The impeachment of Yingluck Shinawatra: Worth the trouble for a show-trial?

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 23, 2015 UPDATE 2: Former prime minister and now-impeached Yingluck Shinawatra did not hold a press conference after the military junta told her not to (or according to the junta 'just' told her to "consider carefully"). Instead she posted a statement on Facebook  and while she was "expecting" today's outcome, she denounced the vote as there was clear "prejudice against her." She also said "Democracy has died in Thailand today, along with the rule of law. That move to destroy me is still ongoing and I face it now."

UPDATE: Thailand’s junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has voted overwhelmingly to impeach ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra over her government's ill-fated rice subsidy scheme, a move which see her banned from politics for five years.

Of the 208 lawmakers who participated, 190 voted to impeach the former prime minister, well past the required 132 votes.

Former House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and former Senate speaker Nikhom Wairatpanich both survived impeachment votes Friday.

EARLIER: Thailand's Attorney General is to indict former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for negligence. She will face criminal charges in the Supreme Court. If found guilty she could face 10 years in jail.


When the so-called National Legislative Assembly (NLA) votes in secret today whether or not to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, former House speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and former Senate speaker Nikhom Wairatpanich, the question will not so much be about their fates, but more about the implications of the verdicts that go beyond a possible ban from politics for five years.

First, there’s the obviously the odd precedent that Yingluck was already forced out of office in early May 2014 by the Constitutional Court, which found her guilty in the illegal transfer of the National Security Council secretary Thawil Pliensri in 2011. Ten other cabinet members were also sacked in the same ruling and while the vacant spots were quickly filled, it left another power vacuum (after parliament was dissolved and the snap-election successfully ruined) during an already very volatile situation after over half a year of anti-government protests, further paving the path for the military coup just two weeks later.

The primary reason Yingluck is in the dock again is her government’s rice-subsidy policy in which the government bought rice from the farmers for 50 per cent more than the usual market price, hoping to push prices internationally before selling it on for a profit.  While this populist measure was popular and is credited as one of the main factors behind Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party overwhelmingly winning the 2011 elections, it quickly turned sour as Vietnam and India emerged as the world's top rice exporters and Thailand struggled to offload the 18 million tonnes of rice that it had stored away. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) accused Yingluck of failing to prevent damages that cost the country an estimated US$15 billion.

The seems little doubt how the hand-picked, military-stacked NLA will vote today. Three-fifths of the total votes are needed - 132 of 220 members - to impeach Yingluck. It is highly unlikely that the NLA will dance out of line, especially the 100+ military officers that are expected to tow the junta’s line, despite a strong denial of this by the junta leader and current Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha himself.

With the looming five year ban from politics dangling over Yingluck’s head and that of the other Pheu Thai politicians, this appears a thinly veiled scheme to banish everyone and everything that is associated with Yingluck’s brother Thaksin. The stillpinfluential former prime minister was toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been living in self-imposed exile since 2008. His critics would say that it is his continuing role in Thai politics that is the cause of the current crisis.

But to a much bigger degree it is the fact that those supporting the military coup can’t let go of Thaksin either - and that’s the main motivation of the coup itself and all the so-called ”reform” plans to prevent Thaksin from ever ruling again, regardless of the near-certain disenfranchisement of a large portion of the Thai electorate that could cause even more discontent.

Yingluck herself said in her closing statements on Thursday that the five-year ban from politics would be "a violation of my basic rights" and the case, "solely a hidden agenda against me, it is politically driven."  And indeed, today’s impeachment vote in the NLA appears to be just a show-trial to bolster the military junta's claims to be fighting against corruption - any other outcome besides impeachment today would only spark outrage by extreme anti-Thaksinites (both the protesters from last year and those in power now).

And the damage is being already done. The NACC (overzealously urging the NLA to ”make history” today) has already announced that it will prosecute other members of the former government, while the Office of the Attorney-General may also enthusiastically throw in  a criminal charge against Yingluck this morning shortly before the NLA vote actually begins.

While the likelihood of fresh protests by the anti-coup and (mostly, but not exclusively) pro-Yingluck/Thaksin red shirts remains low for now (thanks to continuing martial law and most of the leadership being muted), today's likely outcome will only deepen Thailand’s ongoing political schism.

The curious case of Yingluck Shinawatra's Bangkok Post (non-)interview

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 27, 2014 On Monday, the 'Bangkok Post' ran what was touted as the "first interview" given by former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra since the military coup of May 22, 2014, which ousted her government after nearly six months of anti-government protests and thus a manufactured political deadlock.

In the story, written by the Post's military correspondent Wassana Nanuam, Yingluck said that she "knew from the first day" in office that her tenure would be cut short; if not by "the independent agencies or the judiciary, [then] it would be a coup." In another poignant quote attributed to Yingluck, she described her removal from office with this metaphor:

I did my best to fulfil my duty as a prime minister installed via an election and who preserved democracy,” she said. “It’s the same as if the people had handed me the car keys and said I must drive and lead the country. Then suddenly, someone points a gun at my head and tells me to get out of the car while I’m at the wheel driving the people forward.

"Yingluck saw the coup coming", by Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post, November 24, 2014 [article removed, read copy here]

This is a rather strong statement from the former prime minister, who's known for her rather soft and reconciliatory rhetoric and has shied away from giving interviews or to comment publicly since the coup. Furthermore (according to the article at least), Yingluck also didn't rule out that she may enter politics again, if she isn't disqualified before and if there'll be any democratic elections in the near future.

