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THE CASE FOR IMPEACHING THAILAND'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
AMSTERDAM & PARTNERS LLP
On June 1, 2012, Thailand's Constitutional Court took the extraordinary step of issuing an Injunction ordering the National Assembly to cease all parliamentary debate on the amendment of the 2007 Constitution, pending a review of the constitutionality of the proposed amendment. The order was issued on the same day when a few hundred activists from the so-called People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD),in cooperation with the opposition Democrat Party, blockaded all roads to Thailand's parliament, preventing the House of Representatives from meeting to debate tour separate drafts of a controversial "Reconciliation Act." The previous two meetings of the House had been disrupted by the PAD's threat to storm the halls of the National Assembly, and by the physical assault that some Democrat members of parliament perpetrated on the House Speaker and several other parliamentarians from the majority Pheu Thai. Once again, the PAD, the Democrat Party, and the Constitutional Court have made conunon front to delegit::imize the democratic process, prevent the representatives of the Thai people from fulfilling their legislative functions under the Constitution, and lay the groundwork for the removal of another duly elected and legally constituted government, whether by military force (as in 2006) or by judicial intervention (as in 2008). The current government, led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, has been in office less than one year. The election held on July 3, 2011 was won in a landslide by the Pheu Thai Party, the successor of two parties, Thai Rak Thai (TRT) and the People Power Party (PPP). which had won, by wide margins, each of the general elections held in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2007, only to be dissolved by the Constitutional Court. Having earned an absolute majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, Pheu Thai formed a coalition government that controls in excess of 300 out of a total of 500 House seats.
From the very beginning of the 2011 campaign, speculation was rife that Pheu Thai might suffer the same fate as its predecessors, in the event of victory at the polls. As expected, judicial efforts to overturn the election began before the final tallies were in, with the opposition Democrat Party filing a number of complaints requesting that the courts initiate proceedings leading to Pheu Thai's dissolution} At first, these efforts seemed to no avail. The Democrat Party has been perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the increasing judiclalizatlon of politics, and the polinctzation of the judiciary, that has characterized the period since the military coup of September 19, 2006. It is only thanks to a series of biased and one-sided judicial rulings, often handed down in a context where the PAD was wreaking havoc in the streets, that the Democrats were able to form a government in 2008, despite not having won an election in twenty years. Following the 2011 elections, the courts seemed reluctant to intervene, perhaps in recognition of the size of the mandate the voters had given to Pheu Thai, At the same time the decision to the let the election results stand was only provisional, as cases that could lead to Pheu Thai's dissolution slowly made their way through the process. Given the risks that staging a military coup would comport, and the proven unelectabiIity of the Democrat Party, the Constitutional Court remains the best option for those interested in removing the elected government. One of the complaints filed after the 2011 election asked that the Constitutional Court, upon a referral of the case by the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT), disqualify .Iatuporn Prompan, elected as a candidate on Pheu Thai's party list, from the House of Representatives. .Iatnporn, a long-time political activist and incumbent legislator, was alleged to lack the qualifications to serve in the House of Representatives owing to his failure to vote in the 2011 elections. On election day, jatuporn was held in Bangkok's Remand Prison on charges of terrorism and participation in an illegal assembly, which stemmed from his leadership role in the "Red Shirt" protests of March- May 2010. While he had previously been freed on bail because of his status as a member of parliament, his bail was revoked as soon as the former government called for new elections and dissolved the House of Representatives. Iatuporn's imprisonment followed a complaint filed on behalf of the Commander-ill-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, alleging that he had committed acts of sedition and lese majeste during a speech on April 10. 2011, which commemorated the anniversary of a military crackdown that had taken the lives of twenty "Red Shirts" the year before. The specious charges were later dropped. Despite repeated requests for temporary release, the Criminal COUIt denied Iatuporn's right to vote in the July 3, 2011 elections. While .Iatuporn's election was initially certified by the Election Commission, months later the same body recommended to the Constitutional Court that Iatupcrn be disqualified from serving as a member of parliament. The Court approved the request in a 7-1 ruling issued on May 18, 2012, barring Jatuporn from parliament.' Michael J. Montesano, "Thailand's Ungraceful Losers," Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2011. http:// online. ws j.com/article/SB 10001424052 7023036787045 76441323472 724988. html ~"Charter Court Disqualifies Iatuporn," Bangkok Post, May 18, 2012.
The ruling was based on a legal technicality, and ignored the obvious conflict between the statute used by the Court, the Organic Act 011 Political Parties, with several provisions of the Consritution. In short, while the Constitution stipulates that only prisoners convicted of a criminal offense, and not defendants awaiting trial, lack the qualification to serve in parliament, the Court found that Iatuporn's detention on election day terminated his membership in a political party, and thereby caused him to lose a required qualification to be elected to parliament. On the day the Constitutional Court disqualified jatuporn from office, the opposition Democrat Party announced plans to file briefings seeking Pheu Thai's dissolution under Article 237 of the Constitution, on the grounds that Iatuporn should not have been included in the party's list of candidates for the 2011 elections.' The party dissolution of Pheu Thai based on Iatupom's disqualification, however, is still months away from reaching the Constitutional Court. It is perhaps as a result that the Constitutional Court, faced with the necessity of preventing the government from enacting a key plank of its campaign platform, had to resort to issuing an injunction prohibiting the parliament from continuing deliberation on amendments of the Constitution, even at the cost of reaching far beyond its constitutional authority. Ominously, the Constitutional Court announced its decision to review, under Article 68 of the Constitution, whether the proposed constitutional amendments constitute an attempt by Pheu Thai and its coalition partners "to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State." Any such finding would empower the Constitutional Court to order the dissolution of Pheu Thai and strip away the political rights of each member of its executive committee, much as the Court did with Thai Rak Thai in 2007 and the People Power Party in 2008. The political nature of this action can easily be inferred on the basis of the Court's flimsy rationale, and of its willingness to trample on the Constitution to block the amendment process. The amendment under consideration centers exclusively on Article 291 of the Constitution, which the governing coalition seeks to modify in such a way as to permit the election of a Charter Drafting Assembly, which would be formed for the purpose of writing a new Constitution. The allegation that this constitutes an attempt "to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State," lodged by the Democrat Party and its allies in the Senate, is based on the idea that the amendment serves "a hidden agenda." Worse still, in the haste with which it ordered the process suspended, pending a probe of such "hidden agenda," the Constitutional Court failed to act in accordance with the Constitution. Not only does the Court lack authority to intervene in the process of amending the Constitution, and hence carried out an egregious violation of the principle of separation of powers. In so doing, the Court ignored the constitutional requirement that alleged violations of Article 68 must first be investigated by the http://www.bangkokpost.com/lite /topstories /294016/ charter-court -disg ualifiesjatupom 3 "Democrat Seeks Dissolution of Pheu Thai Party," Thai-Asean News Network, May 21, 2012. http://www.tannetwork.tv/tan/ViewData.aspx?DataID= 1054916 ~Nattaya Chetchotiros, "Democrats Hope to Discredit Charter Push," Bangkok Post, May 17,2012. http:t'!m.hangkokpost.com(opinion/293652 -3-
Attorney General, who then submits a motion requesting cessation of the act.
the Court to order the
Given the frequency with which the Constitutional Court has infringed upon the Thai people's right to elect their own governments, and the scandalous nature of its two most recent rulings, this report makes the case for the removal of each of the Court's justices, under the ilnpeachment powers that the Constitution reserves for Thailand's Senate. Aside from the immediate necessity of preventing another "judicial coup," the restoration of the rule of law, which the Constitutional Court has repeatedly undermined to serve the agenda of the PAD, the Democrat Party, and their backers in Thailand's military and bureaucratic establishment, simply cannot take place so long as the country's highest court is composed of judges who make so little pretense of independence and impartiality, and act with such blatant disregard for the Constttution they are sworn to uphold.
