Tag Archives: 1997 Constitution

Cooking lessons, guilty; coup, no problem

"I won't leave! I won't leave! I won't..." "LEAVE!"

Among all the responses to the judicial sacking of the prime minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, this week, the New Mandala blog summed it up:

Hosting a TV cooking show = Guilty!

Staging a coup and tearing up a constitution = No problem!

As the blog post suggests, arguments about the technicalities of whether or not Samak was employed to be a television chef during his time in office, thus violating the 2007 constitution, miss the point. Although that may have been the matter upon which the court was asked to decide, this is not what the rest of us should dwell upon.

Let it not be forgotten that in September 2006 when the generals took power in Thailand, the upper courts did as they have always done at these times: nothing. The junta quietly chucked out the constitution and its court while farcically purporting to uphold judicial independence.

In May the following year, the coup was tacitly endorsed in a verdict of the court’s successor, a military-appointed tribunal, on the simpleminded premise that as every other military takeover was legitimized through the courts, then why not this one too.

It did not have to be that way. Continue reading

Victory of the coup-makers

Two years to the month since the army in Thailand launched its latest takeover of government, the proof of its success is in the mayhem and madness on the streets of Bangkok and the utter farce to which politics there has again descended.

On the one side is a prime minister who is as much an accident of history as a denier of it, a dinosaur politician who should by now have been extinct from public life, let alone leading it; a man who at times can hardly form a coherent sentence, let alone a coherent government.

He and the gaggle of Thaksinites that gathered around him in a rebranded party for last year’s ballot were at the time cast as saviors of the masses, come to take democracy back from the generals. They may have won the vote, but the army, which quietly shelved plans for its own candidates, had in the meantime moved the playing field.

On the other side is an alliance of people united in their hatred of the ousted prime minister, and increasingly, of anybody else connected to him; an alliance motivated to oppose the elected government’s plans to amend a Constitution that a military junta forced down the country’s throat.

It is also an alliance whose foremost demand on behalf of democracy is that it wants less of it, and that too at a time that the country already has less of it than it did before the army had its way in September 2006. Half of the 150 seats in the Senate are now appointees, and how many people know who they are or how they got there, let alone what they do?

That the whole parliamentary process is at its lowest ebb since the early 1990s is exactly what the generals and their backers intended. Although the coup was aimed at removing that manager and manipulator of party politics, Thaksin Shinawatra, and dismantling his network, he was just the embodiment of the main target: the party political system itself. Continue reading

A policy of not solving human rights cases


In recent weeks Thailand’s media has attentively reported on the arrest of some paramilitary police who are alleged to have abducted and framed tens, perhaps hundreds, of people.

The Border Patrol Police officers set up most of their victims on charges under which the accused could not get bail. Some they released after receiving ransom. One of these, a middle-aged woman, in January set off the alarm after she, her son and two others had been freed. Since then, over 60 more have complained to the Rights and Liberties Protection Department. At least 180 inmates have reportedly sought for their files to be reopened.

Victims have described how they were held in groups and tortured. According to one, she and her partner [above] were taken to a bungalow where they saw at least twenty more people tied up, some hooded; a few with smashed teeth and bruised faces. Another has claimed that she was electrocuted while pregnant, despite pleading for her baby. She gave birth in remand, awaiting a trial in which she was acquitted of any crime.

A few years ago, a case like this would have been accompanied by loud calls for it to be moved outside of the police force and into the hands of the Department of Special Investigation. But such calls have been noticeably absent this time around. Continue reading

Generals’ agenda antithetical to rule of law

“Power equals law” (Thai Rath, 20 July 2007)

In a radio interview at the end of July, the interim prime minister of Thailand criticized anti-government protestors who fought with police outside the house of a privy councilor in Bangkok, the man whom they accuse of masterminding last year’s military coup. General Surayud Chulanont (on the tortoise in cartoon above) told listeners that it was not right for the demonstrators to have gone there, and that all citizens ought to work together for the country. Everyone should cooperate and think about maintaining the image of Thailand abroad, he said.

Appeals to imagined harmony and supposed common interests have long featured in official rhetoric in Thailand, as in other countries historically dominated by small and relatively enclosed ruling groups. However, since the Sept. 19 takeover they have been reiterated with tiresome frequency by a regime that from the start professed to have assumed power “to heal conflicts within the mass population which was stirred into factional divisions to the extent of disintegrating national unity and constituting a severe social crisis.”

