Justice: Political risk consultancy, IHS, points to a “Judicial Coup” to outs Yingluck

Tony Nash, managing director of IHS Consulting in Asia, was quoted by Bloomberg TV and Alicia Quah, a CNBC journalist, of Abhisit setting up of a “Judicial Coup” to ousts Yingluck’s Pheu Thai government and the “Judicial Coup” would increase risks of violence

IHS is a global information company with world-class experts in the pivotal areas shaping today’s business landscape: energy, economics, geopolitical risk, sustainability and supply chain management. We employ more than 8,000 people in more than 31 countries around the world.

For a back-ground, of how a “Judicial Coup” fits into the picture, the following are three articles, one from AP, a wire service, another The Independent, a leading UK’s news group, and Asia Sentinel.  Associated Press: “Most now believe another so-called “judicial coup” will bring the government down.” The Independent: “I think probably we are moving toward a judicial coup of some sort,” said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based political analyst.” And Asia Sentinel says: “In a lose-lose scenario, the crisis continues as the Democrats use the bureaucracy to battle the government.”

By TODD PITMAN

BANGKOK — Thailand held nationwide elections without bloodshed Sunday despite widespread fears of violence. But the country’s bitter political crisis is far from over, and one of the next flash points is likely to be an effort to nullify the vote.

Although balloting was largely peaceful, protesters forced thousands of polling booths to close in Bangkok and the south, disenfranchising millions of registered voters. Not all Parliament seats will be filled as a result, meaning the nation could stay mired in political limbo for months with the winning party unable to form a new government.

The struggle to hold the vote was part of a 3-month-old conflict that has split the country between supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and protesters who allege her government is too corrupt to rule.

The crisis, in which demonstrators have occupied major intersections across Bangkok and forced government ministries to shut down and work elsewhere, overshadowed the poll’s run-up to such an extent that campaigning and stump speeches laying out party platforms were virtually non-existent.

Rather than “a contest among candidates, it was about whether the election itself could happen,” said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch. “That in itself says a lot about the fate of democracy in Thailand — it’s hanging by a thread.”

Television stations, which normally broadcast electoral results, were reduced to projecting graphics not of party victories and losses, but of which constituencies were open or closed.

Official results cannot be announced until a series of by-elections are held and all districts have voted. The first will take place Feb. 23.

In Bangkok, protesters surrounded government offices housing ballot papers, preventing them from being delivered. They also pressured electoral officials not to report for duty, and in some cases physically preventing people from voting.

Infuriated voters cut the chains off polling stations that had been locked, futilely demanding that they be allowed to cast ballots. In one downtown district, they hurled bottles at each other and one demonstrator fired a gunshot after several people tried to push past a blockade. After authorities called off voting there, angry crowds stormed into the district office.

“We want an election. We are Thais,” said Narong Meephol, a 63-year-old Bangkok resident who was waving his voter identification card. “We are here to exercise our rights.”

Ampai Pittajit, 65, a retired civil servant who helped block ballot boxes in Bangkok, said she did it “because I want reforms before an election.”

“I understand those who are saying this is violating their rights,” he said. “But what about our right to be heard?”

The Election Commission said poll closures affected about 18 percent of the country’s 48 million registered voters, although many of them may not have cast ballots anyway following a boycott by the opposition Democrat party, which is calling for political and economic reform first.

The protesters want to suspend democracy and are demanding the government be replaced by an unelected council that would rewrite political and electoral laws to combat deep-seated problems of corruption and money politics. Yingluck has refused to step down, arguing she is open to reform and such a council would be unconstitutional.

Yingluck called Sunday’s vote after dissolving Parliament in December in a failed bid to defuse the crisis. Protests intensified, and Yingluck — now a caretaker premier with limited power — has found herself increasingly cornered. Courts have begun fast-tracking cases that could see her party removed from power, while the army has warned it could intervene if the crisis is not resolved peacefully.

Fears of violence Sunday rose after a dramatic gunbattle erupted in broad daylight Saturday at a major Bangkok intersection between government supporters and protesters who were trying to block delivery of ballots. Seven people were wounded.

