The Courts and the Political Class

New PM Somchai Wongsawat is likely to find himself embroiled in numerous legal battles in the forthcoming months – depending on how long he can hold the coalition together. The first allegation made against him is that he owns or owned shares in CS Loxinfo – which would be contrary to the Constitution which was written by junta cronies and forced through in a referendum held under martial law.

The case against the PM was brought by senator Ruangkrai Leekijwattana – Mr Ruangkrai is an appointed senator who has brought several high-profile cases against prominent members of the democratically-elected government. For example, he was responsible for bringing down former PM Samak Sundaravej for the porklegincocacolagate scandal.

A variety of courts are involved in hearing cases brought against current and former members of government. There are types of activity involved – of course, they overlap with each other in individual cases. I am not criticizing court decisions, which would be illegal, but seek to demonstrate some of the results they will have.

The first effect is to blacken the reputation of charismatic leaders to reduce their popularity and imprison them if that is indicated by the law. This is the effect of the cases against Khun Thaksin’s wife and it is noteworthy that the judge is reported to have said, in his verdict, that she should have behaved in a more moral way because of her position.

The second effect of court cases is to prevent politicians from holding office and parties from being elected. This occurred as a result of the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai and, presumably, the future dissolution of the PPP. Here, the effect will be to remove the ability of the elected government to govern and, eventually, cause the ruling coalition to break up altogether and permit the opposition to get a foot in the door.

The third effect is to render Thai Rak Thai’s pro-poor policies illegal. This may be seen in the case concerning the rubber trees brought against the whole of the Thaksin cabinet and others (the lottery cases are similar). Here, the prosecution will seek to demonstrate that an entire policy was created and implemented with a view to enriching a political class – but more importantly, it will show that any politician who supports a pro-poor policy will be liable to personal prosecution. It will be interesting to see what kind of ‘evidence’ will be brought forth in support of allegations in this category.