2. OF COUPS MILITARY AND JUDICIAL
The Thai people's freedom to elect governments of their choosing, and to associate in legally constituted political parties, has been under attack since the military coup of September 19, 2006. While the removal of twice-elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra marked the beginning of an attempt to restore the hegemony of Thailand's "establishment"-old moneyed elites, military generals, and high-ranking civil servants-the four party dissolution cases adjudicated by the courts in 2007 and 2008 were crucial to the subsequent effort to cripple electoral organizations that threatened the establishment's rule. Thanks to the subservience of the courts, the rules on party dissolution have proven a powerful instrument to remove elected governments, intimidate small parties into supporting the desired coalitions,and make corrections to the composition of the House of Representatives without resorting toa military coup. At the time of the coup d'etat carried out by Thailand's armed forces on September 19, 2006, the dissolution of political parties was governed by provisions contained in the 1997 Constitution and the 1998 Organic Act on Political Parties. Consistent with most democratic countries, Section 66 of the Organic Act described the authority of the Constitutional Court to order the dissolution of political parties found to have acted to overthrow "the democratic system of government with the King as Head of State," to have attempted to assume power through tmconstitutional means, to have endangered the security of the state, or to have committed other irregularities such as accepting funds from abroad. One of the generals' first orders of business upon seizing power in 2006 was to abrogate the 1997 Constitution, which was replaced by an Interim Charter a few days thereafter. In addition, though the junta announced that the 1998 Organic Act on Political Parties would remain in force, a crucial amendment to the Act was introduced a mere ten days after the coup. With the "Announcement of the Council for Democratic Reform No. 27," the junta ordered the following: Should the Constitutional Court or any other organ acting on behalf of the -4-
Constitutional Court give the order to dissolve any political party for committing an act prohibited by the Organic Law on Political Parties B.E. 2541 (1998), the electoral rights of the Executive Board of such political party shall be revoked for a five-year period as from the issuance of such order. The decree gave the junta the power not only to disband Thai Rak Thai-the party of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra-but also effectively remove its leaders from Thailand's political scene before formally returning the country to civilian rule. At the time of the coup, Thai Rak Thai controlled 375 out of 500 seats in the House of Representatives, as a consequence of its landslide victory in the 2005 elections. TIle disruption of its organization and the seizure of its assets would not have been enough to seriously compromise the chances of its return to political power, hence the need to neutralize its most capable politicians. The generals disbanded the Constitutional Court and replaced it with a handpicked Constitutional Tribunal, endowed by the Interim Charter with the same prerogatives of the old court. This ensured that the new rules introduced by the generals would be applied and enforced in a manner consistent with the junta's intent. On May 30, 2007, while the country was still under military rule, the Constitutional Tribunal dissolved Thai Rak Thai for violations of the 1998 Organic Act on Political Parties-namely, for conspiring to assume power through unconstitutional means and for committing "actions contravening the law." The charges for which Thai Rak Thai was dissolved stemmed from the conduct of its officials during the (later annulled) April 2006 elections, which had been boycotted by the opposttion.' In an attempt to boost the credibility of the results, Thai Rak Thai was accused of having bribed two small parties into participating in the elections, as well as to have conspired with members of the Election Commission fraudulently to amend details in the registration of at least one such party to permit its participation. The scheme was alleged to have been arranged and carried out by two members of Thai Rak Thai's executive committee, General Thammarak Issarangkura na Ayudhya and Pongsak Raktapongpaisar, but the Court reasoned that, given their position within the party, Thai Rak Thai could be held responsible for their actions," In ordering Thai Rak Thai's dissolution, the Constitutional Tribunal also chose to disqualify III of its executives from voting and from seeking elected office for a period of five years. Controversially. the Tribunal based this decision on the "Announcement of the Council for Democratic Reform. No. 27" issued after the coup, even though the alleged offenses took place six months prior to the imposition of the new rules. As a result of the retroactive application of a decree Given the opposition's boycott, seats in the 2006 elections. The a finding that the positioning privacy of voters. 6 "Thai Court Orders Dissolution 30,2007. htm:llwww.nytlmes.com/2007/0S
Thai Rak Thai won more than ninety percent of the elections were later declared null and void based on of voting booths in polling stations violated the of Ex-Prime Minister's Party," New York Times, May 130/world/asia/30iht-thai.S.S 93418 7.html
imposed by a military junta, III members of Thai Rak Thai were deprived of their political rights owing to an episode of misconduct in which only two of them were alleged to have participated. The Tribunal made no attempt to establish whether any of the 109 executives not personally involved in the alleged offenses had any knowledge of the illegal actions. Most Thai Rak Thai leaders were denied an opportunity to speak for themselves in court.' The elections held on December 23, 2007 marked Thailand's return to formal civilian rule. By then, the generals had done much to prevent allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Sbinawatra from coming back to power. Aside from the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai and the redesign of the country's constitution, the junta committed considerable state resources to defeat the People Power Party (PPP), founded in August 2007 by former members of Thai Rak Thai. Shortly after the PPP was established, the junta issued an order to suppress its activities, which led the PPP to file a complaint against the junta before the Election Commission. The Election Commisslon, however, dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the Council for National Security had granted itself immunity when it replaced the 1997 Constitution with a new one," While the military's campaign was successful insofar as it kept the People Power Party from earning an absolute majority in the House of Representatives, its actions could not keep the party from winning a plurality of seats (233 out of 480 seats, against 165 seats for the second-placed Democrats). As a result, and despite the fact that the Election Commission disqualified a few of its winning candidates singled out for alleged irregularities, the People Power Party was able to form a coalition government under the leadership of the late Samak Sundaravej. The government was supported by a number of smaller parties in the House of Representatives. Anticipating the possibility that the Democrat Party might not be able to win the 2007 elections, notwithstanding the assistance provided by the military and much of Thailand's public administration, the junta had made sure that the new Constitution would not only incorporate the provisions on party dissolution promulgated after the coup, but further expand upon the anti-democratic powers reserved for the courts. Whlle preserving the Constitutional Court's authority to strip party executives of their political rights in the event of the party's dissolution, regardless of their knowledge or involvement in the alleged wrongdoing, the 2007 Constitution broadened the Court's authority in two ways. First, Article 237 expanded the definition of acts that may be grounds for dissolution to include electoral irregularities. Second, Article 237 specified that it was no longer necessary to demonstrate the party's responsibility for the actions of an individual. The Constitutional Court, upon the referral of the Election Commission, could Simply dissolve any political party based on "convincing evidence" that "any leader or member of the executive committee of a political party connived in the commission of the act, or had knowledge of the conduct in question but failed to thwart or Vorajet Pakirat et al., "Decision of the Constitutional Tribunal to Dissolve Thai Rak Thai - A Legal Analysis," Faculty of Law, Thammasat University. e "Junta 'Never Harmed PPP'," Bangkok Post, Dec. 13, 2007. http://thailandpost.blogspot.comI2007/12/junta-never-harmed-ppp.btml
correct it in the interest of ensuring an honest and fair election." The effort to overturn the results of the 2007 election based on these unprecedented, sweeping provisions was already in full swing as the People Power Party's new government was sworn in. Days after the election, reports surfaced that the Election Commission had opened investigations into as many as eighty-three races won by candidates under the People Power Party's banner, while Democrat Party politicians lodged a formal petition to get the People Power Party disbanded on the grounds that the party was a proxy for the banned Thai Rak Thai." At the same time, Deputy Leader Yongyuth Tiyapairat was implicated in an attempt to bribe local officials to campaign in support of his younger sister in a constituency in Northern Thailand. Given Yongyuth's status within the party, it became immediately clear that his case would serve as the grounds upon which the People Power Party would later be dissolved." After they had already pledged their support for the new government, similar proceedings were initiated against Chart Thai and Matchima Thippathai, based on the Election Commission's annulment of the election victories of an executive for each party (Monthien Songprachai and Sunthom Wilawan, respectively).