Then, the article was removed from the 'Bangkok Post' website on Tuesday.

That raised suspicions as to whether or not there was some sort of outside interference, given the sensitive subject and the rather bold words. After all, since the military coup the media is under strict scrutiny of the military junta, hardly allowing any criticism (let alone opposition voices) - so much so that Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media not to report on the ousted PM or her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been in self-imposed exile for years; while still wielding considerable influence in Thai politics from afar.

But the actual reason was apparently more banal:

[...] its author, Wassana Nanuam, later wrote on her Facebook that the piece was not based on an interview with Yingluck. Rather, the article was drawn from bits and pieces of private conversations with the former leader, Wassana wrote. 

"I just wanted to present lighthearted and colourful angles [of former PM Yingluck]. I didn't want to focus on politics," Wassana wrote. "Let me insist that this is not an interview. It's a recollection of lighthearted and colourful topics about the former Madam Prime Minister."

According to Wassana, the editors at Bangkok Post"misunderstood" the intention of her article when they edited the piece.

"They may have looked at the heavy angles and raised them into points that are different to what the author intended to present, but I recognise it as the error on my own part."

She concluded, "I'd like to take responsibility for any [errors] that were caused by the lack of clear communication from my article. I know that I will be criticised and scolded by many sides."

"Bangkok Post Reporter Retracts Interview With Yingluck", Khaosod English, November 25, 2014

Just to recap on what Wassana said: she essentially intended to write a fluff, "lighthearted" piece about former prime minister Yingluck's life after the coup - all based on comments by her that were off-the-record! Yingluck's former secretary Suranand Vejjajiva also confirmed in a TV appearance that, while the two women did meet,  Yingluck did not give an official interview. And yet somehow, these off-the-cuffs remarks have found their way into written word and were then suddenly published as an interview that was in no way "lighthearted".

But it is really hard to tell that "bits and pieces of private conversations" are off-the-record and aren't supposed to be published, no?!

To say that the Post and Wassana's (whose apparent closeness to many of the top brass has often been questioned) decision to run the story as it was is a major blunder would be a major understatement. This fundamental editorial misjudgment (even more glaring given Wassana's experience) has - intended or not - set things in motion already.

Prayuth is apparently fuming and is considering to put a travel ban on Yingluck (while another Bangkok Post story still is referring to the non-existent 'interview'), which would prevent her from fleeing Thailand as she is still facing an investigation for dereliction of duty in her government's controversial rice pledging scheme by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). This could result in her impeachment - despite the fact that she is already toppled from power but could also be additionally barred from running for office in the future. But the NACC is also thinking out loud about criminal charges against Yingluck, which could spell real trouble for the former prime minister.

Yingluck has publicly said she won't flee the country and that she will be "keeping a low profile", looking after the house and her son - all in all, avoiding the media spotlight. It didn't quite work out that way because, it seems, that somebody doesn't know the difference between on- and off-the-record...!

Thai constitutional court ousts Yingluck; Cabinet appoints new PM

Thailand's Constitutional Court has found caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty in the illegal transfer of National Security Council secretary Thawil Pliensri and has ordered her to step down.

The judges ruled that the transfer is considered "interference" and a "conflict of interest" that is "lacking in ethics and morals".

Thawil Pliensri was transferred from his post of National Security Council secretary in 2011, shortly after the newly-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra took office (we reported).

+++GO HERE to the Siam Voices LIVE-Blog for complete coverage+++

Will Abhisit's 'middle man'-approach end Thailand's political impasse?

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 30, 2014 The efforts of Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to mediate in the ongoing political crisis is being welcomed by some and regarded with skepticism by others. What is the opposition leader's rationale after all these months, asks Saksith Saiyasombut

The past few days saw a man with his right arm in a sling, but also wearing his new ambitions on his sleeve. Abhisit Vejjajiva, former prime minister of Thailand and the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, is seeking a compromise across all political battle lines as fears of ongoing political tensions escalating into more violence grow.

For six months now the anti-government protests led by Abhisit's former deputy prime minister and former Democrat Party heavyweight Suthep Thuagsuban have taken Thailand's political discourse to dangerous extremes. Within that turmoil the opposition Democrat Party wasn't quite so sure where to position itself in all this, especially considering that many Democrat executives and supporters waged their battle outside parliament on the streets instead.

This dilemma grew bigger when the ruling Pheu Thai Party and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament in December and called for new elections. Since its chances at the polls were low as always and delusions confidence of the protesters at an high, the Democrat Party was left with the choice either to compete in the elections or to boycott them - or in their own words, either "killing" or "crippling" the party respectively, knowing that "it will hurt either way," as Abhisit noted then. Ultimately, the party decided to "cripple" itself and not to take part in the elections.

Despite the February 2 elections being successfully ruined by an obstructionist Election Commission and by mob blockades, and later annulled by the Constitutional Court, the Democrats still weren't quite sure where to position themselves other than beating the same "reform-before-elections" drum of Suthep's protesters. But with the mounting legal challenges against interim PM Yingluck at the Constitutional Court and at the National Anti-Corruption Commission taking longer than its rivals would have liked in order to oust her caretaker government, the political crisis steered closer and closer to an impasse. Meanwhile, the number of anti-government protesters has dwindled, with the hardcore  retreating to Bangkok's Lumphini Park.

