On Saturday, in torrential monsoon rains, thousands of Red Shirts gathered in Bangkok to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the 2006 military coup that illegally ousted Thailand’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Red Shirt leaders, Robert Amsterdam, and PM Thaksin (via a webcast) delivered a resounding message that the military coup is still in effect.
Amsterdam asserted that:
“The Coup is not over. This government is not free, nor can it be democratic when institutions in this country have a veto over its ability to function.”
In her speech at the rally, UDD Chairwoman, Thida Thavornseth argued that since 1932 there have been 18 military coups – that’s one coup almost every four years.
She also maintained that despite democratic elections in 2011, Thailand is still living under the conditions of a coup, the difference being that:
“Instead of the military, the judiciary is now the instrument of choice”
UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan also spoke to the crowd:
“In Thailand, a coup can happen at any time. This is not a true democracy, when people suffer and must stop working to protest, and must pay the price with their lives.”
He also reaffirmed the UDD’s commitment to a democratic Constitution, saying that:
“We must amend the Constitution so that everybody in the country has equal rights.”
One thing is for sure, the Red Shirts are dedicated to the cause. An estimated number of 8,000 Thais attended the rally which lasted for eleven hours on Saturday.
French Senators cite the 2007 Constitution and the army as roadblocks to Thai democracy.
Comments by a French delegation to Thailand issued on September 6th by the online French media outlet lepetitjournal.com have been welcomed by the leadership of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). After meeting with Thai political leaders and UDD Chairwoman Thida Thavornseth, the delegation of Senators of all political stripes asserted that the Thai army and the 2007 Constitution are persistent roadblocks to true democracy in Thailand.
UDD Chairwoman Thida appreciates their analysis and, in response, reaffirms that “the UDD is committed to a new People’s Constitution that would allow for the expansion of democracy in the Thai political system.”
The delegation’s request for a meeting with a representative of the Yellow Shirts was ignored.
In the interview by lepetitjournal.com, Socialist Party Senator Gerard Miquel said that
[The Thai] Parliament does not have considerable power. It is rather the army that holds power due to the  Constitution, which was passed at the behest of the military junta and the judiciary, and doesn’t give much power to the Parliament.
His critique of the Constitution was reaffirmed by his UMP colleague, Senator Bernard Saugey, who said that
Thailand is a country which, democratically speaking, is gridlocked. This is definitely due to the Constitution.
The 2007 Constitution reversed its 1997 predecessor’s requirement of a fully elected Senate. Today, the Senate consists of 76 elected and 74 appointed members. Furthermore, the 2007 Constitution granted amnesty to the 2006 coup leaders, a form of retroactive validation which could be used to justify similar extra-parliamentary action in the future.
Centre Party Senator Hervé Maurey expressed this concern by stating that
One realizes that the situation is complicated by the persistent threat of a military coup if the parliament goes too far.
He also compared French- and Thai-style democracies.
At first glance, one could think that there are democratic similarities [between France and Thailand] since there is a National Assembly which is elected in a seemingly democratic manner. But after our meetings [in Thailand], we realized that the Parliament and the Government itself only has a part of the power. There is also the army, which has a significant portion of the power, as well as the judges which are mostly connected with conservative forces and the military.
Nonetheless, the delegation acknowledged that there is still hope for progress. Senator Miquel said that
[The army] cannot contain the Thai people’s will indefinitely, developments are therefore certain to occur. The Red Shirts are very active. We met with Thida Thavornseth, a very committed woman. Eventually an opportunity must arise for things to progress.
The UDD, also known as the Red Shirts, is committed to the realisation of a genuine parliamentary democracy in Thailand. Together with Robert Amsterdam, they have worked tirelessly to hold Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government accountable for the massacres of pro-democracy protestors in the streets of Bangkok in April and May 2010.
While the much awaited decision today by Thailand’s Constitutional Court dismissed the petition which sought the dissolution of the the democratically elected party, it also protected the 2007 Constitution which was put in place by a coup government.
Thailand’s Constitutional Court defused a potential political crisis Friday by dismissing a complaint that the ruling party’s attempt to amend the constitution amounted to plotting to overthrow the monarchy.