On September 9, 2008, in response to charges brought forth by opposing politicians and the Election Commission, the Constitutional Court took its first major decision since the Senate appointed a new slate of justices, all of whom remain in office today, in May 2008. Prime Minister Samak was forced to resign, owing to the fact that he had hosted a cooking class 01i. television and had therefore violated the prohibition against elected. officials receiving compensation from other sources. Samak argued that he was not actually employed by the television station and that, although the programs had aired during his tenure as Prime Minister, they had been recorded before he became premier. Those arguments, however, did not prevail before the Constitutional Court, which voted unanimously to remove him. On September 18, 2008, Samak was replaced by PPP leader Somchai WOllgsawat. Legal proceedings against the three governing parties continued for the better part of 2008. Eventually, the Election Commission referred the cases to the Constitutional Court, recommending dissolution. As expected, on December 2,2008, the Constitutional Court ordered that the three parties be disbanded. In addition. while the offenses in question were committed by only three men, the Court once again stripped all 104 members of the parties' executive committees of their political rights. The dissolution of the People Power Party, Chart Thai, and Matchima Thippathai also resulted in the disqualification of forty-one Sitting members of parliament "Thaksin Ally Victory 'Undermined'," BBC,January 4,2008. http://news.b bc.co. uk/2/hi/ asia -pacific/71 714 54.stm 10 "EC Ruling May Start Meltdown for PPP," The Nation, January 9, 2008. http:L/www.nationmultlm.edia.com/home/EC -ruling-may-start -meltdown- for-PPP30061635.html II "Is End in Sight for Stricken Chart Thai?," The Nation, January 12, 2008. http:/Lwww.nationmultimedia.com/home LIs-end-in-sight -for-stricken-Chart- Thai-30062022.html
(nineteen from Chart Thai; twenty-two from the People Power Party) as well as Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. While this was enough to force Somchai to resign, and bring down the government, the number of MPs stripped of their office was still not large enough to give the Democrat Party a majority. The government of Abhlsit Vejjajiva was only formed after intense lobbying on the part of the military and the Privy Council, which convinced a large faction of the dissolved PPP (reconstituted in the Bhum Iai Thai Party), the minor party Pheu Paendin, and MPs left over from Chart Thai's dissolution to switch their support. Given the fate that had befallen parties that had previously defied the establishment, it is no surprise that the promise of immunity, among many other inducements, successfully enticed a sizable group of politicians to switch their allegiances. Whereas Thailand's provisions on party dissolution represent an unacceptable restriction on fundamental democratic freedoms, their selective, discriminatory enforcement turned a piece of legislation supposedly meant to fight "corruption" and "election fraud" into an instrument through which Thailand's politicized Judiciary can alter the composition of parliament, overturn the choices made by voters, and take opponents of the establishment out of contention. The rules on party dissolution have been applied in a biased, inconsistent fashion since the very beginning. Concurrently with the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai in May 2007, the Constitutional Tribunal was also called upon to rule on similar charges referred by the Office of the Attorney General against the Democrat Party. Once again, the charges stemmed from the party's activities during the brief campaign for the 2006 elections. In its fiLingrecommending the dissolution of the Democrat Party in 2007, the Office of the Attorney General alleged that high-ranking Democrats officials Sathit Wongnongtoey and Secretary-General Suthep Thaugsuban were involved in attempts to both bribe small parties into not participating in the elections,as well as bribing officials belonging to another small party into registering for the election, in order to subsequently claim that Thai Rak Thai officials had paid them to do so. While the junta-appointed Constitutional Tribunal upheld the latter charge, it conveniently cleared top Democrat officials of the attempted fraud, saving the Democrat Party from dissolunon." The Tribunal ruled that the Democrat Party should not be held responsible for the action of its officials, in the absence of evidence pointing to the leadership's participation or knowledge of the illegal acts. None of its executives faced any legal or administrative penalty. Since then, the Democrat Party has been saved from dissolution several times more. Weeks before Abhlsit Vejjajiva became Prime Minister, the Election Commission ruled on a case of vote buying that implicated four Democrat Party candidates, including three sitting MPs. Crucially. the only official whom the Election Commission cleared of wrongdoing was Vithoon Nambutr, the only one among them
"The Tribunal Clears Democrat and Taikorn from Hiring Small Party and Wrongly Accusing TRT," The Nation, May 30, 2007. http://www.nationmultimedia.comlhomefTheTribunal-clears-Democrat -andTaikorn-from-hiri-3003SS87.html
who also served as a member of the party's executive committee." The most scandalous example of the preferential treatment the Democrat Party has received, however, is provided by still more recent events. In April 2010, as the Red Shirt protests were in progress in Bangkok, the Election Commission decided to refer two dissolution cases against the Democrat Party-one involving illegal donations amounting to 258 million baht, the other cenrering on the misuse of funds amounting to another 29 million baht. After spending six months questioning witnesses, examining evidence, and hearing closing arguments from both sides, the Court ruled that the cases had been inadmissible all along, based on the timing of their referral by the Election Commission." In a series of videos posted on YouTube in mid-October 2010, in advance of the verdict, Democrat Party officials are seen lobbying Constitutional Court judges to render a favorable decision on the party's own dissolution cases. In these videos, the judges openly discuss the political downsides of clearing the Democrat Party-in particular, the potential that absolving the Democrats might buttress the Red Shirts' claims about "double standards." The justices also describe how they managed to rig a judicial entry exam to favor their own relatives and cronies. While criminal proceedings were initiated against the persons believed to have shot and leaked the videos," the Constitutional Court justices have not faced any legal or disciplinary sanction for their corrupt conduct. The minor parties persuaded to switch their support to Ahhisit Vejjajiva in late 2008 were quickly extended the same protection from party dissolution that the Democrats always enjoyed. At least two of those parties benefited from their newfound immunity almost immediately thereafter. In May 2009, the Election Commission declined to bring party dissolution charges against Bhum Jai Thai, after Boonjong Wongtrairat (Cabinet member in Abhisit Vejjajiva's government) was caught distributing public money, blankets, and name cards to villagers in his home consnruencv." Two months thereafter, the Election Conunission spared Pheu Paendin from dissolution. While one of its executives had been disqualified from his position as MP based on an episode of vote buying during the 2007 election, the Election Commission ruled that the party could not be held liable for his actions. Though NoppadolPolsue had been appointed to Pheu PaencLin's Executive Committee in July 2007, the party registrar had failed to endorse the appointment until three days before the election. Therefore, the politician was not officially a
