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Courts pose last real threat to government's agenda

SEVEN YEARS after the September 19, 2006 putsch that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai-led government - which is aligned with Thaksin - may not be worried about another military coup, but it must have concerns about the so-called judicialisation of politics.

The opposition Democrat Party, though experienced in parliamentary debate, has become increasingly ineffective, and its tactic of "playing hardball" hasn't translated into the kind of results the Democrats expected.

Outside Parliament, the strength of the anti-government forces has also waned, with only one major issue able to re-ignite their fire - the proposed amnesty bill, of which the Pheu Thai Party insists Thaksin won't be the beneficiary.

And though the anti-Thaksin groups have joined forces under the People's Assembly Reforming Thailand (PART) banner, their chances of making inroads appear slim and their efforts are not aimed at immediately dislodging the government.

Thus, the government's only real fear is the judicialisation of politics, which opponents of the government see as the only way to "deal" with the incumbent Yingluck Shinawatra administration. They think that if they submit a series of petitions to the Constitutional Court, one of the cases might just result in the dissolution of the ruling party.

Senators who oppose the government have lodged a petition arguing that the move to amend the law pertaining to the way senators are selected is in violation of Article 68 of the Constitution.

If the government succeeds in abolishing the system of appointing some senators in favour of having all of them elected, this could have ramifications on the balance of power between the legislative, executive and judicial branches, and might affect the so-called independent organisations mandated under the Constitution.

Supporters of this argument reason that:

l The changes will result in a conflict of interest, as current senators will be allowed to run again right away without having to sit out a term, as the law currently requires;

l Spouses and children of MPs would be allowed to run for the senate, and would have an unfair advantage in doing so;

l Parliament lacked a quorum when it passed the proposed amendment in the first reading in April; and

l Some parliamentarians were not allowed to speak during that debate.

This is not the first time the government has faced obstacles. Last year, it had to retreat from pushing for the creation of a Constitution Drafting Assembly under Article 291 after the Constitutional Court stated that a wholesale rewrite of the charter required the approval of the people.

Pheu Thai then resorted to trying to amend the charter article by article. It has also threatened to resist the Constitutional Court, should it try to stall the bid again, by accusing the court of infringing on the authority of the legislative branch. Or it could try to amend the charter's provisions pertaining to the authority of the Constitutional Court.

"If the Constitutional Court exceeds the scope of its power, then we'll have to do something about it. If necessary, we will amend the charter as it pertains to the authority of the court," said Pheu Thai MP Samart Kaewmeechai, chairman of the House Committee on Charter Amendment.

The ruling party is likely to resort to the second tactic - initiating charter change related to the mandate of the Constitutional Court - because calling a meeting of the Parliament to insist on the legislature's powers seems too risky. But it will also face resistance to legislation authorising Bt2 trillion in borrowing to fund infrastructure projects. This bill might also be sent to the court for interpretation.

If it feels it is running out of options, the government may ultimately resort to dissolving the House in order to garner a fresh mandate from the electorate.


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