Late Sunday, gunmen opened fire on several vehicles that mistakenly drove onto an empty overpass in the city center controlled by demonstrators who have blocked the road off with a large sand-bagged bunker. The shooting, which shattered one vehicle’s windshield and left bullet holes in another, wounded a man and a woman, according to the city’s emergency services.

The protesters are a minority that cannot win through elections, but they comprise a formidable alliance of opposition leaders, royalists, and powerful businessmen who have set their sights on ousting the government. They have waged that fight successfully before — by ousting Yingluck’s brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2006 army coup, and by forcing two Thaksin-allied prime ministers who followed to step down through controversial legal rulings.

Most now believe another so-called “judicial coup” will bring the government down.

Analysts say the courts and the country’s independent oversight agencies all tilt against the Shinawatra family, and Yingluck’s opponents are already studying legal justifications to invalidate Sunday’s vote.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban publically assured followers the ballot will be nullified, and Verapat Pariyawong, an independent Harvard-educated lawyer, said there was “no doubt” the Constitutional Court will end up hearing a case to annul it.

But he said it would be “absurd” to expect judges to “to stay strictly within the limits of the law … (because) history has shown that this court is willing to play politics from the bench.”

If the ballot is nullified, Verapat said there will be “more blood on the streets,” a reference to the expectation that government supporters in the north are unlikely to sit idle.

Before Thaksin was deposed in 2006, the Constitutional Court nullified a similar vote won by his party about one month after it had taken place. The ruling was based partly on the argument that the positioning of ballot booths had compromised voter privacy.

Chuvit Kamolvisit, an independent candidate who served as a lawmaker until Parliament was dissolved two months ago, called the crisis gripping Thailand “a game of power” and accused Suthep and his supporters of falsely characterizing their struggle as an anti-corruption fight.

Graft “has been a part of Thai society for a long time,” said Chuvit, who made a fortune operating massage parlors that doubled as brothels before turning to politics. “It’s a real problem, but now it’s being used an excuse for politicians to take power.”

Suthep was a lawmaker for more than three decades, he said, “and what did he do to end corruption in all that time?”

The burly, outspoken Chuvit was one of many in the capital who were unable to cast ballots Sunday. He was physically assaulted by a group of protesters in confrontation that devolved into a knock-down brawl.

“I have to protect my rights,” Chuvit said. “Thai society has to learn that to get rights, freedom, liberty, you need to fight. But the fight should take place within the democratic system, not on the street.”

Gunfire and explosions returned to the Thai capital in renewed clashes between police and anti-government protesters yesterday, as the deadlocked country prepares to vote in disputed elections today.

At least six people were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds in Bangkok, including an American photojournalist, James Nachtwey. It was not clear whether the shots had been fired by police or protesters.

Yesterday’s violence erupted during a stand-off between the supporters and opponents of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of exiled former leader and billionaire Thaksin. A group of pro-government supporters marched to a district office in northern Bangkok that had been surrounded by protesters trying to derail the vote.

Arrest warrants have been issued for three anti-government protesters who allegedly tried to prevent advance voting this week, the Bangkok Post reported.

At least 100,000 policeman and 5,000 soldiers are expected to be deployed as polling begins today amid ongoing demonstrations that have left 10 dead and nearly 600 injured since November.

The election commission has cancelled balloting in eight southern provinces, strongholds of the protest movement where the delivery of election materials has been prevented. Last week, demonstrators chained polling stations shut and stopped hundreds of thousands of people from casting advance ballots.

Experts believe the election will do little to resolve Thailand’s political crisis, with suggestions that a power vacuum may lead to a repeat of the military coup that overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. “I think probably we are moving toward a judicial coup of some sort,” said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based political analyst.

The protests began last year after the ruling party tried to push through an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin Shinawatra, a figure that continues to divide the country, to return from exile. Thai courts are fast-tracking cases that could see Yingluck Shinawatra – a caretaker prime minister with limited powers – banished from power. The army has pointedly left open the possibility of intervention if the crisis is not resolved peacefully.