13 "EC: No Basis to Red-Card Deputy Leader Vithoon," Bangkok Post, October 29, 2008. http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/3 553/democrats-safe-from-dissolution I~ "EC Hits Back at Critics of Its Actions," Bangkok Post, Dec. 2, 2010. http://m.bangkokpost.com/topstories/2092 53 "Court Scandals in Thailand: Judges in the Dock," The Econom.ist, November II, 2010. http://www.economist.com/node/I7 472738 16 "EC Absolves Boonjong of Power Abuse," Bangkok Post, May 7, 2009. http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/locall162 52/ ec-absolves-boonjong-of -powerabuse
member of the executive committee at the time of the offenses in October 2007.'7
ESTABLISHMENT V. ]ATUPORN PROMPAN
[atupom Prompan was born on October 5, 1965 in the southern province of Surat Thani. As a student leader at Ramkhamhaeng University, he participated in the prodemocracy demonstrations that forced General Suchinda Kraprayoon to resign after massacring some one hundred unarmed protesters in May 1992. Having joined Thai Rak Thai in the late 1990s, ]atuporn was elected to the House of Representatives in 2007, on the list of the People Power Party. After the dissolution of the People Power Party in late 2008, ]atuporn remained in parliament, joining the newly established Pheu Thai. At the same rime jatupom became one of the core leaders of the "Red Shirts" of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), which held demonstrations throughout the country protesting the ouster of democratically elected government and demanding the resignations of then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who had come into office thanks to the party dissolution cases. As a core leader of the UDD, ]atuporn organized the demonstrations that took place in Bangkok in April 2009. Following the bloody army crackdown launched by the government. which forced the UDD to call off the protests, ]atuporn was arrested together with other fellow Red Shirt leaders for participating in an illegal gathering. The gathering was declared illegal by the government's imposition of the Emergency Decree, A year later, Iatuporn once again led Red Shirt demonstrations in central Bangkok between March 12 and May 19, 2010, giving impassioned speeches against the government of Abhisit V ejjaj iva. After a first violent crackdown on April 10. 2010 caused the death of twenty Red Shirt protesters, two foreign journalists, and five military officers. jatuporn and his fellow UDD leaders took a principled stance, refusing to end the rallies, as proposed by the government, in the absence of guarantees that the events of April 10 would be properly investigated and prosecuted." The protests eventually came to an end on May 19. after a violent, weeklong crackdown staged by the Royal Thai Army. which killed fifty-five additional protesters. As troops entered the encampment where the rallies were in progress, UDD leaders called off the protests and turned themselves in to police. In the weeks following the demonstrations, ]atuporn and other ODD leaders were officially charged with participating in an illegal gathering, in contravention to the government's declared state of emergency. Later, .latuporn was among the leaders indicted on terrorism charges, stemming from the arson of some three dozen buildings that took place on May 19, 2010, after UDD leaders were already in police "Puea Paendin Saved from Dissolution," Bangkok Post, July 30.2009. http://WWW.bangkokpost.com/news/local/1 5 063 6/puea-pandin-saved-fromdissolution 18 See David Streckfuss, "The Strategy of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship on 'Double Standards': A Grand Gesture to History, Justice, and Accountability," in Michael J. Montesano, Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Aekapol Chongvilaivan, Bangkok, May 2010: Perspectives on a Divided Thailand. Singapore: ISEAS.
custody. Unlike most of the other core leaders of the UDD, who spent up to nine months in custody before being granted bail, [atuporn's status as a member of parliament allowed for his quick release. Though subject to conditions that limited his movements and activities, Jatuporn led frequent, peaceful demonstrations calling for justice, accountability, and the freeing of hundreds of political prisoners still in custody for violating the Emergency Decree and other alleged offenses. On Apri110, 2011, Iatuporn took to the stage during the commemoration organized at the Democracy Monument on the occasion of the first anniversary of the government crackdown. In a fiery forty-five minute speech, ]atuporn lambasted the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration and the Royal Thai Army for using the pretext of "protecting the monarchy" as an excuse to criminalize the Red Shirt movement and murder its members the year before, despite the fact that the Red Shirts had only demanded the dissolution of the House of Representatives." Jatuporn further criticized the Consttrunonal COUItfor sparing the Democrat Party from dissolution, making reference to the leaked video recordings that captured some of the justices colluding with party officials. Days later, representatives of the Royal Thai Army filed a complaint for lese majeste against ]atuporn on behalf of Commander-inChief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who alleged that jatuporn had violated the monarchy in his speech," While the charges were later found to be baseless, at the end of a yearlong mvestiganon," the Department of Special Investigations (OSI) asked the Criminal Court to revoke Iatuporn's bail. The Court accepted the request on May 12, 2011, only three days after Jatuporn's immunity had lapsed as a result of the dissolution of the House of Representatives. jatuporn was held in Bangkok Remand Prison until August 2,2011. A week after the revocation of his bail, ]atuporn's name was included in the party list that Pheu Thai submitted for the election of July 3, 2011; ]atuporn appeared as the eighth-ranked candidate on the party's national list. The Election Commission endorsed the list after verifying that the candidates met the required legal qualifications. In advance of the election, jatuporn's lawyers repeatedly filed motions requesting that the Criminal Court grant bail or, at least, temporary release to vote. The requests were denied, and ]atuporn was thereby prevented from exercising his right to vote. Iatuporn's failure to cast a vote was immediately seized upon by the opposition as evidence that he lacked the qualifications to serve in parliament. At first, the Election Commission certified the election results, allowing Iatuporn to be sworn in as a member of the new House of Representatives, which first met on the day of his release. In late November 2011, however, the Election Conunission of Thailand ruled by a 4-1 vote that Iatuporn should be disqualified from his position as member of parliament, asking the Speaker of the House of Representatives to refer the case to the Constitutional Court for a final ruling. On The speech can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWDWU2dlhpc "Complaint against jatuporn, Two Others," Bangkok Post, April 12, 2011. http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/2 31666/ complaint-filed -against -jatuporn2-others 2! "Lese Majeste Charges against jatuporn Lifted," The Nation, May 11,2012. http://www.nationmultimewa.com/poli tics/Le se-majeste-charges-against -J atuoorn ~ lifted-30181708.html
