Down By Law: The Legal Impairment of Thailand’s Opposition
We are pleased to announce the latest release of The Thailand 2011 General Elections Report Series, No. 2 — Down By Law: The Legal Impairment of Thailand’s Opposition, focused on the issue of party dissolutions. Much of the content of this report has been submitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which then passed a resolution urging the Government of Thailand to reform these constitutional provisions that damage democracy. Check out Report No. 1 in this series on the political role of the military here, and download a PDF of the current report right here. Below is an extract of the introduction and embedded link to the Scribd page.
The attack mounted against the Thai people’s freedom to elect governments of their choosing, and associate in legally constituted political parties, is perhaps the most visible feature of the deterioration that Thailand’s democracy has experienced 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, high-ranking civil servants, and royal advisors — the four party dissolution cases adjudicated by the courts in 2007 and 2008 have been crucial to the subsequent effort to cripple electoral organizations that threatened the Establishment’s rule. Based on a principle of “guilt by association” that has no place in a democratic society, the courts stripped 215 members of the dissolved parties’ executive committees of the right to vote and hold elected office.
The legal provisions in which the Constitutional Court grounded the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, the People Power Party, Chart Thai, and Matchima Thippathai violate several of the rights sanctioned in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — above all, the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives” (Article 25) and the right to “to freedom of association with others” (Article 22), which the Royal Thai Government is obligated to guarantee, among other things, without distinction of political affiliation or opinion (Article 2).
Moreover, the fact that the courts have banned 215 of the country’s leading politicians from elected office based on the infractions of only five among them constitutes a gross miscarriage of justice. The remaining 210 — a number equivalent to almost half the size of Thailand’s House of Representatives — were not only deprived of their political rights in the absence of any wrongdoing, or proven knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing. Contrary to protections contained in the ICCPR, there exists no legal/judicial remedy in Thailand through which these men and women may have their rights restored. Coupled with Thailand’s lack of judicial independence and the pervasive nature of the double standards of justice applied to friends and foes of the Establishment, the rules on party dissolution are 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 to a military coup.
This report describes the four party dissolution cases, highlighting the dubious legal foundations upon which the Thai judiciary has based its effort to cripple the opposition to the military-backed government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Similar scrutiny is given to instances where the Election Commission of Thailand and the courts failed to apply the same standards in their adjudication of cases that could have potentially led to the dissolution of the Democrat Party and smaller parties that were coaxed into supporting Abhisit’s government. The report concludes with a discussion of the imperative to reform the constitutional provisions on party dissolution and an assessment of the prospect that these provisions might once again allow the courts to overturn the results of the upcoming elections. Much of the information contained in this report was also submitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. On April 20, 2011, based on the submission, the IPU’s Governing Council unanimously approved a resolution urging the Thai government to reform constitutional provisions it believes “seriously compromise the political process.”