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Reform, or just same old power play?

Suthep Thaugsuban vows to inaugurate a new era for Thailand, but his methods are depressingly familiar

If democratic reform really is the ultimate goal of the anti-government protesters, as they claim, one has to wonder why their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, last Saturday proposed the equivalent of a coup d'etat.

Suthep announced that, if his movement gained "sovereign" status, he would seek royal endorsement for the appointment of a new prime minister. As "the people's representative", he would nominate a new premier once the Constitutional Court disqualified caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

"This time we will seize Thailand," he said. "Sovereignty belongs to the people and the government has already committed suicide by dissolving the House of Representatives on December 9. We, the people, have the right to sovereignty."

Unless it was a slip of the tongue, this choice of words suggests a power-hungry politician rather than the leader of a mass movement promising "better things" for Thailand.

The Constitution stipulates that sovereign power belongs to the people, but that His Majesty the King exercises that power through Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the courts.

As per democratic norms, the installation of a new prime minister, Cabinet and national assembly comes via the people exercising their sovereign power in elections.

The Constitution does not permit sovereignty to be used in any other way to install a government. A protest movement, no matter how large and no matter how appealing its leader, does not have the constitutional power to install a prime minister.

Using unconstitutional force in any form - military, civilian or twisted judicial rulings —to topple a government and install a new one is equivalent to a coup d'etat.

If a coup, judicial or otherwise, is the planned route to power, it is pointless and senseless to talk about the need for reform. Our history offers plenty of proof that seizing power from an elected government does not lead to reform but merely perpetuates the old cycle of political power plays and the decline of democratic values.

If toppling elected governments unconstitutionally really did lead to positive change, we would not be in this mess. Suthep would have had no need to take the battle to the streets if the 2006 coup had led to reforms and the purging of corrupt politicians.

If they accept that their "enemy", former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, abused power and overrode the rule of law, why are Suthep and his movement willing to do the same to achieve their goal? Two wrongs never make a right.

Suthep and the veteran intellectuals behind him are old enough, if not mature enough, to know that democratic reform is a process, not an end in itself.

However good the laws, they can still be twisted and abused if politicians maintain the status quo of self-serving power plays. Suthep blames Thaksin for abasing the rule of law and the Constitution, but says he would do the same. In this context, what's the point of talking about reform?


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