Abhisit himself, while recovering from a broken collarbone after a fall at home last month, has now decided to re-position himself as the mediator between the warring factions.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has volunteered to spearhead efforts to break the current political deadlock by personally approaching key political figures to sell them on the ideas of reform. (...)

Appearing in a three-minute video clip posted on YouTube Thursday, Mr Abhisit said the only way to solve the political problems and move the country towards progress and stability is reform.

"I believe that the only way forward for the country is through reform, undertaken constitutionally and democratically with elections an integral part of the process,” he said. He did not elaborate on his reform ideas, saying he wanted to meet key individuals and groups to convince them in person. (...)

Mr Abhisit expects to complete the series of meetings within seven days.

However, he did not place the blame on any particular group. "Now is not the time to play the blame game because everyone is accountable for the situation our country is facing, including the Democrat Party and myself," he said.

"Abhisit offers to head efforts to end deadlock", Bangkok Post, April 25, 2014

Since his highly publicized pledge to bring everyone back to the table, Abhisit had a series of meetings with the military, the permanent secretary for justice and also intends to meet interim Yingluck, to name a few. However, there are no signals from her ruling Pheu Thai Party and their red shirt supporters, while the anti-government protesters have straight up slammed the door on Abhisit's mediator efforts and any talks whatsoever.

Abhisit's approach looks much more level-headed on the surface compared to the shrill and uncompromising calls for an unconstitutional power-grab by Suthep or others. Some might even say that Abhisit is distancing himself from the protesters and finally stepping up to be part of the political solution rather than being part of the problem, even though that might alienate a large section of the Democrat Party's Bangkok-based voters.

However, it is still unknown what exactly his "minor reforms" would look like and Abhisit remains vague in interviews after his personal meetings behind closed doors. He also has yet to reveal what the Democrat Party itself will do in order to move things forward, as it has yet to acknowledge the need for inner-party reform. Also, in a meeting with the Election Commission on Tuesday, which is currently aiming for a new election date some time this summer, Abhisit has hinted that might still be too early.

In fact, in all his public statements during the past week Abhisit has been very non-committal whether or not his party will be taking part in the next election. That might be indicative of the Democrat Party (and others) waiting for the outcome of the legal charges against the Yingluck caretaker government (see above). In other words: Abhisit could be waiting for the political playing field to be re-defined or entirely cleared out of their political rivals.

For now, we will have to wait until Abhisit wraps up his mediation tour to see if the intentions he's wearing on his sleeve are real, or if he's actually hiding another card up his sleeves.

'Unlawful' transfer of NSC chief could spell the end for Yingluck

Originally published at Siam Voices on April 2, 2014

UPDATE: Thailand's Constitutional Court today decided to accept the petition against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra relating to the transfer of Thawil Pliensri from his position as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011, the Nation reports.


The legal challenges against the caretaker government of interim-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are mounting as the campaign to  chase her and the ruling Pheu Thai Party out of office gathers steam.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is charging Yingluck with dereliction of duty related to alleged corruption in her government's rice-pledging scheme, and is also bringing charges against against 308 lawmakers for their role in proposed constitutional amendments, just to name two cases. But since early March, there's another case that could topple the current government from power.

The Supreme Administrative Court yesterday ruled that the removal of Thawil Pliensri as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011 was unlawful. Mr Thawil was shifted from the position under the orders of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yesterday's ruling stated that Mr Thawil (...) must be reinstated to his former role within 45 days. It comes a little more than six months before Mr Thawil's mandatory retirement in September.

Mr Thawil lodged his initial complaint with the Central Administrative Court in April 2012, accusing Ms Yingluck of unfair treatment after he was transferred from the NSC on Sept 30, 2011.

On May 31 last year, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of Mr Thawil, revoking the prime ministerial order and ordering Mr Thawil's reinstatement. Appealing against that decision, Ms Yingluck claimed that as head of the government she had the authority to transfer officials to ensure the national administration was in line with the government's policy manifesto.

However, the court ruled yesterday that while the prime minister could exercise her judgement in transferring personnel, there must be plausible reasons to justify her decisions. Transfers should be free from bias or political preferences, the court said.

"Thawil wins fight against NSC transfer", Bangkok Post, March 8, 2014

Thawil was promoted to head of the NSC in 2009 during the administration of Abhisit Vejjajiva and was transferred to the virtually meaningless position of prime ministerial adviser shortly after Yingluck's government took charge in August 2011. While such changes whenever a new government comes is nothing unusual, Thawil argues that his move was because of "patronage":

He was replaced by Pol Gen Vichien Pojposri, then the national police chief, who was replaced by Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong, a brother of Khunying Potjamarn Na Pombejra, Thaksin Shinawatra's ex-wife, and finally by Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanabut.

"Thawil case 'easier way to impeach'", Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

He went on record to say that the patronage system is "reflected in this unlawful transfer. If the patronage system stays strong, how can civil officials be counted on to do their jobs correctly?" However, his critics would highlight his involvement with the previous Abhisit government and close ties to the military - he was one of the men behind the bloody crackdown on the red shirt protests in 2010, but denies he made any order to kill - as aligning to exactly said patronage system.

Thawil's repeated appearances on the rally stages of the anti-government protests in the past five months don't help to deter from that assesment either - so much so that Surapong Tovichakchaikul, one of the men tasked by the prime minister to oversee security, openly declares his mistrust of Thawil and his reinstatement.

