Wednesday, May 30, 2007
THAI CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES ON PARTIES' FATE *updated*
oday is the day which has had much of the country on pins and needles in anticipation. The Constitutional Tribunal has been delivering its verdicts on the future of the two major political parties, both of which faced possible dissolution stemming from last year's illegitimate national elections.
The court began reading the judgement at 1:30 pm, with Democrat Party leaders in the dock to hear the verdict. It was three hours of tedious reading as the judges took turns going through the case, the charges and the party's defence, before reaching the verdict on the first charge -- not guilty. Another hour before getting through the remaining charges. Not guilty on all counts.
The charges against the Democrat Party (Thailand's oldest political party) and the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) Party (the self-founded vehicle of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra) originated with the snap election called by Thaksin in April of last year. Opposition parties, led by the Democrats, boycotted the polls as illegitimate -- a view which was confirmed by the Constitutional Court soon afterwards. Evidence soon emerged that Thaksin's TRT had (allegedly) paid smaller parties to run candidates against them in many districts, primarily in Bangkok. This was an effort to circumvent the requirement that an unopposed candidate must garner at least 20% of eligible voters in order to win the seat.
The judgements on the Democrat Party today found no evidence of electoral tampering on their part. These charges were lodged by TRT after their own (still alleged, at this point) malfeasance in fixing the polls came to light. This was what I surmised from the beginning, that the charges against the Democrats were simply frivolous tit-for-tat political games on Thaksin's part. The Democrats had been accused of "framing" TRT, "leading" candidates of small parties to "frame" TRT, and trying to prevent candidates of small parties from entering the race. One of these small parties has been found to have falsified membership records to enable its candidates to run in the election, and has been dissolved today.
A further judgement has found that the requirement which bans party executives from holding office for five years if their party has been dissolved, may be enforced retroactively and thus remains as a potential penalty. So that is still on the table, as we listen to the court going through the same long procedure of going over the case, the individual charges and the party defence in the matter of Thai Rak Thai's future. It looks like this won't be over until late tonight -- I'll post an update later.
Thousands of extra security forces are on duty in Bangkok today, in anticipation of possible trouble from partisans of either side. I'm more worried about what Thaksin supporters might get up to. So far there's been no confirmation of the large mobs that were feared to be ready to enter the city from upcountry. Schools were either closed for classes today, or students were sent home early. The prime minister has warned that imposing a state of emergency might be necessary if things get out of hand, but everyone is hoping now that cool hearts will prevail, even if TRT is dissolved.
My prediction is that it will be found guilty of breaking laws in order to fix an election (albeit an illegitimate election). We'll know in a couple of hours. I really hope that the conniving Thaksin, wherever he is today, is watching this. His delusions of permanent power, of creating a virtual one-party state in the mold of Mahathir's UMNO in Malaysia or the PAP in Singapore, are the cause of this entire mess Thailand has found itself in since the beginning of 2006 (and including the "coup" - which I think of as more of a "reboot"). Had the military not acted, he might have gotten away with it.
UPDATE:: 00:25 Thursday
The court began reading the case against TRT at around 6:30pm. The nine judge panel dropped the final bombshell at about quarter to midnight. Thai Rak Thai Party has been dissolved, and its executives barred from political life for five years. Two more small parties were also disbanded with the same proviso, for having engaged in electoral fraud in the pay of TRT. Two top leaders of that party (both government ministers under Thaksin, as well as running his election campaign last March) had paid for candidates from smaller parties to run against them, in order to circumvent the 20% minimum for uncontested constituencies. Due to these men's positions in the party, the party must also be responsible for their illegal actions, the court found.
Supporters at TRT party headquarters looked ready for sleep by the four hour mark, but they finally stirred, gathering on the stage in readiness to address the part of the throng which hadn't gone home yet.
The judge continued to read, read... They showed their work -- all of it. No summaries here, the entire judgment is "on the record" to the max -- a lot of people were watching it tonight. The tribunal judges, I think, took some inspiration from their audience with HM the King last Thursday. Since entering their deliberation conclave on Tuesday, the judges had stayed in seclusion right through until the reading of the verdict today, itself more than ten hours from start to finish. They looked very anxious to get up and go home when they reached the end of it.
Today is a national holiday, Wisaka Bucha Day (Buddha's enlightenment). Good timing, and good strategy to lay out the whole story, all the logic contained in the judgement, and take all day doing it. A lot of political education took place today -- there was nothing else on tv (every channel carried the whole thing), and everyone wanted to know what was going to happen. So they watched, listened on radios... And they got more than ten hours of it, and the awaited punchline only at the very end -- fifteen minutes from Wisaka Bucha. There'll be no rioting tonight, I think.
Back at Thais Loving Thais Party, they'd been standing on that stage for what seemed ages (split screen with the court). Showing the love. Microphone at the up and ready, but the judges just wouldn't finish! It looked funny, so impatient to take back the spotlight from this tribunal. When they finally did get their turn, it was pretty shrill and defiant. After this all-day lesson in rule of law, constitutional arguments and principles coming from these judges (and going straight into almost every home), I don't think many of the general public will buy what TRT is staking out tonight -- that "the dictators" had the power to set right and wrong. Meaning (but unspoken) that these judges would have to be lackeys of the "coup makers." Not going to fly, I'm afraid.
Big change to the landscape and Abhisit Vejjajiva, the new generation leader of Democrats, sees his star rise. (It was great to see Chuan Leekpai sitting beside him in the court, the former prime minister doing his famous sketches of people in the room.) A lot of the political elite are now out of politics, and this includes Thaksin himself, when and if he comes back. Abhisit looks to be on his way to becoming the youngest prime minister by the end of the year. Democrats are credible and popular in the South, and that's where real problems need addressing.
After the new constitution is debated, amended and finalized, and after it's ratified (or not) by the people, and after a brand new, highly honest and transparent election sometime in December, democracy is back. That's the hope, anyway! And I think they'll do it, after the truth commission today. From reboot to restoration in 15 months, methodical and deliberate -- much like the event today was.
The people of this country share a heart (in the metaphysical sense) in which they keep their beloved King. A connection like that goes a long way when the task is difficult, and needs unity. Now if we can get over these last few jumps til December, maybe after his birthday His Majesty can just sit back for a while and listen to jazz.
Here's a few more links. The Nation kept a good journal throughout the day, as each finding came out. Bangkok Post provided a brief background on who was charged with what. A Nation editor blogged it all the way, very good reading there.