bangkok Post and Reuters took a position to support and defend the constitutional court? Thailand’s Political Prisoner Blog perhaps best wrapped up what the Bangkok Post is all about, by saying, “The Bangkok Post will at times try to be liberal, but when the going gets tough, it would run back.” That “Back” of the Bangkok Post, is back at being part of the anti-democracy Thai establishment. And Reuters, well most of Reuters customer in Thailand, is the brokers and the banks, which are mostly anti Yingluck and Thaksin.

The latest in the developing “Constitutional Crisis” is that about 300 MPs and Senators rejecting the Constitutional Court order, that they explain their position to the court. And the court have accepted petition to rule on amending constitution.

  • The following is from the Wall Street Journal in 2012:

Thailand’s Royalists Rely on the Courts

The Constitutional Court’s verdict could later destabilize Thai politics.


On July 13, 2012, Thailand’s Constitutional Court decided to allow the current government to continue making minor amendments to the 2007 constitution, but forestall a complete rewriting. Thais from both sides of the political divide have welcomed this ruling as a compromise that would calm the tense atmosphere. But it actually sets a precedent that could later destabilize Thai politics.

The opposition Democrat Party earlier accused the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of scheming to use the constitutional amendment process to topple the monarchy. This would violate Article 68 of the constitution, which restricts attempts “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” But the Court clearly rejected this argument and ruled that the government’s move to amend the constitution was not “unconstitutional,” thus allowing the amendment process to continue.

However, the opposition Democrats welcomed another part of the court’s decision. The government is not allowed to rewrite the whole charter without a prior referendum. The need to seek public approval would give the opposition an opportunity to manipulate public opinion.

It’s true that moving forward with a new constitution without a nationwide vote might have brought on a new round of street protests by both sides. But at the same time, the delay in charter amendment will deepen the sense of political uncertainty.

The Constitutional Court’s verdict could later destabilize Thai politics.

The Yingluck government wants to reduce the power of appointed bodies it thinks are undermining elective institutions to serve the interest of royalists who backed the 2006 military coup. So amending the constitution is an urgent task.

By not allowing this, the court has again had a direct impact on Thai politics, signalling that enemies of the Yingluck government and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, will continue to resist the Thai electorate’s demands for a new political order. In 2008, the Constitutional Court ordered two pro-Thaksin governments, those of Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat, to step down on absurd grounds. Mr. Samak was disqualified because his appearances as a celebrity chef supposedly created a conflict of interest, and Mr. Somchai was forced to resign because a member of his party had been found guilty of electoral fraud.

There is nothing to stop the court from doing the same to the Yingluck government. However, the royalists are reluctant to unseat Ms. Yingluck so soon after her resounding victory in last year’s election. They want her to see the Constitutional Court’s decision as a warning shot to dissuade her from challenging the royalist establishment.

The problem is that this intervention sets a new precedent that could have longer-term effects. The court determined that it has the authority to accept petitions directly from the opposition and indeed any Thai citizen, instead of solely from the attorney-general. This represents an expansion of its power.

Growing anti-military sentiment following the last coup means that the generals are unlikely to be willing to stage another coup, as their public statements confirm. So the establishment must rely even more on cases in the Constitutional Court to control, and if necessary remove, Thaksin-backed regimes. The court’s ruling may have allayed fears of violence for now. Yet the next step in Thai politics will depend on the extent to which amendments to the constitution attempt to reshape a political structure dominated by the palace-military alliance.

Ms. Yingluck and Mr. Thaksin have so far executed an effective double game, with the former frequently bowing to the traditional elite while the latter maneuvers behind the scenes to consolidate power at the expense of establishment interests. The thrust to amend the constitution is part of Mr. Thaksin’s carrot-and-stick tactics, which are splitting the establishment camp.

The military has remained conspicuously silent about the government’s plan to pass reconciliation bills to grant amnesty for crimes committed during political upheavals. That would allow Mr. Thaksin to return to Thailand, reclaim assets confiscated by the courts and re-enter politics. Given that the military staged a coup in 2006 to remove him, its acquiescence now might seem surprising.

But the military would be one of the main beneficiaries of an amnesty, since it would be “off the hook” for any culpability in the deaths of almost 100 pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010. In May, state prosecutors said that they had compiled enough evidence to implicate the military in as many as 18 of 92 protest-related deaths. One military insider has said publicly that the top brass and all generals in line for promotion want the reconciliation bills to move ahead.

With the military reluctant to stymie the Yingluck government’s legislative agenda, the royalist elite have had to rely on the courts to defend their status. But this also comes with a cost. Many Thais have supported the latest campaign recently launched by a group of law professors from Thammasat University called Nitirat to dissolve the Constitutional Court. More could become disillusioned about the rule of law.

This trend of ruling institutions discrediting themselves could put Thailand on a path to lawlessness. It is especially dangerous because the country is approaching an uncertain royal transition. When the final conflict comes, who will be left to referee the democratic process and prevent a descent into civil war?

Mr. Pavin is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.

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