While the government publicly states that Thawil will get his job back soon (albeit only for a couple of months until his retirement in September), the case surrounding him could become a bigger legal headache for the government:

Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a senator, wrote on his Facebook page [here] that the transfer of Mr Thawil would be "the knock-out punch" of the caretaker government before or after Songkran.

Thirachai Phuvanatnarabubala, the finance minister in Ms Yingluck's first cabinet, also quoted on his Facebook [here] another appointed senator, Paibul Nititawan, as saying Ms Yingluck, along with her cabinet, could be impeached much faster over the Thawil case than by the rice-pledging scheme.

"Thawil case 'easier way to impeach'", Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

Both of them base their argument on a series of Sections in the Constitution. In a nutshell, Prime Minister Yingluck has allegedly violated the second paragraph of Section 266, since her decision to remove Thawil was politically motivated, since the reshuffle ultimately landed Priewphan Damapong as National Police Chief, who is a brother of Thaksin's ex-wife and Yingluck's former sister-in-law Potjaman Na Pombejra:

Section 266: A [MP] and a senator shall not (...) interfere with or intervene in the following matters for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party, whether directly or indirectly: (...) (2) the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer, promotion and elevation of a salary scale of a Government official holding a permanent position or receiving a permanent salary and not being a political official, or an official or employee of a Government agency (...)"

Thus she would have breached Section 268 ("The Prime Minister (...) shall not perform any act provided in section 266 (...)"), to which Section 182 would take effect ("The ministership (...) terminates upon: (...) (7) having done an act prohibited by section 267, section 268 or section 269 (...)“) and since it would be Prime Minister Yingluck's position on the line, a ruling against her could also wipe out the entire cabinet according to Section 180 ("Ministers vacate office en masse upon: (1) the termination of ministership of the Prime Minister under section 182 (...)”).

It is speculated that the Constitutional Court will decide today (Wednesday) whether or not to accept such a petition against Yingluck and her government. The court has an ongoing track record of ruling against this caretaker government (see here, here, here and here) and could potentially deal the knockout blow the anti-government movement - campaigning for five months now - is looking for, paving way for a political vacuum that will allow it to install an unelected government.

Thai PM Yingluck challenged to live TV debate by protest leader Suthep

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 28, 2014 During the campaign for the 2011 general elections, then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party proposed a televised debate with his challenger Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai Party, in the hope that the well-skilled public speaker could score some points against an at that time inexperienced and unproven politician - who ultimately declined. Since then, Pheu Thai assumed the rule, Yingluck became prime minister and Abhisit lost his manners. Furthermore, the Democrat Party has entirely given up on elections, many of its senior figures have now taken to the streets, bringing the entire political discourse to a halt.

For four months, anti-government protesters in Bangkok have done a lot - most of all disrupting the February 2 elections - in order to topple the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in their ongoing "crusade" to "eradicate" Yingluck's brother Thaksin's strong influence on Thai politics. In his regular nightly (and rabble-rousing) speeches, protest leader Suthep Thuagsuban reflects the group's uncompromising attitude and has consistently refused to negotiate with the caretaker government whatsoever (as seen here, here, here and just as recently as last Tuesday - links via Bangkok Pundit).

This stance, however, changed on Thursday:

Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has challenged Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to one-on-one talks broadcast live on television in a bid to end the political deadlock. (...)

"If Khun Yingluck really wants to find a solution through talks, I ask her to make an appointment for a one-on-one meeting with me in an open setting," Suthep told reporters. "The talks should be broadcast live on TV so that the people know what is going on."

"Suthep calls for live TV talks with Yingluck", The Nation, February 28, 2014

The last time a Thai government openly held talks with anti-government protesters was in 2010 when then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met with the pro-Thaksin red shirts. While the talks were televised for everyone to see, the two-day negotiations ended in no result. But that was just three weeks into the protests and way before things really escalated. These current protests are entering their fifth month.

The timing of this apparent turnaround is noteworthy: the overall situation deteriorated with last week's attempts by the authorities to reclaim some protest sites escalating into a gunfight with protesters, killing six. Last weekend then saw attacks on rally sites in Bangkok and Trat that killed five people - four children were among the victims. Also since then, there have been reports of almost nightly gunfire and explosions near rally sites.

Politically the caretaker government is under pressure. It suffered a defeat at the hands of the judiciary last week when the Constitutional Court rejected its petition to outlaw the protests, showing remarkable indifference to the protesters' actions. Following that decision the Civil Court restricted the authorities' powers to deal with the protesters, effectively banning the dispersal of the rallies.

Caretaker-PM Yingluck herself is facing charges by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for allegedly neglecting her duty in her implementation of the government's populist rice-pledging scheme. She did not personally show up to hear the charges and the red shirts - taking a page from the anti-government protesters' playbook - have chained up the anti-corruption agency.

PM Yingluck's reply to Suthep's live TV debate proposal:

Prime Minister Yingluck agrees to engage in a peaceful negotiation with Mr. Suthep. (...) Prime Minister asked Mr. Suthep whether he is ready to have the negotiation under the principle of the present Constitution and whether he is ready to end the protest to pave the way for the election (...) Though there is no basic principle for the negotiation process to be successful, there should at least be a common goal that both sides would initially like to attain through negotiation. If both sides continue to hold different view on the process, it would be difficult to find a common ground. (...) If each party does not show any sign of flexibility, in the end, we would not be able to find a common ground.

