Thitinan Pongsudhirak has a most useful commentary in the internationally-influential Wall Street Journal. He takes aim at Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s repeated claims about the rule of law. He begins: “On the surface at least, Thailand has returned to the rule of law. After the government declared a state of emergency in April, the military subdued the “red shirt” protesters and restored order. And in the last three weeks, the Constitutional Court dismissed two cases against the ruling Democrat Party that could have seen the party banned from politics. However, in both cases the government’s wins came at the expense of its perceived legitimacy.”
He argues that the military and judiciary are “[p]ropping up the pro-establishment status quo” and that the “public’s suppressed aspirations for reform mean that Thailand’s period of tumult is not over…”.
Thitinan argues that the “courts are increasingly the final arbiter of the country’s political direction. But because the courts are perceived as biased, instead of achieving [political] reconciliation and a way forward, judicialization has exacerbated matters.” He goes on to describe the Constitutional Court’s work on the cases against the Democrat Party as “shocking because they were made on procedural grounds and in the face of strong precedents for holding the ruling party accountable.”
The “precedents” are the cases that dissolved the parties and banned some 200 politicians associated with elected governments and that were pro-Thaksin Shinawatra in moves that look to PPT like judicial coups. Nothing of that for the so-called Democrat Party as technicalities were used to save the party of the establishment. As Thitinan politely observes, those trials “were expeditious and the court delivered the verdicts rapidly.”
He also notes that the cases against the anointed Democrat Party “dragged on, [and] several judges of the nine-member court were filmed discussing how to exonerate the Democrats.” Red shirt claims of “injustice” and “double standards” have traction, and Thitinan believes that red shirt opposition will be galvanized.
Thitinan observes that “the establishment forces’ game plan is clear. Having put down Mr. Thaksin’s challenge and crushed the red shirts’ uprisings in April 2009 and earlier this year, the latter at a cost of 91 fatalities and 1,900 injuries, the army-backed government of Abhisit Vejjajiva is emboldened to soldier on with its own populist agenda of deficit spending on handouts and giveaways in preparation for the polls. The Democrats are unlikely to win an outright victory, but the establishment camp can ensure they remain in power. The army is poised to pressure smaller parties to join a Democrat-led coalition, leaving out the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party.” He predicts that there are “a series of confrontations down the road.”
PPT would add that the establishment’s game plan only involves elections that they can “win” one way or another. They want to be able to further crush any red shirt and anti-monarchy movement by pointing to such a victory, effectively legitimizing their long-standing repression of opposition. The military, palace and establishment allies do not want a repeat of 2007, when they thought they had organized an election victory, only to have it snatched from them. Their on-going repression, purges of the bureaucracy, police and military, corruption of the judiciary, and their support for shady coalition partners are all meant to ensure a victory in the next election (that will only be held when victory is assured).