A judicial coup in Thailand

May 12, 2014

Late last year, Thailand's capital of Bangkok was rocked by unrest as protesters against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra clashed with police.

The demonstrations, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a high-ranking member of Thailand's pro-military Democrat Party, continued into February--even after the prime minister dissolved parliament and called elections for early February in an attempt to defuse the crisis. Using populist rhetoric and complaints of corruption to mask anti-democratic policies, those behind the protests targeted Yingluck and the Puea Thai Party--which is associated with Thailand's pro-democracy "Red Shirt" movement.

The Democrat Party, which has not won an election in more than two decades, boycotted the elections, and protesters used violence to block hundreds of thousands of voters from going to the polls.

On May 7, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that Shinawatra should be removed from office because the prime minister abused her power when she gave the job of a government official to a relative in 2011. She has now been replaced by an acting prime minister--one of her former deputies. A national election has now been scheduled for July 20, and it seems likely that the conflict between supporters of the Democrat Party and Puea Thai will erupt again.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a Thai dissident who lives in exile. Faced with charges of the supposed crime of "lese majesty"--essentially, not being loyal to Thailand's head of state--he fled the country in 2009. Here, he comments on the removal of Yingluck Shinawatra from office and the prospects for democracy in Thailand.

THE UNELECTED, anti-democratic and illegitimate Constitutional Court has staged a coup d'état, overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on a mere technicality. They claim that the elected prime minister did not have the right to move a government official.

But make no mistake, this is a gigantic conflict between those who believe in the democratic process and modernity, and those who believe in turning the clock back to the dark days when the majority of the population was ignored and insulted.

It is not merely an elite struggle. It is not about succession to the throne, and it is not primarily about the Shinawatra family. Those who make such claims dismiss the political awakening and political participation by millions of Red Shirts and their supporters.

It is a mere technicality because she is accused of "abusing her power" to appoint an in-law to the vacant position. While Yingluck has been accused of this ridiculous "wrong-doing," the military coup makers and the Democrat Party politicians who killed scores of pro-democracy demonstrators enjoy impunity.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

The actions of this court would be laughable if they were not so serious. The court has previously ruled against the right of an elected parliament to amend the military constitution so that all senators would be elected. It also ruled that the government cannot build a much-needed high-speed rail link. In that case, the old fogies stated that "it would be better to build roads." Apparently, they have illusions that they are experts in all matters and have the right to run the country, instead of the government.

This coup d'état is basically in support of the anti-democrat mobs, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, which have brought chaos and violence to the streets of Bangkok. These mobs have also enjoyed impunity. It is merely the latest in a long line of military or judicial coups since September 2006, which have sought to reduce the democratic space and disenfranchise the majority of the population. Each time they have overthrown an elected government, subsequent elections have shown that the majority of the population continue to support such a government.

The caretaker government that survives for the time being is made up of ministers who were not dismissed along with Yingluck. But it will be weaker, and other sections of the anti-democratic order will try to remove them as well. Their aim is to change the rules before a new election in order to further destroy the democratic space.

The Constitutional Court is part of the conservative elite alliance. This alliance is made up of the military, the top bureaucrats, the courts, the anti-Democrat Party, the middle classes and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These are the guilty people who have promoted the destruction of democracy.

Since the end of last year, violent right-wing anti-democratic mobs have openly used violence, including the use of firearms, to wreck the February elections. At the same time middle-class academics and NGO leaders have joined a disgusting chorus of hypocritical calls for an appointed prime minister and measures to restrict the democratic franchise in the name of "peace."

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party cannot be trusted to lead a fight for democracy against these continuing threats. Any defense of democracy must come from the Red Shirt movement. But what is needed is new leadership which is independent of Puea Thai and more closely allied to the organized working class.

First published at Red Thai Socialist.

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