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perspective

More than Thai Raksa Chart in the balance


As the acceptability of nominating a member of royalty for public office comes before court, longer-term worries are mounting

The Constitutional Court will tomorrow consider a request from the Election Commission to disband the Thai Raksa Chart Party as punishment for nominating a member of the royal family as its sole candidate for prime minister. The judges unanimously agreed two weeks ago to consider the matter.
The commission accuses Thai Raksa Chart, in putting forward Princess Ubolratana’s name (with her blessing), of trampling on a long-standing tradition embraced by both the palace and society that the monarchy remains aloof from mundane politics. A dozen hours after Ubolratana accepted the nomination, pointing out that she is now a commoner, His Majesty the King, her brother, formally sounded his disapproval. A commoner she might be, was the message, but she was still a member of the Royal Family and as such could not appropriately play a role in politics. 
Ubolratana has not been asked to appear in court tomorrow. 
Thai Raksa Chart is another offshoot of the political network through which self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra continues to wield influence in Thai affairs. Its dissolution would be a major setback for his camp. Party insiders have said they’re prepared for that eventuality, but it will be more difficult for them to accept a lifetime ban from politics being imposed on key senior members. Chaturon Chaisaeng, who is not on the party executive but is very much a leader, could be sent to the wilderness. The case is unprecedented and the outcome thus almost impossible to predict.
Thai Raksa Chart almost certainly expected Ubolratana’s nomination to be a knockout blow and its ticket to power. His Majesty’s intervention was an unexpected and devastating counter-punch that effectively put incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha back in the driver’s seat. If Thai Raksa Chart is dissolved, however, there will be repercussions. Thaksin’s admirers feel the Bangkok elite has already bullied them enough, and the Election Commission’s latest action will only add to the sense of unfairness.
A pertinent question in the face of this is whether the March 24 election itself will be seen as a fair – or merely as “good enough”. Well, we have been living with “good enough” for far too long. The referendum on the junta-drafted constitution, which was preceded by the barest minimum of public debate, was merely good enough. The junta’s vaunted social and economic reforms never materialised, so we had to settle for the intent alone as good enough. 
With Thaksin’s red-shirt movement still a force to be reckoned with, the squashing of Thai Raksa Chart would throw petrol on an already dangerous blaze. With Thailand’s international reputation in tatters thanks to junta missteps, harassing Thai Raksa Chart will do no one any favours.
Adding to concerns over the coming election is the possibility of substantial ballot protests in constituencies where Thai Raksa Chart has been predicted to win. Its ally, the Pheu Thai Party, has not fielded candidates in those places and, disliking the choice remaining should Thai Raksa Chart be dissolved, its supporters might well choose to spoil their ballots. If enough of them do so, there could be a knock-on impact in Parliament.
Clearly, Thailand’s next steps have far-reaching implications, and on many levels. What is at stake here goes well beyond the eligibility or ineligibility of a member of the Royal Family to occupy political office – and even beyond the dissolution of a party aligned with one of Thai history’s most divisive figures.

Published : February 25, 2019

By : The Nation