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Taking the law into their own hands

Our caretaker government seems to think winning an election gives it the right to flout the courts' authority; that's not how democracy works

Caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told Cabinet members on Tuesday that his ministry had issued an international statement on the recent Constitutional Court verdict. The court had voided the February 2 election because it was held on different days in different places, contrary to the Constitution.

The ministry's statement, said Surapong, explained that the ruling did not take into account the electorate's wishes and thus subverted the rights of the more than 20 million people who did vote. The statement called for the international community to monitor the situation in Thailand for signs of an "undemocratic process".

The content of the statement is similar to that of the letter sent to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by politicians from the ruling Pheu Thai Party.

Their letter asked Ban to condemn an "undemocratic conspiracy" by conservative and anti-democratic forces in Thai society. It accused the Constitutional Court and the other independent agencies of siding with Pheu Thai's enemies in a bid to "get rid of our side" and the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. "Several decisions of the Constitutional Court and the independent organs under the Constitution are unlawful, undemocratic and unjust," said the letter, which was made public the day before the Foreign Ministry released its statement.

While Pheu Thai's letter comes as no surprise, the same cannot be said for the ministry's statement. In contrast to political parties and activist groups, the ministry is a state agency and as such is supposed to remain politically neutral. Its authority should not become a political weapon aimed at perceived enemies.

It was quite acceptable for Pheu Thai members to write to the UN chief. However, it was inappropriate for the Foreign Ministry to take a similar stance against the Constitutional Court, which is part of the check-and-balance mechanism enshrined in the three branches of government - administrative, legislative and judicial.

The release of the statement has sparked suspicion of political intervention. The minister reported that "some ministry officials" objected to releasing any such statement because they are close to senior bureaucrats who side with the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee.

Politicians like to boast of their democratic credentials as elected public representatives, even though, in reality, many are no such thing, having come to power by buying votes in one form or another. Some lawmakers consider themselves superior to judges, pointing out that the judiciary is not elected.

However, winning an election does not give politicians the right to do anything they wish. Being elected is not a licence to break the law or deny the authority of the courts.

Like everyone else, politicians have a duty to respect the rule of law, just as the courts have an obligation to interpret and apply the law. These same politicians happily use these same courts to sue their enemies and they often win favourable rulings. They must simply accept the fact that, if they lose a game, they cannot blame the referee.


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