Had the court sustained the complaint, it could have ordered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s party dissolved just a year after the landslide election that brought it to power. Many feared such a ruling would have provoked mass street protests and possible violence.
In recent years it has become apparent that the coup d’état is passé. If a group of elites or members of the military are seeking the overthrow of a democratically elected government, the prospect of putting tanks on the streets and unleashing horrific violence bears much too high a cost: the seizure of power such a manner is usually followed by international sanctions, a bankruptcy of legitimacy, a reputation of political risk, and many other disadvantages that come with being an international pariah.
Of course this does not mean that everyone has decided to follow the rules and respect the will of the people. If anything, there are many countries that face an even greater risk of disruptive “soft coups,” whereby unelected administrations are put in place and civilian leaders are neutralized and removed from power through refined and imitative “legal” processes. Whereas the presence of “paramilitary” forces was a force of considerable instability in the 1980s throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the new threat of our current decade is something I’ve titled “The Parajudiciary” – the instrumentalization of a pliable legal system or constitutional court that is directly employed by minority groups to carry out a seizure of power, otherwise known as a “judicial coup.”
Over the next few weeks we are going to be publishing a series of articles examining how the Parajudiciary works, from Egypt to Paraguay and all stops in between, taking a look at recent examples and discussing the implications of this new phenomenon. In our first installment, we take a look at the latest events in Thailand.
On June 1, 2012, Thailand’s Constitutional Court took the extraordinary step of issuing an injunction, quickly shown to have violated the law and exceeded the bounds of the Court’s constitutional authority,1 ordering the National Assembly to cease all deliberations on a proposed amendment to the 2007 Constitution, pending a review of the amendment’s constitutionality. The injunction was issued on the same day when a few hundred activists from the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), in cooperation with members of the opposition Democrat Party, blockaded all roads to Thailand’s parliament, preventing the House of Representatives from meeting to debate 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 intemperate outbursts of Democrat Party members of parliament, some of whom physically assaulted the House Speaker and other parliamentarians. Once again, the PAD, the Democrat Party, and the Constitutional Court have teamed up to delegitimize 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 a duly elected and legally constituted government, whether by military force (as in 2006) or by judicial intervention (as in 2008).
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.
We’ve also always contended that Mark’s real intention in April/May 2010 was actually to protect his own subversion of the rule of law and prevent an entirely legitimate protest holding him to account for the democratically unmandated prime ministership he’d “acquired” in 2008 after he’d received backing from the Thai Army and allied himself with violent actions of the extreme rightwing yellow-shirted PAD movement.
After losing the 2011 election in such humiliating circumstances, being roundly demolished at the ballot box by the completely novice but capable Yingluck Shinawatra, the Thai people probably hoped they’d sent Mark as clear a message it was possible to send – “We don’t want you or your party in government”. Delivering the kind of electoral mandate that the Thai electorate gave Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party would, in a fully-functioning democracy, usually result in a period of stability and would cause the losing party to retreat to figure out where they went wrong. Somehow this simple lesson in democracy seems to have gone straight over the Eton and Oxford educated Mark Abhisit’s head.
The Democrat Party’s sole claim to political power is that the Thai people are too stupid to choose their own leaders. Even worse than being reduced to this pathetic stance is the fact that Democrat Party officials actually believe their own rhetoric, judging by the lengths to which they are willing to go to insult the public’s intelligence.
In the final days of last year’s election campaign, the desperate Democrats held a rally at Rachaprasong. Before the rally, the Butcher of Bangkok, Mark Abhisit Vejjajiva, had the audacity to invite relatives of the six people who had died at Wat Pathumwanaram on May 19, 2010 to listen to his version of “the truth” in order to gain a “better understanding of the situation”. While Abhisit revealed no new information on the killings, his Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban went on to blame the victims for their own deaths, repeating the discredited claim that gun powder residue was found on the hands of four of the victims. As the election results demonstrated a few days later, the Thai people did not buy any of Abhisit’s or Suthep’s lies.