1932 principles of democracy and constitutional rule

30 09 2012

“Thailand needs a re-incarnation of the 1932 democracy philosophy in drafting a new charter to return sovereign power to the people…” says the Bangkok Post in a report. It would never be an editorial! Heaven forbid! This is an article reporting an event at Thammasat University called “Lawyers and the Coup.”

What was it that the People’s Party/Khana Ratsadon said in 1932? The initial constitution of July 1932 that the toppled absolute king hastily scrawled “provisional” on is the one that most clearly reflected the view before the royalists got their politically grubby hands on the first “permanent” constitution, they said:

Article 1: The supreme power in the country belongs to the people.

Article 4: The person who is the king of the country is King Prajadhipok. The succession will proceed in accordance with the Royal Household Law on the Succession of 1924 and with the approval of the Assembly.

Article 5: If there is any reason that the king is unable temporarily to carry out his duties, or is not in the capital, the Committee of the People will execute the right on his behalf.

Article 6: The king cannot be charged in a criminal court. The responsibility for a judgement rests with the Assembly.

And so it goes on, establishing the sovereignty of the people.

Kasian Tejapira, a political scientist from Thammasat University opined that “the monarchy has become the core of whatever form of administration rules Thailand.” For PPT this means that the spirit of 1932 has been defeated. In fact, while the pre-1946 royalists tried violence, murder and rebellion to turn back the clock, from the time of the gunshot death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946, the effort has been to compete for the allegiance of the military, and from 1957 to use the military to support the return of the monarchy’s wealth and power.

Worachet Pakeerut, a core member of Nitirat, declares – quite correctly – that the “1947 coup … was a landmark coup that unbalanced the power nodes between the monarchy (from the old power) and other political institutions (Khanarassadorn legislature). The post-1947 coup constitutions … strengthened the monarchy and created the privy council.”

Kasian points out that this unbalancing means that “[c]oups … have been endorsed in Thailand as long as they uphold the monarchical institution…”. That’s why some, including Nitirat, want to “add punitive measures against those who attempt to tear down the constitution…”. Kasian says that Nitirat is the only “the only group of public law scholars to stand up to coups…”. That he considers them a “a spectre haunting Thammasat University” is a sad reflection on the fact that royalists have come to control the university that was meant to be the people’s university rather than a school for royals and royalists.

Kasian declares that “Nitirat should, from now on, work towards collaborating with scholars in other fields in order to revitalise the image of ‘Thammasat University for the People’, as it once was…”. What a great idea!

Worachet explained that “all constitutions after the 1947 coup, particularly the 1991, 1997 and 2007 charters, returned power to the monarchy, including the decision on the succession to the throne without referring to the endorsement power of the parliament.” He added that the succession of coups meant that “judges and lawyers therefore would always abide by the coup rules and regulations.”

Worachet called for a new constitution that would include “reforms of monarchy, political institutions, judiciary, and military.”


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