Sovereign power, as referred to in the current Constitution, belongs to the Thai people. But only people who lose their senses, like Suthep Thaugsuban, can claim they'll assume this authority for their personal use.
Even if he claimed to represent millions of people who are absolutely good or better than the rest of the country, he still cannot assume sovereign power – unless he obtained the mandate through a legitimate election.
Ridiculously, veteran politician Suthep announced last Saturday that once the Constitutional Court toppled Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, he could pick up anybody he deemed proper to seek royal endorsement as the new premier to replace her.
Suthep spoke as if he had received enlightenment in a dream – that staging street protests for five months could give him sovereignty over the state.
Sovereignty is an abstract term, but all politicians, even a novice, know very well that it exists only at the top of political society and on the ground of civil society.
At the top of political society, the head of state – His Majesty the King in the case of Thailand – holds national sovereignty. All constitutions, including the current one, say the monarch exercises sovereign power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the courts.
There has been debate in Thailand continuously since the 1932 revolution, which Suthep should know very well, on whether this sovereignty has been transmitted from the monarchy to the people at the ground level of civil society. Yes, of course, the charter said the sovereignty belongs to Thai people, but people have no right to exercise it without royal endorsement.
Sovereignty really belongs to Thai people. The people in this sense are not an individual or a collective group but an abstract. Nobody can say, like Suthep did last Saturday, that “I have the sovereign power now, so I can install anybody to be the prime minister.”
Thai history suggests there are two ways to take and exercise national sovereignty. One is through the coup d’etat, usually imposed by the military. The other is through an election, which ordinary people can share in.
Obtaining sovereign power could be through two different ways and result in different types. A coup d’etat would constitute ‘effective sovereignty’ as the military would have the real power of weapons to enforce it. Many people might resist, as the coup would be without their consent.
An election on the other hand would constitute ‘legitimate sovereignty’ as it comes from people’s consent. World history has proved many times that this system can be relatively peaceful and civilised.
Suthep did not choose the electoral method, although he was familiar with it and had successfully utilised it many times in his political career and exercise of national sovereign power.
If he really does lose his senses, Suthep might believe in another way of seizing power against people’s consent — by resorting to a force, which now does not exist. In Thailand today, protesters with bare hands cannot rise up to stage a coup to capture national sovereign power.
Suthep and his intellectuals must remember, a student uprising in 1973 did manage to topple the military regime of Thanom Kittikachon. But those young people, some of whom are now advising Suthep, do not have a chance to know how a new prime minister would be chosen, and have no urge to know how the sovereignty works.