Monday, May 15, 2006
APRIL ELECTION DECLARED INVALID - WHERE TO NOW?
he fallout from last month's face-saving exercise of former Thai Prime Minister Taksin Shinawatra -- previously referred to on this page as an "election" -- continues to settle over the Kingdom, reducing view of the way out of the crisis like a political imitation of Mount Merapi's activities today, obscuring the lives of the gentle Javanese villagers on her slopes. But while Merapi's worst is still expected in the coming days, the political eruptions here have probably passed. leaving just a whole lot of ashes that need to be swept up and put somewhere.
The legitimacy of the April 2 national elections wasn't much of a question for this observer, from the day they were called and Parliament dissolved. They didn't appear to have any. Barely more than a month from the announcement until voting day, candidates were required to have 90 days' party membership before eligibility to run. So, no jumping ship from the SS Shinawatra. All other major parties, recognising the deck was stacked, boycotted the vote. So it was almost like elections in one party states, like Saddam's Iraq or Hu Jintao's China. People had the right to vote their conscience -- as long as it was for Thai Rak Thai (Taksin's "populist" Thais Love Thais Party). Except in our case, people were guaranteed at least one alternative choice -- nobody. "Nobody" actually won most Bangkok constituencies (although TRT candidates, by actually having corporeal existences, would get to take the seats).
Wherever they may have been unchallenged in a race (besides by "nobody" of course), candidates are required to receive at least 20% of eligible votes in the district in order to be declared a winner. In order to get around this huge obstacle, numerous insignificant candidacies were put up to challenge TRT, evidently paid for by TRT itself. The challenger might only hope for the votes of famly members, but never mind. The important thing was that, while the TRT hopeful might only garner 10 or 15 % of eligible voters, he or she would win the seat. The whole thing was a fiasco from start to finish.
A few days before the election, I wrote:
But the turnout could well be so low, that an insufficient number of MP's would be elected, and the parliament could not be convened at all. This is what I suspect will happen, and how things will shake out after that is anyone's guess.And this is in fact what happened. The old parliament (only one year old) was gone, and a new parliament could not be formed. There was little prospect for filling the seats, no matter how many repeated by-elections were held. A few days after the election, and after Taksin announced his taking of a "political rest," I wrote:
The crisis isn't over by a long shot, but at least we can begin to see the way. Unfortunately there's probably no constitutional way to simply re-seat the previous parliament. That means another election, with all parties participating, and the sooner the better.Last week the Administrative Court came to the same conclusion. The country needs a new election as soon as possible -- the only way to sweep out the ashes of Taksin's ill-conceived face-saving extravaganza. The Court (part of our constitutional "checks and balances") had nullified the sham election.
But then what? Who has the authority to call fresh elections? There is no Parliament now, and only a "caretaker" government. The Election Commission, in going along with the April vote and carrying it through, has virtually destroyed its own legitimacy. Demands from all sides are increasing, that its members must resign en masse. Any election organised by the same people will be tainted. The country is ready for another go at it, the political parties have pledged their full participation, but we have nobody in authority to name the day, much less organise and oversee the vote. It's the political equivalent of stumbling through a shroud of volcanic ash, running into obstacles no matter which way you try. Thank you very much for all this, Mr. Squareface.
But evidently Ai Naa Liem isn't quite done yet, and is being rather coy about actually running for office again. He had promised only that he wouldn't go for the prime ministership in any government resulting from the April 2 vote, but that he would continue to lead his party. I think he always intended a comeback, and just wasn't expecting the opportunity quite so soon. "Face" is quite important to Mr. Taksin (who is coincidentally the most fabulously wealthy ethnic Chinese tycoon in the entire country), and he seems keen on remaining a wild card for some time to come.
I had also previously written on the role of HM the King in resolving past and current political crises, and many prominent citizens had appealed to him to use his moral authority by appointing an interim government leader. He doesn't work that way, being a true believer in real, authentic democracy for his country. He has taken full advantage of "teaching moments" in the past, and has used his barami (sort of "charismatic power") to avert disaster when necessary, but mostly to teach. After the election, I wrote that such a teaching moment was probably imminent. When the constitutional nature of the problem had sunk into most heads, and many were again clamouring for the Father of the Land to come forward and fix everything with a sweep of his hand (like Dads are always supposed to), judges of the Administrative Court and Supreme Court were summoned to the Hua Hin seaside palace for an audience. It's worth reading the whole thing, but I'll quote a bit of what he told the AC judges:
What I'm saying may seem a bit strange, but I have to urge you. Otherwise people will cite Article 7 of the Constitution. I affirm that Article 7 does not empower the King to make a unilateral decision. It talks about the constitutional monarchy but does not give the King power to do anything he wishes. If the King did so, he would overstep his duty. I have never overstepped this duty. Doing so would be undemocratic.Separately addressing the Supreme Court, here is part of what he told them:
I have suffered a lot. Whatever happens, people call for a Royally appointed prime minister, which would not be democracy. If you cite Article 7 of the Constitution, it is an incorrect citation. You cannot cite it. Article 7 has two lines: whatever is not stated by the Constitution should follow traditional practices. But asking for a Royally appointed prime minister is undemocratic. It is, pardon me, a mess. It is irrational.This is uncharacteristically blunt by His Majesty's standards, but sometimes a teacher needs to be a little bit blunt to get the kids to pay attention. Although he was addressing high ranking judges, he was speaking to the entire Kingdom. Thais are very, very fortunate to have a King of this calibre, a Revolutionary King by any measure.
Since I became King, there have been several rewritings of the Constitution over several decades. I have never acted on a whim. If I had done that, the country would have sunk a long time ago. Now they ask me to act on a whim. If I do what I am asked to do, they will lambaste and gossip about the King, saying that he acts on a whim. I am not afraid. If I had to, I would do it, but I do not have to.
Thus fortified to uphold democratic principles, the Administrative Court nullified a badly crippled election process. A few days later, a committee of the Election Commission, charged with investigating allegations that Taksin's TRT Party had "hired" opponents to stand against them (getting around the 20% rule) and had "altered" party membership documents to make them eligible, returned its finding to the EC. The panel found abundant evidence for these transgressions, including bank transactions and many willing witnesses. Upon receiving the report from the investigative panel (headed by a retired Supreme Court Vice President), the Election Commission chief immediately flew to Sydney, Australia before reading it. One of his fellow commissioners is reported to have submitted his resignation this afternoon. With talk of possible criminal charges against the Election Commission, the chairman is due to return to the fray tomorrow.
Never a dull moment in the Land of Smiles.