"Unofficial Translation of PM Yingluck’s reaction to Mr.Suthep’s announcement that is is ready to negotiate as reported in the Thai press." via Suranand Vejjajiva, February 27, 2014

Her statement is neither a flat-out rejection nor a full agreement: The protesters would have to end their rally and any proposal that is not "under the principle of the constitution" (e.g. Yingluck replaced by a 'neutral' caretaker-PM) would not be accepted by the government. And then there's the format itself:

"The talks have to have a framework though I am not sure what that framework would look like," she told reporters in the town of Chiang Mai in the north, a Thaksin stronghold. "But many parties have to be involved because I alone cannot answer on behalf of the Thai people."

"Thai PM faces negligence charges as protest leader broaches talks", Reuters, February 27, 2014

Leaving aside the previous remarks from the anti-government camp that she's incapable of making her own decisions without consulting her brother Thaksin, it appears unlikely that Yingluck would verbally go head-to-head with Suthep, who has constantly hardened his rhetoric against her - often below the belt.

But on the other hand, months of street protests resulting in 21 deaths and hundreds of injured have possibly worn out the early enthusiasm of the anti-government protesters, as seen in the shrinking attendance numbers. Suthep, who previously had an interest in escalating the protests, might be looking now at an exit strategy in these talks.

P.S.: Suthep has also challenged Chalerm Yubamrung, the labor minister who's also overseeing the security situation, to a fistfight...!

Thailand's NACC ruling: Why it happened and what it means

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 8, 2014 Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) will charge 308 lawmakers, most from interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party, for proposed amendments to the country's constitution adding more uncertainty over its candidates for the upcoming federal election on February 2.

The proposed changes would have changed the Senate into a fully-elected chamber with 200 members, whereas currently only 76 elected and 74 appointed senators make up the 150-strong upper House (Article 111 of the Constitution). The amendments would have also affected passages that bar direct relatives of MPs, political party members and recently retired MPs to run for Senate (Articles 115.5, 115.6 and 115.7, respectively) and would have done away the one-term limit of six years (Article 117). The draft passed both the House and the Senate in all three readings.

In November, the Constitutional Court quashed the draft amendments and declared them unconstitutional, citing a violation of Article 68 of the Constitution stating that a fully-elected senate would “overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State,”  and insisting that all these changes would enable "a domination of power" by both chambers. Additionally, the Court noted irregularities (some Pheu Thai MPs were caught using their colleagues' voting ID cards) and discrepancies (the original draft is not the same that was later submitted to parliament, mainly regarding Article 117) in the parliamentary process.

However, the Court stopped short of dissolving the Pheu Thai Party. Instead, the opposition Democrat Party (whose MPs and like-minded appointed senators had originally brought this case to Constitutional Court) asked the NACC to investigate the 383 MPs and senators - including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the presidents of the House and the Senate - that have proposed and voted in favor of the amendments, seeking their impeachment.

The NACC announced on Tuesday that after a 7:2 decision it will press charges against 308 lawmakers - 293 of them have proposed and voted in favor in all three readings, while 15 did so in one of the readings. The key reason is this discrepancy:

"The NACC [at this point] based its decision on the Constitution Court's ruling which also covers the part about the falsified draft charter amendment, (...) Basically, the 308 MPs and senators were involved in proposing the draft, so they should be aware that the draft was fake and they should be responsible for their actions," [NACC member Vicha Mahakhun] said.

"NACC to charge 308 lawmakers", Bangkok Post, 8 January, 2014

They also decided to dismiss charges against 73 lawmakers, including interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, finding their part in the process to be "insufficient" and protected by Article 130 of the Constitution, which sets out an MPs' or senator's right "in giving statements of fact or opinions or in casting the vote by any member" to be "absolutely privileged".

65 of these lawmakers voted in favor in the third and final reading, while only eight did in the first and/or the second, but none of them actually proposed the amendments. Two other lawmakers have been dropped from the complaints.

Also, in a separate case, the NACC will charge Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont and his deputy, Senator Nikom Wiratpanij, for their roles in passing the proposed amendments, accusing both of abusing their power. Both men will hear their charges Friday.

The big questions now are what will happen next and what impact it could have for the upcoming elections on February 2, as many of the 308 lawmakers are running for office? As of now, the legislators are asked to testify to the NACC in the next two weeks and can remain in their positions until then. The NACC will then decide on their cases and whether or not the MPs and senators will face impeachment. In that case, Article 272 of Constitution applies here, which states that if the NACC finds "that the accusation has a prima facie case (evident to be true until proven otherwise)," the accused should "not perform his or her duties until the Senate has passed its resolution".

Amidst the ongoing anti-government and anti-election street protests (with protesters set to up the ante again on January 13 with a city-wide "shutdown" in the capital Bangkok) aimed at suspending electoral democracy indefinitely in favor of an appointed "People's Assembly", fears of a coup of some sort have increased. Comments by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha on a military coup (“Don’t be afraid of things that haven’t yet happened ... But if they happen, don’t be frightened. There are [coup] rumours like this every year.”) have done very little to calm things down.

A "judicial coup" has become a little more likely with the NACC's decision to press charges against hundreds of lawmakers from Pheu Thai,  Thailand's most electorally successful political party, and their fate will be decided in two weeks - just days before election day on February 2.

Siam Voices 2013 Review - Part 1: Blowing the final whistle on Thailand's political calm

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 27, 2013 Welcome to the Siam Voices 2013 year in review series, where we look back at the most important and interesting headlines, issues and stories that happened in Thailand this past year. Today we start with the political 2013, which looked very different when it started compared to the chaos on the street we have now - and it is far from being over.