Thailand at Stalemate

MON,03 FEBRUARY 2014

In a lose-lose scenario, the crisis continues as the Democrats use the bureaucracy to battle the government

With Thailand’s emergency election over with a minimum of violence but a maximum of confusion, it appears the government’s opponents were successful in disrupting the polls just enough to prevent a decisive outcome. The Bangkok Post called it a “lose-lose” outcome in an editorial Monday.

The results won’t be known for weeks or months but it seems unlikely a new parliament can be convened after 438 of Bangkok’s 6,671 polling places and several constituencies in the south were denied the right to vote by anti-government protesters.

That leaves Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra weakened and vulnerable to the end game in her opponents’ apparent strategy: the use of the government bureaucracy and the courts to finish off her government and perhaps put an end to electoral democracy in Thailand for an indefinite period.

While Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party remain popular, she does not have enough strength in the armed forces to impose her will and any attempt to use her allies in the police to clear the streets of illegal protesters under an existing emergency decree could provoke a military backlash. The result is stalemate.

Having boycotted the polls and orchestrated the street protests that have roiled Bangkok in recent months, it appears that the Democrat Party and its business and royalist backers have given up all hope of beating the forces of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra at the polls. Instead, they have done all that they can to make any polls meaningless, while creating as much chaos as possible.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, can thank his own hubris for creating the conditions that gave his opponents an opening for the crisis they wanted. He and his Pheu Thai allies (with Yingluck’s apparently reluctant consent) pushed forward a blanket amnesty bill late last year that would have forgiven thousands of corruption cases, including Thaksin’s own, thus clearing the way for him to come home from his self-imposed exile in Dubai.

When the foolish and ill-timed bill was passed in parliament, the outraged public reaction was immediate and heartfelt. Yingluck withdrew the bill but the damage was done and the Democrat’s had the opening they needed to create a crisis in the streets.

Yingluck played into their hands by dissolving parliament on December 9 and seeking a fresh mandate with a snap election.

“Suthep Thaugsuban [the protest leader and one-time Democrat politician] and his team took two years to prepare for this to happen,” Jatuporn Prompan, a senior Pheu Thai member, told Reuters recently. “He was preparing with the support of a network of elite bureaucrats.”

The protests, sustained by massive donations from numerous large businesses in Bangkok and backed by a combination of popular support among the middle classes and thugs providing muscle, created unease, harmed the economy and allowed Suthep’s calls for ill-defined reforms to appear reasonable.

Violence along the edges, some of which has been blamed on Suthep’s People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC),  claimed ten lives and caused hundreds of injuries in recent weeks, adding to a sense of an impending cataclysm.

Now the Democrats can use their control of the permanent bureaucratic machinery of government to finish the job. Thailand’s anti-corruption commission has already launched an impeachment investigation into Yingluck’s role as head of a wasteful rice-pledging scheme that had a devastating impact on the treasury and has left unpaid farmers furious.

There are other cases in the Constitutional Court brought by the PDRC seeking to nullify Sunday’s polls. In addition, the Election Commission itself seemed to be more on the side of the Democrats than the government in the run-up to the polls.

Thaksin himself is said by sources to expect his sister to soon be out of a job. He is said to be supporting his long-time ally, the current foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, to take over the leadership of the party should Yingluck be indicted.

So is there a way forward? In the north and northeast, furious “Red Shirt” enemies of the Bangkok status quo are said to be ready to fight against any coup d’état, which means that while massive violence has been avoided so far, the nation remains on a razor’s edge. The Red Shirts, backed by Thaksin’s resources, would far outnumber any street heavies Suthep could muster and the prospect of pitched battles even against the army is not out of the question.

Meanwhile, the elite bureaucrats will likely push Yingluck out of the way relatively soon but that will neither give the country a government nor forge a consensus for a way forward.

For that to happen, a change will be needed in a mindset of confrontation. There appears no sign of that anytime soon.

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