May 18, 2012, the Court finally ruled that Iatuporn's detention on election day, and consequent non-participation in the election, disqualified him from serving as a member of parliament under provisions of the 2007 Constitution and the 2007 Organic Act on Political Parties. The reasoning of the Court was as follows: -Iatupom was prohibited from voting under Article 100(3) of the 2007 Constitution, which specifies "being detained by a warrant of the Court or by a lawful order" on election day as one of the prohibitions leading to disenfranchisement. -]atuporn ceased to be a member of the Pheu Thai party on the day of the election, July 3, 2011, on the basis of provisions contained in the 2007 Organic Act on Political Parties. Specifically: -Article 20(3) of the Organic Act states that party membership terminates upon being subject to prohibitions mentioned in Article 19 of the same Act. - Article 19(1) of the 2007 Organic Act provides that "a person who is eligible to be a member of a political party" must not be "subject to any of the prohibitions" under Article 8(1) of the same Act, which lists the qualifications individuals must possess to register a political party. -In turn, Article 8(1) specifies that individuals subject to "prohibitions entailing electoral disenfranchisement under the Constitution" are barred from forming a political party. The Criminal Court's denial of temporary release for the purposes of voting, therefore, was held to have automatically terminated Iatuporn's membership in the Pheu Thai Party, even in the absence of an official resignation. -Article 101(3) of the 2007 Constitution provides that a candidate to the House of Representatives must, among other things, be "a member of any and only one political party." On that basis, the Constitutional Court held that the terminati.on of party membership on election day caused ]atuporn to lose the qualification to be a candidate. -Article 106(4) of the 2007 Constitution lists disqualification under Article 101 as a reason for the termination of an individual's membership in the House of Representatives. Iatuporn was thereby disqualified from serving in parliament. Whereas the Constitutional Court was able to invoke a legal technicality upon which to justify the termination of Jatuporn's status as member of parliament, every stage in the two-year process that led to this outcome, from the initial arrest on May 19, 2010 to the Constitutional Court's ruling on May 18, 2012, was marred by egregious violations of Jatuporn's civil and political rights. Though nominally grounded in law, the series of decisions that led to ]atuporn's dtsqualtncatton xoustttute clear violations of rights protected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political -12-
Rights (ICCPR),customary international
law, and Thailand's own constitution.
First, international organizations have widely questioned the appropriateness of the criminal charges that [atuporn still faces in connection with his involvement in the 2010 Red Shirt rallies. The charge of participation in an illegal gathering, speclftcallv, stemmed from the previous government's unlawful abuse of emergency powers. Article 4 of the ICCPR permits the suspension of certain ICCPR rights, such as the right to demonstrate, only in instances where a public emergency "threatens the life of the nation" and only "to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation"-in any event, under no circumstances can a State of Emergency be used to "undermine the rule of law or democratic institutions." According to the International Commission of Iunsts," Human Rights Watch," the International Crisis Group," Amnesty Jnternattonal," and the Asian Legal Resource Center," among others, Thailand's 2005 Emergency Decree,and the Thai government's recourse to emergency powers in 2010, failed this crucial test. Similar doubts have been raised about the polittcal nature of the terrorism charges on which Jatupornand other fellow Red Shirt leaders were indicted in August 2010. While the Red Shirts were accused by the government of commrttlng various acts of violence, there exists no evidence pointing to the Red Shirt leaders' role in planning the attacks, or even knowledge of the attacks. Moreover, authoritative observers have publicly cast doubt on whether even the worst offenses could be reasonably described as "terrorism." In the aftermath of the protests, the International Crisis Group urged Thailand to drop terrorism charges against the UDD leaders, on the grounds that the UDD never aimed to kill civilians, and were labeled "terrorists" based on an exceedingly broad deflnltlon." Similarly, United Nations Special See International Commission of Jurists, "Emergency Decree in Bangkok and 18 Thai Provinces Must Be Revoked Immediately," July 9,2010. http://WWW.icj.org/ dwnldatabaseffhaHand-EmergencyDecree-9 Iuly20 10.pdf See also International Commission of Jurists, "ICJ Submission on Thailand, Human Rights Council, 12'" Session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review," March 2011. http://www.lcj.org/dwn/database/UPR%20Thailand%2020 11%20IC1% 2Osubmission.p
Human Rights Watch, "Letter to Prime Minister Abhisit on Thailand's Emergency Decree Extension," July 10, 2010. http://www .hrw. org/news /2 0 10/07/11/1 etter- prime- minister-abhisit -thailandsemergency-decree-extension Human Rights Watch, "Thailand: Repeal Emergency Decree-Authorities Use Draconian Law to Violate Rights and Obstruct Justice," November 24, 2010. http://www.hrw.org/news/201 0/11/2 4Ithailand-repeal-emergencY-decree ~~ "Thailand Urged to Lift Emergency Rule," BBC,July 5, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/l0S06794 ~5 Amnesty International, "Thailand Must Repeal or Reform Emergency Legislation Immediately," September 30,2010. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/thailand-must -repeal-or-reformemergency-Iegisla tion- immedia tely-2010-09- 30 ~6 Asian Legal Resource Centre, "Thailand: Arbitrary Detention and Harassment under the Emergency Decree," August 31, 2010. http://www.ahrchk.net/statementslmainfile.php/201 Ostatements/2 791 I U International Crisis Group, "Bridging Thailand's Deep Divide," July 5,2010. p, 21.
Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Martin Schelnin, expressed serious reservations about whether any of these offenses might qualify as "terrorism," owing to the fact that the Red Shirts have never been accused of "serious violence against members of the general population or segments of it."28 Terrorism charges were simply a way to justify the government's violent crackdown, whose rules of engagement specifically authorized security forces to kill "terrorists" without specifving what actually made someone a "terrorist." The revocation of ]atuporn's bail on May 12, 2011 constituted a transparently punitive act, conveniently timed by the Criminal Court to coincide with the lapse of his status as member of parliament after the dissolution of the House of Representatives. By then, jatuporn had been out on bail. for almost a year; in that time, he was never alleged to have tried to flee the country, or to have committed offenses similar to those on which he is awaiting trial. Fittingly, what triggered Iatuporn's re-arrest was Thailand's Army Chief's displeasure with his criticism of the Royal Thai Army's conduct during the massacre of Red Shirt protesters the year before. While the complaint filed on behalf of General Pravuth Chan-ocha alleged that Iatuporn had committed lese majeste in his speech on April 10, 20n, the speech contains neither criticism of the monarchy nor any threat of violence and unrest. [atuporn was quite simply punished by the Criminal Court for exercising his rights to free expression,as guaranteed by Thai law, on the vague notion that his words were meant to "incite the crowd.'?" While the Thai Constitution specifically provides for the disenfranchisement of persons "detained by a lawful order" on election day, whether or not such persons were convicted of a crime, preventing those accused of a crime from exercising the right to vote is at odds with the presumption of innocence sanctioned in Article 39 of the Thai Constitution. But while an argument could at least be made that it would be impractical to allow all prisoners awaiting trial to travel to the polls on election day, the termination of an accused person's membership in a political party in the absence of proven wrongdoing constitutes a form of punishment in the absence of a criminal conviction, of the kind that Article 39 of the Constitution explicitly prohibits. The violation is made all the more egregious by the fact that the punishment in question restricts the fundamental right to free association, protected in Article 64 of Thai Constitution. Aside from violating jatuporn's fundamental right to free association and to the presumption of innocence, the Constitutional Court's decision to disqualify him from parliament was based ona highly tendentious interpretation of the relevant statutes. As Iatuporn's lawyers pointed out, the provisions of the Organic Act on Political Parties upon which the Constitutional COUft ruled that Iatuporn's http://www.crisis gro up. 0 rg/ ..... /media/File slasia / south-eastasia/thailand/192. Bridging%20Thailands%20Deep%20Divide.pdf ~8 Achara Ashayagachat, "Thailand's Terrorism Law 'Goes Too Far'," Bangkok Post, February 19.2011. http://www.bangkokpost.com!news!local/2 22370/thailand- terrorism-Iaw-goes-too29 "Bail Revoked for Two Reds, Jatupornand Nisit," The Nation, May 12, 2011. http://www.nationmultimedia.com!2 011 lOS /12/national/Bailrevoked~ for~two-redsIatuporn~and~Nisit~301SS211.html
membership in Pheu Thai was automatically terminated on election day are in conflict with provisions of the Constitution that specify the qualifications that individuals must possess to present their candidacy for election and serve in parliament. Specifically, Article 102(3) of the Thai Constitution only bars those convicted of a crime, not those accused of a crime, from submitting their candidacy; similarly, Article 102(4) states that only those convicted of a crime, not those accused of a crime, lose their right to stand for election once a candidacy is submitted. Moreover, Article 106 of the Constitution, citing Article 102, only prohibits those convicted of a crime, not those accused of a crime, from serving in the House of Representatives. As a result, lawyers argued that jatuporn's disqualification, technically grounded in provisions in the Organic Act on Political Parties that regulate party membership, are in conflict with the relevant provisions in the Constitution, which do not contemplate that those accused of a crime should be deprived of their right to stand for election or serve in the House of Representatives. jatuporn's lawyers requested that the Court resolve the conflict by giving precedence to the Constitution, the highest law of the land. Few were surprised by the Constitutional Court's eventual ruling, which disqualified Jatuporn through the back door of the provisions on party membership. The ruling against Iatuporn sets a dangerous precedent. Based on this ruling, from now on any candidate for political office-an aspiring legislator, a contender for the position of Prime Minister, or even the entire list of candidates fielded by a political party-can be disqualified from serving in office if detained "by lawful order" on election day. Not only is no conviction required; the candidate can be disqualified on that basis even if the arrest results in no Iormalcrtminalcbarges .. In a country where the judiciary suffers from lack of independence, and where the courts have served as the primary instrument by which unelected elites have recently sought to alter the results of elections, these sweeping powers reserved for the judicial branch pose a grave threat to democracy and the future conduct of Thai elections. Aside from the injustice inflicted on Jatuporn, and the green light that this decision gives to the COlITtS to prevent any future candidate from taking office on the basis of a convenient and well-timed arrest, the case has immediate implications for the Thailand's political stability and democratic governance. Immediately after the Constitutional Court ruled that Iatuporn be disqualified from the House of Representatives, officials in the opposition Democrat Party announced plans to request that the Pheu Thai Party be dissolved, as have the winners of each of the previous four elections, on the basis of the Court's finding. The Democrat Party is expected to argue that Pheu Thai, which won the 2011 elections in a landslide, "inappropriately endorsed" Jatuporn's candidacy, and that, in turn, ]atuporn's inclusion in the party's slate of candidatescaused the election to beconclucted in a "dishonest and unfair manner." In the event that the Election Commission of Thailand agrees with this reasoning, it can file a motion requesting that the Constitutional Court dissolve Pheu Thai under Article 237 of the 2007 Constitution. This argument is without serious legal merit, for a variety of reasons.
First, jatuporn did not lack the qualifications to he a candidate at the time the party lists were submitted, under Article 102 of the Constitution, unless one is to interpret the Constitutional COlITt's ruling on Iatuporn's case to mean that anyone detained by an order of the court automatically forfeits his or her membership in a political party, even if that does not entail the failure to vote in an election. That would he rather strange, as the Organic Act on Political Parties provide for the termination of party membership only in cases where a person is deprived of the right to vote, or the exercise thereof. Second, jatuporn's candidacy was endorsed by the Election Commission of Thailand, which, according to Article 43 of the "Organic Act on the Election of Members of House of Representatives and the Senate," must examine the qualifications of each of the candidacies submitted before it approves and publishes the candidate slates. Moreover, Article 25 of the same Act empowers the Election Commission to intervene, prior to the election, in cases where candidates for office are suspected of having lost the right to stand for election, and ask the Supreme Court to render a ruling on the matter. In spite of the publicity received by jatuporn's detention, the Election Commission never made any such request to the Supreme Court before the election, and even certified the election's result, paving the way for Iatuporn to be sworn in as a member of parliament. The behavior of the Election Commission, and the constitutional provisions that do not prohibit those detained while awaiting trial from serving as candidates (Article 102) or members of parliament (Article 106), undermine any argument that Pheu Thai officials submitted an improper list of candidates. Even more implausible is the notion that ]atuporn's candidacy would have caused the election to proceed in a "dishonest and unfair manner." Had Jatuporn been excluded from Pheu Thai's national list in advance of the election, whether as a result of the party's own decision, the Election Commission's failure to endorse his candidacy, or intervention by the Supreme Court, there exists no evidence to suggest with any degree of confidence that Pheu Thai would have garnered more or less votes in the election. Still the frivolousness of the Democrat Party's case, and the strength of the argument against dissolution, is little comfort in a country like Thailand, especially in instances where a politicized Constitutional Court has the power to simply assert, under the exceedingly broad, vague, and selectively enforced provistons on party dissolution, that the executives of a political party caused the election to proceed in a "dishonest and unfair manner," and thereby order the disbandment a political party no matter how large its margin of victory in the election. Given that something quite similar has happened more than once in the past six years, the prospect that the courts might intervene to dissolve Pheu Thai and hence in practice alter the results of another election is understood to be very real, irrespective of the legal merits of the case, or the egregious infringement of the Thai people's right to seltdetermination that such a decision would comport.
