Friday’s surprise piled on surprise roiled politics again. We cannot afford to be distracted from our democratic mission
Constitutional democracy in Thailand is entering uncharted waters as certain political cliques call on the Election Commission to dissolve the Thai Raksa Chart Party over the nomination of a member of the Royal Family.
The commission yesterday ruled that Princess Ubolratana was ineligible to stand in the March 24 election, citing long-standing custom and the tradition of the monarchy remaining aloof from politics.
Thailand, like many other countries, adheres to tradition, the upholding of justice, and meeting society’s expectations. Our form of government mingles British-style parliamentary democracy, in which there is no written constitution, and American-style constitutional democracy, with its equal division of power among the legislative, judicial and executive branches.
Britain relies on precedent, practice and tradition, while the United States has the Supreme Court to interpret the constitution as necessary. Thailand has a Constitution Court specifically to interpret the Constitution, but also a Supreme Court providing the ultimate interpretation of all other laws of the land.
There have been occasions when the outcome of a legitimate parliamentary process was rejected because the courts deemed it unacceptable to a significant segment of society. A good example was the passage of a bill to grant full amnesty to everyone involved in the political mayhem that pitted red shirts against yellow shirts. The fact that the legislation, entirely legitimate, would have cleared fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra of all outstanding charges was ruled unacceptable to society – “inappropriate” in its application to such a divisive and corrupt figure.
This was a case of right and wrong not being clearly defined, in the way guilt and innocence are defined – and yet the difference should have been understood.
With the Election Commission’s decision and moves afoot to dissolve Thai Raksa Chart, we need to set emotion aside and consider carefully the precedent that might emerge for the way the country is governed in the future. Our next steps could have far-reaching implications. What’s at stake goes far beyond the eligibility of a member of the Royal Family to occupy political office. We cannot rush to judgement on the fate of Thai Raksa Chart.
Supporters of the party’s dissolution claim it has recklessly trampled on tradition. In the 13 hours that elapsed between Ubolratana’s nomination and the issuance of a royal command negating it, however, people across the country were either celebrating or accepting the development. There were relatively far fewer objections. She was welcomed into the fray in part because she remains a popular princess and in part because her involvement shattered the military’s seeming lock on political control.
Public sentiment only shifted after His Majesty the King intervened, reminding the nation that royalty is constitutionally barred from politics. An important part of our history was devoted to debate over separating the monarchy from politics. Ironically, those who are calling for Thai Raksa Chart to be terminated do not seem to see themselves as exploiting the revered institution for their own political gains.
What’s instead needed now is a calm, collective search for a rationale with legal and constitutional bases that appeals to the majority of citizens and takes into account both tradition and social norms. Friday’s massive mood swing was deeply unsettling. Whatever happens next should not be permitted to deter Thailand further from its long-overdue return to the democratic path.