NOTE: This was written before Thursday's escalation of violence that killed a police officer. Furthermore, the Election Commission is openly calling to indefinitely postpone the February 2 snap-elections, which was rejected by the caretaker government.

For a while, it looked like the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was seemingly unshaken by almost everything this year. Neither the increasingly erratic and rabid opposition in and outside parliament nor the problems of their own policies threatened the relative stability of this rule - almost.

The government launched or continued a series of populist policies that were well-intended but not perfect. The rice-pledging scheme did not lift international market prices as anticipated and Thailand lost its top exporter spot. Instead, the country sits on millions of tons of stockpiled rice it cannot get rid of - if so, only at a loss. Furthermore the scheme was tainted by alleged corruption and scaremongering over its safety.

Other incentives didn't bring in the desired effects either, such as tax rebates for first-car-buyers that proved to be a short-term success but backfired later with car owners defaulting on their purchases, or the raise of the daily minimum wage to 300 Baht (about $10) that benefitted a lot of employees but was met with resistance by their employers, especially small and middle enterprises. Also, the 2 trillion Baht borrowing scheme drew considerable criticism, despite the fact that an overhaul of the country's crumbling infrastructure is much-needed.

Politically, Yingluck herself faced a volley of criticism, for example about her constant absence in parliament or the back-and-forth fallout after her uncharacteristically sharp and committed Mongolia-speech in late April. Even the various anti-government (and utterly mislabeled) groups over the year - "Pitak Siam""Thai Spring", "V for Thailand", "PEFOT" etc. - were not able to do much, but in hindsight were a sign of things to come later that year.

Despite all this, Yingluck managed to maintain a tense, but relative calm in the Thai power struggle at least for the first half the year. Even the military didn't mind that much to have Yingluck taking up the defense minister portfolio in the last cabinet reshuffle.

Maybe that was the reason why her government and the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT) felt so confident that they thought it could ram a broad amnesty bill through both parliament and senate. Initially only meant to absolve political protesters from the rallies between 2006 and 2010 but not their leaders (and none convicted of lèse majesté either), a parliamentary committee dominated by PT MPs did an audacious bait-and-switch and re-wrote to expand those "accused of wrongdoing by an organisation set up after the coup of 2006" - which would have included former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's conviction in 2008 and paved him his return to Thailand after years of self-imposed exile.

Protesters' explosion and Democrat Party's implosion

The Pheu Thai Party absolutely underestimated the outrage the bill would spark. It managed to create an amnesty bill broad enough to upset nearly everybody, even their own red shirt supporter base, since it also would have covered those responsible for the violent crackdown of 2010. Thaksin, who undoubtedly still wields considerable influence from afar - has gambled away his ticket home and it'd take a long while until he or his party can try another attempt.

Despite the bill unanimously struck down in the senate and repeated pledges by the government not to resubmit it again, the controversy ignited the anti-amnesty protests which re-united the anti-Thaksin forces and brought them together as a motley crew of self-proclaimed "saviors" against corruption and for "true democracy". After the bill's demise, the movement unmasked itself as an all-out anti-government campaign led by veteran Democrat Party politician Suthep Thuagsuban. The Constitutional Court's rejection of the government's proposed charter amendments did change a little at that time already, as did the House dissolution and scheduling of snap-elections on February 2, 2014.

A lot has been already said here about the protesters and their intentions lately, but it still bears repeating: this drive is not a push against corruption and for true, sustainable political reforms, but an undemocratic power grab that keeps on escalating until there is a complete derailment of the democratic process and the resulting vacuum is replaced by a system (e.g. in form of the appointed "People's Council") that is aimed at disenfranchising a large portion of the electorate only in order to prevent Thaksin and his political influences taking hold in Thailand again, no matter how high the cost. The fact that somebody with such a chequered past like Suthep can now brand himself as the "people's champion" is a cruel punchline of the flexible moralities in Thai politics. Corruption and abuse of power in Thai politics existed before Thaksin and surely will not end with his often demanded "eradication" - somebody like Suthep should know it best.

This is the result of the opposition's pent-up frustration at the electoral invincibility of Thaksin-affiliated parties and the failure to adapt to the changing political and social landscape - especially in the North and Northeast, of which many of the protesters hold dangerously outdated views (e.g. "uneducated rural", "dictatorship of the majority", "vote-buying") of them. The steady demise of the opposition Democrat Party was illustrated by repeated antics in parliament and party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva calling Yingluck a "stupid bitch". After much meandering, the Democrat Party decided not to be part of the democratic solution but part of the anti-democratic problem by announcing to boycott the elections of February 2 and thus declaring political bankruptcy.

This year and especially the last two months have left us with an uncertain future for the state of the country's political stability; divisions are greater than ever before with compromise never further away as we inch ever closer to the brink of chaos. The elections will help little to ease the tensions, but alternatives are no better. The question is now: how do you fix democracy? Surely not by taking down the whole house and letting it be only rebuilt and inhabited by a selected few.

The Siam Voices 2013 year in review series continues tomorrow. Read all parts here: Part 1: Politics - Part 2: Lèse Majesté & the media - Part 3: The Rohingya - Part 4: Education and reform calls - Part 5: What else happened?