COUP, THE SEQUEL
The Pheu Thai Party based it 2011 election campaign platform on an agenda of reforms, above all reforms to the Constitution, Individual members of Pheu Thai have long advocated that Thailand should replace its 2007 Constitution, written under military rule, with its 1997 Constitution, Abolished by the generals who seized power in the 2006 military coup, the 1997 Constitution is widely recognized as the most democratic among the eighteen constitutions Thailand has live under since 1932, Rather than try to reintroduce the old document, however, the government of Yingluck Shinawatra has proposed that the Constitution be rewritten by a Constitution Drafting Assembly, as has happened several times in the past few decades, Contrary to prior instances, the government's position is that the Constitution Drafting Assembly should be for the most part elected by the people, one for each of Thailand's seventy-seven provinces, and should limit the number of appointed experts, who had dominated previous panels, to twenty-two. The amendment requires that the draft produced by the Constitution Drafting Assembly be put to the people for approval in a referendum. Instead of attempting to amend the Constitution in parliament,as it is empowered to do under Article 291 of the present charter, the government has only sought to amend Article 291, broadening it to allow for the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly of the kind described above. By May 2012, the proposed amendment had already been debated and approved by an overwhehning majority (340-101) of members of the House of Representatives and Senate in two of the total of three readings required by the Constitution. The National Assembly was scheduled to begin its third and final reading of the constitutional amendment on June 5, 2012, Upon the passage of the second reading in May 2012, members of the opposition Democrat Party and some appointed Senators submitted complaints to the Constitutional Court, alleging that Pheu Thai and other parties in the government's coalition, in pushing the constitutional amendment, had violated Article 68 of the Constitution. Article 68 provides: No person shall exercise the rights and liberties prescribed in the Constitution to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State under this Constitution or to acquire power to rule the country by any means not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution. Faced with the challenge of explaining how a procedural amendment to Article 291 of the Constitution constitutes an attempt "to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State," the plaintiffs argued that the apparently innocuous amendment would enable Pheu Thai and its allies to pizrsue their "hidden agenda" to overthrow the current regime of government, This is in keeping with an old conspiracy theory peddled by the PAD, the Democrat Party, and the Royal Thai Army, who have long accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters of scheming to overthrow the monarchy. The accusation, though never substantiated inauy way, was the basis upon which the 2006 military coup and the 20 0 massacre of Red Shirt demonstrators were explained to the public. Most recently, the Department of Special Investigations (DSI)
concluded that a famous administration of Abhisit uncovered in 2010, was conspiracy was simply an
alleged conspiracy to overthrow the monarchy, which the Vejjajiva and the Royal Thai Army announced they had based 011 no evidence." In other words, the concocted excuse to criminalize the Red Shirt movement.
The complaints filed with the Constitutional Court in May 2012 are based on this discredited underlying claim. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that the approval to Article 291 of the Constitution paves the way for the election of a Constitution Drafting Assembly dominated by supporters of the current government. In turn, the plaintiffs alleged, these unnamed and yet-to-be-selected members of the Constitution Drafting Assembly would write into the new constitution provisions that would seek "to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State," in spite of the government's stated position that constitutional provisions related to the monarchy should not be amended." In essence, the Constitutional Court is being asked to scrutinize what is in the minds of legislators who voted in favor of amending Article 291 of the Constitution, and to conduct the sort of "trial of intentions" permitted by no democratic country with minimal respect for the rule of law. The complaints lodged with the Constitutional Court are especially insidious because, under the provlsions of Article 68 of the Constitution, the Court is empowered to order the dissolution of any political party found to have attempted to "to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State .." As a result, these provisions form the quickest and most direct way in which the Constitutional Court can dissolve Pheu Thai and its allies, considertng that the dissolution case related to Jatuporn Prompan's disqualification from parliament still needs to be heard by the Election Commission of Thailand before it actually reaches the Constitutional Court. Presented with the opportunity to act by the chaos fomented inside and outside parliament by the Democrat Party and the PAD, and perhaps more importantly the need to block any amendment to a constitution written at the behest of a military junta, the Constitutional Court appears to have taken the express route to another "judicial coup." Amazingly, not only did the Consntutional Court agree to review, as requested by the plaintiffs, the presumed "hidden intentions" of parties that proposed the amendment to Article 291 of the Constitution; in doing so, the Court chose to overstep the bounds of its constitutional authority. Article 291 of the Constitution, in its present form, does not contemplate any role for the Constitutional Court in the process of amending the Constitution, a prerogative reserved for the legislative branch, acting on a proposal submitted by either the executive or a group of parliamentarians. Nor does any provision in the Constitution empower the Constitutional Court to order the parltament to suspend its deliberations on constitutional amendments. In issuing its injunction on June I, 2012, therefore, the Constitutional Court, based on the weakest of rationales, committed an egregious "DSI Poised to Drop Lese Majeste Conspiracy Case," The Nation, March 31,2012. 11 Ilwww.nationmultimedia.com/na ttp: tional/DSI -poised -to-drop- Iese-maj esteconspiracy-case-30179098.html II Nattaya Chetchotiros, "Democrats Hope to Discredit Charter Push," Bangkok Post, May 17,2012. http:t'!m.hangkokpost.com(opinion/293652
violation of the separation democracy.
of powers, a Ioundmg principle of any representative
Moreover, the Consntutional Court's injunction actually breaches the provisions of Article 68 of the Consritution UPQn which it has decided to act. Article 68, specifically. requires that any that an individual .or group has committed an act "to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State" must be investigated by the office of the Attorney General; at the conclusion of the investigauon, it is up to the Attorney General to "submit a monon to the Consnturional Court for ordering the cessation of such an act." In approving the motion, the Constitutional Court subsequently has the oprton to order the dissolution of any political party found to have engaged in the act. In this instance, however, the Court received no such motion from the Attorney General. Contrary tD both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, the Court simply took matter into its own hands, ordering parliament to cease exercising its constitutional powers, and asking those so implausibly accused of such a grave offense to provide the Court with a defense of their motives before any investigation is even conducted, In announcing the decision, a spokesman for the Constitutional Court conceded that the National Assembly would face no penalty should it fail to heed the injtmction, as no law gives the Court the power to issue such an injunctton: he warned, however, that ignoring the unlawful order "may reflect an intent as claimed in the petitions.'?" As Thai legal scholars, including a former Senator and Dean of Thammasat University's Department of Law, have pointed out in the wake of the Constitutional Court's announcement, the Court's decision to ignore the Constitution's own provisions, and to arrogate powers well in excess of its consttruttonal authorttv, threatens the funcrioning of democracy by undermining the separation of powers and the authority of branches of government subject to election by the people. As a result, the dectsion by the Court represents "an intentional exercise of power contrary to the provtsion of the Constttunon or law," which Article 270 of the Constitution mentions as grounds upon which government officials, including Constitutional Court justices, may be removed from their posts by a superrnajoritv of the Senate, inaccordance with the provisions of Article 274.33
5. THE CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT
In its preamble, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms:
It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.