In these and other similar pronouncements the generals betray their deeply conservative and regressive agenda. It is an agenda that is antithetical to the rule of law and human rights, upon which the abrogated Constitution had been written and which in recent years have obtained growing credence throughout the country.

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Force-feeding democracy


The interim government of Thailand is about to make a spectacle of itself — one that will make brilliantly clear its ideal future society. According to an announcement by the Public Relations Department, a Democracy Festival will usher in the Aug. 19 referendum on the new military-backed constitution.

“Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont will preside over the opening ceremony on August 3 when he will announce a declaration on the development of Thai politics. On this occasion, the Prime Minister, together with the Chairman of the Council for National Security, the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, the President of the National Legislative Assembly, and the Chairman of the Election Commission of Thailand, will jointly issue the statement, ‘Democratic Development under the Declaration on the Development of Thai Politics.’ Also participating in this event will be members of the diplomatic corps and international organizations, as well as representatives of the public, private and civic sectors.”

The bulletin promises that 2,550 balloons, representing the current year on the Buddhist calendar used by Thailand, will be sent aloft “with a message of democracy.” Displays will “provide visitors with knowledge about Thai history and major events in Thai politics,” and there will even be a debate. On the night of Aug. 5, people nationwide “will join forces in announcing the ‘Declaration on the Development of Thai Politics 2007.'”

Thousands of exhibits to promote the referendum are being sent around the country, and some sort of democracy flag is winding its way back to the capital in time for the ceremonies.

Thus, the return of democracy is to be formally declared by a cabal of serving and retired military officers and senior bureaucrats at an oversized convention center on the outskirts of Bangkok. The national leadership having demonstrated its special concern for the proper development of politics in Thailand, all that now remains is for everyone else to join forces and follow its instructions.

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Thailand’s real enemy is insincerity


The Constitutional Tribunal pulls democracy out of the fire… or drops it in? (Source: Matichon, 30 May 2007)

Beware of news editors who write about “stakeholders.” The word may be popular among the staff of international development agencies, producing clouded reports about projects that they have never seen, but it is usually avoided by journalists, who are expected to be more straightforward.

The fact that “stakeholders” appeared no less than four times in a single Bangkok Post feature last week (Now it is time to move on) should set alarm bells ringing about the condition of journalism in Thailand. The unidentified writer praised the special tribunal that had dissolved the overthrown Thai Rak Thai party and advised everyone that its verdict should be universally accepted, serve as a lesson for unscrupulous politicians that they must play by the rules, and that all stakeholders should just cooperate and move on.

The same person could have written the editorial in the country’s second English daily, The Nation. Although the stakeholders were gone, in a few hundred words the author managed to cram in reconciliation, good governance, public accountability, and, in a final mind-numbing paragraph, political ideology, socio-economic status, effective citizenship, genuine democracy based on the rule of law, and “a conducive environment for sustainable economic and social development.”

Such writing is offensive because it denies readers the opportunity to think and react. It has the opposite effect of real journalism, anaesthetizing rather than awakening society. “The great enemy of clear language,” George Orwell said in his seminal essay on politics and English usage, “is insincerity.” Insincere prose is unpleasant to read because while the truth may not be obvious, the struggle to obscure it with nonsense is all too apparent.

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A generals’ charter in judges’ clothing

Bring back the 1997 Constitution

Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that, where powers of the government are properly separated, the judiciary poses the least threat to constitutional rights and has no physical force of its own. Though written in 1787, it still holds true that effective judgments rely on the police, corrections officers, and bureaucrats. Although liberty has nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, he warned that it has everything to fear from its union with other parts of government and a truly independent judiciary is a safeguard; a non-independent one is a grave threat.

Decades after Hamilton and his peers successfully advocated their draft constitution, a French aristocrat observed that the great strength of America’s political system lay in its courts. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at judges’ authority invoked at every turn yet granted them no overt political powers by the constitution. Constitutional rights were guarded through strict interpretation of law and adherence to judicial practice. In this way, he concluded, the courts formed the strongest barrier against tyranny.

Courts in Thailand by contrast, have never been an obstacle to tyrants. The notion of judicial review of government actions, which briefly captured public attention before the 2006 coup, has never caught up thereafter in Thailand. Nor has its senior judiciary ever ruled against a military takeover. On the contrary, it has at each instance affirmed that, might is right and has rewritten the law accordingly, even where, in the words of a professor in Bangkok, this has been “against morality and people’s common sense.”

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