PM Somchai to Consider Constitutional Change

PM Somchai Wongsawat is expected to announce government plans to begin reform of the constitution under the auspices of an independent panel – the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA). This is of course going to be controversial – pretty much everything the government does these days is going to be considered controversial in the current circumstances.

The constitution was written during the military junta period from 2006-7 – the incoming junta abrogated the 1997 constitution at the moment of the coup because it contained clauses outlawing military intervention. It was also too liberal in some respects for the extreme right wing interests currently threatening the country.

The junta’s constitution was written by its cronies and others who were there to give it a figleaf of respectability. It contains a number of clauses which strengthen the position of the right wing elites: various courts were given more powers to prosecute politicians (as we have seen in porkleg-gate, the persecution of the leadership of the PPP and so forth) while protecting those committing military coups, who would be considered traitors in most countries. Other clauses call for the appointment of senators rather than their election – which is intended to prevent the lower house from passing legislation the right wing elites do not wish to accept (i.e. pro-poor re-distribution). The pretence is that this returns ‘checks and balances’ which are, it claimed, undermined during the Thai Rak Thai government.

PM Somchai may be expected to wish change in all of these areas – whatever opinion one might take of the current court activities, they are crippling the working of government during what is rapidly becoming the most dangerous economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The PAD mob will claim that the changes will be to protect ‘corrupt’ politicians from the rule of law (leaders of the mob are currently wanted by the police for treason and other serious crimes. If they genuinely wanted the rule of law they would surrender themselves to the police and give evidence against those PAD supporters who killed pro-democracy demonstrators a few weeks ago).

The right wing elements will also oppose any changes because they are fearful that coup-makers and junta cronies will be prosecuted for their past actions or prevented from wielding their power in the future.

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.