DEMOCRACY UNDER SIEGE
This past Friday, the Thai people’s representatives, chosen less than a year ago in a democratic election, were blockaded from entering the grounds of the National Assembly to perform their duties under the constitution. The illegal blockade was the work of the so-called Democrat Party, a party that has not won an election in over twenty years, and perhaps as few as one thousand protesters forming part of a movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose leaders are on record demanding the abolition of representative democracy, the establishment of a theocracy (a “dharmocracy,” to be precise), and the closing of the country for a long enough time to “cleanse” it of their political enemies.
Aside from being unacceptable in its own right, the fact that a few hundred people were able to pull off this operation demonstrates the tenuousness of the situation in which the elected government of a supposedly democratic country now finds itself. While the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should be commended for its restraint, under normal circumstances the police should be able to guarantee the free exercise of the right to protest while providing the country’s legislators access to their place of work. That no safe passage could be guaranteed is less an issue of numbers, training, and logistics than it is the product of a crude political reality. The PAD and the Democrat Party are taking advantage of the impunity they have always enjoyed to spark a confrontation, of the kind that would give the military the pretext to stage another coup. The government and the police have little room to maneuver, if they are to avoid this disastrous eventuality.
In a separate, but very much related development, on the same day the Constitutional Court issued an injunction prohibiting the parliament from further discussing amendments to the Constitution, pending a review of their “constitutionality.” Ominously, the question the Constitutional Court intends to review, under Article 68 of the Constitution, is whether the proposed constitutional amendments constitute an attempt “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 the governing Pheu Thai Party 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. This would amount to another “judicial coup.”
In issuing its injunction, the Constitutional Court itself acted in ways contrary to the Constitution. First, prior to consideration by the Constitutional Court, alleged violations of Article 68 must first be investigated by the Prosecutor General, who submits a motion requesting the Court to order the cessation of the act. In this instance, the Court chose to ignore the process. Second, the Court does not have the power to intervene in the process of amending the Constitution, which is the prerogative of the National Assembly. The issuance of an injunction prohibiting the Assembly from considering the amendments therefore constitutes a gross violation of the separation of powers. Under normal circumstances, as suggested by Thai legal scholars, this unlawful behavior might result in the removal of justices who acted with such blatant disregard for their constitutional authority. Unfortunately, given that the decision to remove members of the Court rests with the Senate, a half-appointed body controlled by the Thai establishment, the Constitutional Court has essentially carte blanche to do as it pleases, whether or not the Constitution allows it.
Friday’s events show that Thailand continues to be held hostage by groups that have never accepted the right of the people to govern the country through their elected representatives, and refuse to play by the most basic rules of the democratic process. Given the opportunity, there is no doubt that Thailand’s military, bureaucratic, and judicial establishment, of which the PAD and the Democrat Party are mere appendages, will not hesitate to once again topple a duly elected and legally constituted government. The people of Thailand, and the international community, should do everything in their power to deny them that opportunity, impressing upon the enemies of democracy that what happened in 2006 or 2008 will no longer be tolerated—not in 2012, and indeed not ever again.