32 "Charter Vetting Put on Ice," Bangkok Post, June 2, 2012. http://www .bangkokpost.cDm/news Ipo litics/2 961841 charter-vetting -put -0 n-ice 33 "Former Thammasat University Dean Accuses Constitutional Court of Violating the Constitution, Suggests Impeachment," Prachatai, June 2, 2012. http://prachatai.cQm/journa1l2012/06/40810
The political CriSIS Thailand has suffered through since 2006 exemplifies the relationship between the absence of the rule of law and political instability, violence, and upheaval highlighted in the Universal Declaration in 1948. On the one hand, the deterioration in the protections afforded by the rule of Iaw+Including the unlawful abolishment of a constitution, the overturning of elections, the perversion of the course justice to serve a political agenda, the impunity afforded (de jure or de facto) to state officials, and the punitive enforcement of legislation restricting the free exercise of rights guaranteed in both domestic and international statutes-has been the principal catalyst of conflict in Thailand. The Red Shirt demonstrations of 2009 and 2010 were not, as the previous government's implied, motivated primarily by "social inequalities;" they were driven by demands for more democracy, protection of existing rights, and equality before the law. On the other hand, the conflict precipitated by the abolishment of the 1997 Constitution led to the further deterioration of the rille of law, which was damaged by the arbitrary imposition of emergency rule, censorship of anti-establishment views, and recourse to extrajudicial killings, unlawful detentions, and even torture." Actors on every side of Thailand's political divide often speak of the importance of upholding the law. Different usages of the term, however, reflect fundamentally different conceptions of what the "rule of law" requires. On one side is a formal (or "thin") conception of the rule of law, whose concern is for the making and the administration of the law, as opposed to its content or the legitimacy of the relationship between rulers and ruled evidenced in the law. This "thin" conception has allowed politicians, generals, judges, and law enforcement officials to justify actions by the state that result in the denial or violation of civil and political rights as consistent with the requirements of the rule of law, provided that the measures in question are grounded in (rights-violating) legislation that is clear, stable, coherent with the corpus of existing legal rules, and more or less consistently administered by the state. On the other side is a more substantive (or "thick") conception of the rule of law, whose preoccupation is with a sense of legality that sets limits to what can be done in the name of law. Said restrictions are grounded in a different conception of the relationship between rulers and ruled, one in which the ruled should only be expected to abide by laws written, enforced, and adjudicated in compliance with principles of justice, equality, and respect for human rights. Prospects of reconciliation and durable peace in Thailand rest on its capacity to move from a formal (or "thin") conception of the rule of law-one where the law is used as a tool to shield powerful institutions from accountability, stifle free and open debate, abuse human rights, persecute dlssidents, or cripple the electoral process-to a more substantive (or "thick") conception. This requires first and foremost that rulers relate to the ruled only through law, and that every major actor or institution operate according to the law's specifications, without special powers or prerogatives not contemplated by statute. Importantly, though, the realization of a more substantive approach to the rule of law also requires that the country's legal system become the guarantor of human rights, and an independent judiciary committed to upholding the law.
Human Rights Watch, "Descent into Chaos: Thailand's 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown," May 2011. http://www.hrw.org/node/98416
As demonstrated in this report, one of the gravest failings of Thailand's democracy is the dtscnmtnatory administration of justice. The judicial branch suffers from extreme pollticization, reflected most prominently in the consistent application of double standards in the rulings of the Constitutional Court .. The judiciary's polincizarion, moreover, Is made all the more harmful by some of the provisions of the 2007 Constitution, which perpetuate restrictions to democratic rule by enshrining into law the power of the Constitutional Court to alter the results of freely conducted elections. In the long run, rectifying this situation requires structural reforms aiming to transform the courts from an instrument of pohttcs into an instrument of justice, in a way that maximizes the courts' impartiality and objectivity, guarantees Thai citizens equality before the law, and relieves the judiciary of its historical responsibility to legalize coups, cover up abuses or corruption, and defend the impunity of state officials who violate basic human rights. In the short run, however, protecting democracy and the rule of law from deteriorating any further, as a consequence of another "judicial coup," requires that the justices now serving on Thailand's Constitutional Court be removed from their posts by an act of the Senate, as required by the Constitution. The unlawful order issued by the Constitutional Court on June I, 2012, in clear contravention of procedures specified by the constitution and the separation of powers sanctioned therein, in and of itself constitutes "an intentional exercise of power contrary to the provision of the Constitution or law" of the kind sufficient to justify the removal of justices currently serving on the Court. What makes the removal of the current justices imperative, however, is their proven track record of partisan meddling, their lack of independence, their disregard for the rights of the Thai people, their disrespect for democracy, and their willingness to break the law, whenever necessary to pre-empt, block, or overturn the implementation of policies endorsed by the voters at the ballot box. Since its appointment in May 2008, the current justices of the Constitutional Court have been the principal instrument by which democracy is undermined, and opponents of the Thai establishment are intimidated and neutralized. As the cases described above show, the Constitutional Court has consistently rendered partisan verdicts, finding technicalities to exonerate one side and punish another. Having removed two Prime Ministers, dissolved three governing parties, and stripped a hundred party executives of their political rights in late 2008, the Court has consistently failed to apply the same standards to the Democrat Party and its allies. The video recordings showing some of the justices coordinating with Democrat Party officials, disparaging members of Pheu Thai, and admitting to having rigged judicial entry exams in 20 0 demonstrate just how little regard these judges have for the law and basic standards of impartiality. The recent disqualification of Jatuporn Prompan from parliament, and the decision by the Constitutional Court to inflict such a severe legal punishment, in the absence ofa criminal conviction, on the basis of statutes whose provisions stand in direct contrast with the Constitution, show just how little respect the Court has not only for basic individual rights, or the right of the Thai people to elect their representatives, but the Constitution itself. As Thailand awaits a fair resolution to years political conflict, and the kind of reforms that would make the country a genuine "democracy with the King as Head -21-
of State" founded on the rule of law, further miscarriages of justice can only be averted by the inittation of impeachment proceedings against each of the Constitutional COUIt justices, and eventually their replacement, at the end of the process specified in Articles 270~274 of the Constitution, with a new-line up of justices with a proven record of excellence, Independence, and personal integrity. Furthering Thailand's democracy requires, first and foremost, rescuing what little democracy it already has from the stranglehold exercised by forces that have never accepted Thai people's right to govern the country. As the calls for the military or the judiciary to remove Thailand's duly elected and legally constituted government intensify, the House of Representatives and the Senate should rise to the occasion, and act under the Constitution to defend Thailand's democracy.
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