Thai court quashes changes to Senate, spares Pheu Thai Party

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 20, 2013 Thailand's Constitutional Court has ruled that proposed constitutional amendments to allow a fully elected Senate are unlawful, but stopped short of punishing the ruling Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners. The nine-judge court struck down the government's plans to change the Senate, Thailand's upper House, into a fully elected 200-member chamber - compared to the current 76 elected and 74 appointed members - among other new regularities.

In the verdict reading, which started two hours later than scheduled, the judges voted 5:4 the amendments to be in breach of Article 68 of the Constitution, stating that a fully elected senate would indeed "overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State". Furthermore, the judges took offense at planned changes that would allow direct relatives of MPs to run for Senate, saying that a "spouse-husband" rule of both chambers would "allow a domination of power". Another major reason for the rejection were technical irregularities in the parliamentary process of the drafts, from wrongly submitted documents to different bodies, to MPs caught voting for their absent colleagues with their voter ID cards. That decision was voted 6:3.

The Constitutional Court strongly voiced its opposition to a "dictatorship of the majority" - the ruling Pheu Thai Party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has a comfortable majority in parliament with its coalition partners - as it sees the system of checks-and-balances to be compromised by a "total control" of parliament by politicians. Nevertheless, the Court stopped short of dissolving the Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partners, stating that the actions did not constitute grounds for party dissolution (although the court was unclear as to why).

Initial reactions are divided along party lines. Appointed senator Rosana Tositrakul, one of the plaintiffs who brought the case to the court, was reportedly satisfied that the proposed amendments were brought down, but also wants to see the 312 MPs who voted in favor of the changes and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra "to be held accountable". On the other side, cabinet member and red shirt leader Natthawut Saikua defiantly declared at a red shirt rally at Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium that "a new round between democratic forces and extra-constitutional forces has begun." From the government side, interior minister Charupong Ruangsuwan reinforced the party's refusal to accept the verdict (before it has even been delivered), questioning how an all-elected senate could be any worse than a partly appointed one. Prime minister Yingluck herself declined to comment as she walked past reporters with a smile.

While it was spared the worst case scenario, the ruling Pheu Thai Party and the government of Yingluck Shinawatra have suffered another defeat in a short period of time, partly thanks to the same overeager and hamfisted manner they rushed the amnesty bill earlier this month, which was struck down in the Senate after a massive backlash. The government has lost another big legislative playing card for now and may be down, but not entirely out.

Today's verdict also shows again the heavy politicization of the Constitutional Court, hardly hiding its contempt towards elected representatives and the rule of parliament, while the court itself is not without either bias or fault. Citing Article 68, the Court has set a precedent that potentially prohibits any elected government to make any changes to the 2007 Constitution, which was drafted and approved after the military coup of 2006, further prolonging the political polarization Thailand has been suffering since then.

Thai Constitutional Court to decide on govt's fate yet again

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 20, 2013 UPDATE (Nov 20, 14.30h): The Constitutional Court ruled that the charter amendments to be unlawful, but did not disband the ruling Pheu Thai Party and their coalition partners. The judges took offense at the many irregularities during the parliamentary process (such as MPs using their absent colleagues voter ID cards to vote on their behalf) and the changes to Article 115.5 of the Constitution (see below). Full story and analysis here.

Original article

The current political tensions in Thailand could be prolonged this morning (Wednesday) at 11am as the Constitutional Court yet again decides on the constitutionality of proposed amendments brought forward by the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT). A rejection could also yet again threaten PT and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's grip on power - something that anti-government protesters are counting on.

Pheu Thai and the Yingluck government are still licking their wounds after a massive backlash earlier this month - including from their own supporter base - for pushing a wide-reaching amnesty bill through parliament, which was struck down in the Senate last week.

That decision has not appeased the opposition, as street-protests led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban of the Democrat Party are still ongoing despite sinking attendances and a failed call for a national strike. Nevertheless, anti-government sentiments - stemming from an emotional antagonism against former prime minister and Yingluck's brother Thaksin - are high and what was initially meant as a anti-amnesty bill protest has gradually shifted into a straight-up campaign to overthrow the government. Currently, they are collecting signatures to impeach 310 MPs who were in favor of the amnesty bill.

Another cause for 'hope' for the anti-government protesters is today's upcoming verdict from the Constitutional Court on the legality of proposed amendments to the 2007 constitution, in particular the makeup of the Senate. In the draft, the new Senate would be increased from 150 to 200 members, all elected into office instead formerly 76 elected and 74 appointed senators (Article 111 of the Constitution). Critics also accuse the government of amending or abolishing passages that prevent direct relatives of MPs, party members and those who served as MPs in the recent past (Articles 115.5, 115.6 and 115.7, respectively) to run for Senate. Furthermore, the one-term limit of six years (Article 117) would also be done away with.

The complaint was sent in by a group of Democrat MPs and like-minded appointed Senators in September. Their reasoning and demands:

[...] ใช้สิทธิตามรัฐธรรมนูญมาตรา 68 ยื่นคำร้องขอให้ศาลรัฐธรรมนูญวินิจฉัย สั่งระงับการแก้ไขรัฐธรรมนูญ [...] และให้ยุบ 6 พรรคร่วมรัฐบาลที่ ส.ส.ในสังกัดร่วมลงชื่อเห็นชอบกับการแก้ไข และสั่งเพิกถอนสิทธิเลือกตั้งหัวหน้าพรรคและกรรมการบริหารของ 6 พรรคร่วมรัฐบาลเป็นเวลา 5 ปี

Invoking Article 68 of the Constitution, [they] call on the Constitutional Court to rule and suspend the amendments [...] and dissolve the six-party government coalition whose MPs voted in favor of the amendments and bar their party leaders and executives from running in elections for 5 years.

