Thailand faces judicial revolution

The Star Online

Saturday July 12, 2008

THAI TAKES WITH PHILIP GOLINGAI

The Supreme Court is set to do what a coup, an election and street protests could not – break former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’ political grip.

ON A rainy afternoon on Wednesday, strong winds uprooted a big Rajapreuk tree as Thailand’s prime minister Samak Sundaravej arrived at the Government House, the seat of the Thai government.

Reporters covering the Government House beat saw the uprooting of the national tree as a bad omen for the embattled prime minister who had returned from chairing an urgent People’s Power Party (PPP) meeting on how to cope with its judicial crisis.

This week several court verdicts hammered Samak’s five-month-old coalition government.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that former speaker of parliament Yongyuth Tiyapairat was guilty of vote buying in the recent election and banned him from politics for five years.

And if the Election Commission found Yongyuth, a former PPP deputy leader, was acting in his party capacity in the electoral fraud, his party could be dissolved.

If this happened, it would be a repeat to the Constitutional Tribunal decision in May 2007 to dissolve Thai Rak Thai (the PPP’s predecessor) and bar its 111 executives, including party founder Thaksin Shinawatra, from participating in politics for five years.

On the same day, the Constitutional Court ruled that foreign minister Noppadon Pattama acted unconstitutionally when he endorsed Cambodia’s application to have the disputed Preah Vihear temple registered as a World Heritage Site without consulting parliament.

Two days later, Noppadon resigned.

“The country is more important than my political position. Therefore, although I have done nothing wrong, I will take responsibility by resigning,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court disqualified public health minister Chaiya Sasomsap from office for failing to declare that his wife held more than 5% of stock in a private company, within 30 days of his taking office.

Is Samak worried about his party’s judicial crisis?

PPP spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang said Samak told his party executives in the Wednesday meeting that he was unmoved by what had happened to his government.

The prime minister, The Nation reported, told party executives that what had happened to his government was not beyond his expectations.

Samak, it reported, said that despite its election victory, the PPP had been “targeted for demolition” because it was viewed as a tool for Thaksin to regain his political power.

While Samak is “unmoved” with his party’s judicial defeats some political pundits are writing the doomsday scenario for his coalition government.

On Thursday, The Nation gave three possible scenarios.

Scenario I: Samak tenders his resignation as prime minister to pave way for A) a new nominee of Thaksin, B) Banharn Silapa-archa, the Chart Thai Party leader, C) Abhisit Vejajjiva, Democrat leader, or D) a non-elected prime minister.

Scenario II: Samak dissolves parliament and calls for a snap election.

Scenario III: Samak hangs on but will not last long because A) the Constitutional Court case will rule whether the prime minister’s hosting of a TV cooking show on commercial television was in breach of the constitution, B) he is appealing a libel case that carries a jail term, or C) he faces corruption charges related to the procurement of fire trucks when he was Bangkok governor.

It is not only Samak and his Cabinet colleagues who are swarmed by a litany of litigations.

On July 4, the Supreme Court barred Thaksin, who is seen as the man behind the Samak-led coalition government, from leaving Thailand due to alleged corruption and tax evasion cases involving him and his wife currently before the courts. The billionaire politician also has several cases pending in court.

In an article analysing how Thailand’s political landscape is being altered by the judiciary, an Inter Press Service (IPS) journalist Marwaan Macan-Markar wrote:

“Little wonder why a new expression has been coined and is being advanced within academic and media circles here to describe the judiciary”.

“We are witnessing a new trend involving the judiciary.

“This month’s cases are the latest. It is being called a ‘judicial revolution’,” Thanet Aphornsuvan, dean of the liberal arts faculty at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, told IPS. “The courts are playing a more decisive role in politics than before.”

Some pundits see the judicial revolution as a judicial coup which can do what a coup, an election and street protests could not – uproot Thaksin’s political grip.

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