Very interesting article by Pavin Chachavalpongpun in Asia Sentinel about how the United States has traditionally relied upon relations with a thin layer of royalist elites in Thailand rather than the burgeoning pro-democracy movement and working class among the Red Shirts. During his visit to Asia, it’s time for President Barack Obama to update his Thailand policy.
In the meantime, the US has been rather quiet even when the Thai domestic situation turned violent, particularly in the past few years. Why has the US failed to promote democratization in Thailand?
The answer is that the American perception of the current power struggle in Thailand is strictly constrained by an old, obsolete structure in which Thai-US relations have been shaped and dominated by the effective military-monarchy partnership and the various American interests in the maintenance of such a partnership. As a result, the US has appeared to adopt a stance of support for establishment forces at the expense of a serious advocacy of the pro-democracy agenda of the Red Shirt movement, known principally as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, or UDD.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul is on the verge of signing a document that might change the course of Thai history. Following a visit to Bangkok by officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the government is now considering whether to issue a declaration that would give the ICC jurisdiction over crimes against humanity committed in Thailand in April and May 2010 (see here for an explanation of the process). This could be a major turning point in Thailand’s eighty-year struggle for democracy.
As the Foreign Minister has stated, giving the ICC jurisdiction over the abuses committed in 2010 can help ensure that the victims, having already been deprived of their lives, their rights, their freedoms, or their family members, will not be denied justice, as the victims of state violence always have in the past. Unlike the massacres of 1973, 1976, and 1992, there is now a real possibility that the deadly government crackdowns of April and May 2010 will be properly investigated, and that those responsible for committing crimes will be held to account.
Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Surapong Tovichakchaikul is to meet with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, today to discuss the possibility of opening an investigation into the protests of April-May 2010.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the possibility of Thailand extending jurisdiction to the ICC.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Question: What is the ICC and why is the prosecutor in Thailand?
Answer: The ICC is located in The Hague. The ICC is established by a treaty known as the Rome Statute of the ICC. One hundred twenty-one countries have joined the treaty. Thailand has signed, but not ratified the Rome Statute. Thailand is therefore not a party to the treaty.
UDD lawyer Robert Amsterdam filed an application with the Prosecutor of the ICC on January 30 2011, requesting a preliminary investigation into the protests that occurred in Thailand between April-May 2010, where 98 civilians were killed and thousands injured.
The application alleges that crimes against humanity were committed against civilian protesters. Although the ICC has jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, only crimes against humanity are alleged in the application relating to Thailand. There is no basis to allege genocide or war crimes.
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).