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.  

Policies Not Personalities – with Thai Characteristics

Former PM, as we must now refer to him, Samak Sundaravej has apparently withdrawn his name for re-nomination and hopes to stand down from leadership of the PPP. This is unfortunate, not for the sake of Khun Samak himself who can be replaced (and whose personal politics are not edifying) but because it represents another blow against the people’s clearly expressed will and gives more heart to the right wing PAD thugs, who will accept nothing less than the disenfranchisement of the rural poor and working classes.

The broad coalition established by Thaksin Shinawatra to enable electoral victory for the Thai Rak Thai party was always going to fray over the course of time – seven years of electoral success is unprecedented in Thailand and unusual for many countries. Initially, it contained policy-makers who had previously supported the Communist movement in the 1970s alongside the domestic capitalist class and representatives of the labour movement. It was inevitable that there would be internal conflict between some of these sectors over the issues of globalization, free trade agreements and privatization, among other issues. That is the very stuff of politics and (thinking optimistically) it represented opportunities for representatives of different sectors to frame their positions logically and clearly and establish new settlements for the mutual benefit of each – this is easily and often unfairly characterised as politicians just being in it for themselves and out for what they can get.

However, it is that coalition which enabled the establishment for the first time ever of a policy platform that was pro-poor and pro-redistribution in nature. It was not perfect but it was better than before and has now become a central part of Thai politics. The central political issue of the day is whether this pro-poor policy position remains in force or will be allowed to dissipate – which is what would happen with a so-called ‘government of national unity’ – or disappear forever, which is what the right-wing PAD mob is committed to achieving.

People come and go – policies are what really matter.  

Judges Obeying Their Nature Is No Story

It is the nature of a dog, as Aristotle observed, to bark. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is the nature of a right wing judge to make decisions in line with their beliefs. Hence, having recently written the junta’s constitution, the judges of the Constitutional Court have ruled that democratically-elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej must resign because of his TV cookery show, since they deemed him to be an employee of a corporation and, hence, subject to conflict of interest issues.

Coalition MPs have promised to back Khun Samak for re-nomination but the press is still in a ferment for secret plots and conspiracies and who is it going to be next? As ever, ‘academics’ and ‘business executives’ have been found to claim that Samak must never return – in fact, three have been found to support this claim, one of whom is a faculty member of the dismal science at Chulalongkorn University and whose opinion may be judged accordingly. Having spent some time interviewing international business executives, I can reveal that they never stop complaining about one thing or another.

The Bangkok Post gets itself into a bit of a twist by trying to claim that a 0.3% drop in the SET yesterday was caused by fear of the return of Khun Samak to PM. Does that also explain this morning’s decline – or is it loss of confidence in the market because we no longer appear to have a Prime Minister – or is some international factor responsible – or is the movement of a stock exchange subject to an enormously wide range of factors many of which cannot be accurately predicted?

From a personal point of view and setting aside all the important issues, this all does reduce the psychological stress that I and my colleagues, who also work for one of Khun Thaksin’s institutions, for the rest of the world to start to realize what is going on here. Cheap jibes in the press are not the sticks and stones which may break my bones of course but they can have an effect on morale. For that reason, I was also quite pleased to see the Abu Dhabi guys take over at Man City.