ประเด็นที่กลุ่มผู้ยื่นคำร้อง [...] นั่นคือ เรื่องผลประโยชน์ขัดกัน คือ ส.ว.แก้ไขรัฐธรรมนูญให้ตัวเองลงสมัคร ส.ว.ครั้งหน้าได้ จากเดิมที่เป็น ส.ว.ติดต่อกันเกิน 1 วาระไม่ได้ รวมทั้งมีการแก้ไขให้ "ลูก เมีย สามี" ลงสมัคร ส.ว.ได้ โดยจะโยงให้เห็นว่าอาจส่งผลให้ระบบตรวจสอบถ่วงดุลมีปัญหา รวมทั้งกระบวนการพิจารณาแก้ไขร่างรัฐธรรมนูญที่ไม่ชอบด้วยระเบียบข้อบังคับการประชุม อย่างการกดบัตรแทนกันของสมาชิกรัฐสภา

The reasonings of the complainants [...] are that the Senators are changing the constitution for their own benefit, from running in the next election whereas currently they cannot be in office for more than one term consecutively to allowing children, wives and husbands [and parents of MPs] to run for Senate, also including potential problems with checks and balances and irregularities during the parliamentary debates on the constitutional amendments, such as MPs using voter ID cards of absent colleagues to vote for them.

"คำวินิจฉัย"ศาล รธน." ปัจจัยจบ"ม็อบนกหวีด"?", Matichon Online, November 15, 2013

โดยน.ส.รสนา [โตสิตระกูล] กล่าวว่า เห็นว่า [...] ขัดรัฐธรรมนูญ มาตรา 122 และมาตรา 3 วรรคสอง ที่กำหนดว่า การปฏิบัติหน้าที่ของรัฐสภาต้องเป็นไปตามหลักนิติธรรม [...] ดังนั้น จึงเห็นว่า การแก้ไขรัฐธรรมนูญดังกล่าว [...] เป็นไปเพื่อให้ทันกับ ส.ว. ที่จะหมดวาระ ในวันที่ 2 มี.ค.2557 ซึ่งจะสามารถลงเลือกตั้งใหม่ได้ทันที

[Appointed Senator] Miss Rosana Tositrakul says "In my opinion [...] [the amendments] violate Article 122 and Article 3.2 of the Constitution that say that the duties of the parliament have to follow the rule of law [...] thus I think these constitutional amendments [...] are for the Senators to run again, since their term ends on March 2, 2014."

"'รสนาง ยื่นศาลรธน. เบรกลางนติๆวระ3 แก้ที่มาส.ว.", Thai Rath Online, September 23, 2013

As with previous petitions, the complainants have cited Article 68, stating that anyone can file a petition to the Constitutional Court in case “a person or political party” tries to “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State under this Constitution“, which they clearly see in the amendments. The problem here is that it is ambivalent whether or not the attorney general is required to submit petitions - the majority of the judges think the attorney general is not necessary here and accepted it directly. Another amendment aims to clarify that point.

It has to be mentioned that - not unlike Pheu Thai and the amnesty bill - the appointed Senators are attacking the proposed changes to their chamber with a certain amount of self-righteousness, was it them who also have partly circumvented the restrictions and played the system for their own benefit, as our writer Kaewmala points out:

Poll after poll shows the majority of Thais supporting a fully elected Senate. The 2007 Constitution prohibits spouses, parents and children of sitting MPs from running for the upper house. This means most Thais don’t see the dangers of husband-and-wife parliament as much as the guardians of Thai democracy do. (And one might also ask if appointed Senators are less politically incestuous than the elected ones).

In any case, in February 2011 as many as 67 of 74 appointed senators resigned one day before the end of their six-year term so that they would qualify for another term. One can say that they strictly followed the letter of the Constitution, which imposes a one-term limit. It is clear that these 67 Senators felt a strong sense of duty to serve (by appointment), although the people seem to want to choose the representatives themselves. Is it a coincidence that those making the biggest noise against a fully elected Senate in the just approved constitutional amendment are mostly appointed senators?

"Constitutional amendment and the guardians of Thai democracy – Part 2", by Kaewmala, Siam Voices/Asian Correspondent, October 20, 2013

Furthermore, the government and the red shirts, who were rallying Tuesday evening (and still soul-searching after the amnesty bill debacle), perceive the Constitutional Court to be politicized (also see here), as the preemptive refusal by PT lawmakers to accept the court's verdict clearly shows.

Nevertheless the nine judges will rule not only on the constitutionality of only a part of a greater catalogue of charter amendments, but also on the fate of Yingluck Shinawatra's government. As commented in Matichon, one of at least three likely scenarios can take place at 11am: 1) the amendments are constitutional, 2) the amendments are unconstitutional but the parties are not dissolved, instead the individual 312 MPs who voted in favor of the changes face impeachment, 3) the amendments violate Article 68 of the Constitution (see above), the ruling Pheu Thai Party and their 5 coalition parties face dissolution.

Today's decision by the Constitutional Court is less about the issue about the Senate's makeup, but yet another watershed moment that could defuse the political polarization a little bit or push the tensions beyond the brink.