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Party Dissolution Verdict Intensifies Political Situation

Friday, 08 June 2007

Last week's decision to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) brings the country nearer to turmoil, intensifying the political situation in the country. On 30 May 2007, the Constitutional Tribunal dissolved the one-decade old political party headed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra, who was ousted by the military coup on 19 September last year.

The action to dissolve TRT could be seen as a just and legitimate move by the Council for National Security (CNS)-another name for the military government-as TRT is largely seen as a threat to democracy, since the premiership of Thaksin in 2004, independent agencies, senate, and parliaments were swarmed by TRT cronies and Thaksin proxies.

Through the eyes of the veteran political analyst, however, the move to dissolve TRT is being used by the CNS, guiding the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, to legitimise its military coup d'etat and accuse TRT of undermining democracy, one of the four reasons it gave for the military takeover in September 2006.

From a human rights perspective, we cannot sacrifice all means, especially democratic principles, in order to achieve our goals. The verdict of the institution that was set up through the barrel of a gun similarly cannot be justified.

Despite the long silence and hesitation of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to issue a statement after the coup, the Constitutional Tribunal consisted of six former Supreme Court judges and three Supreme Administrative Court Judges that were literally handpicked by the CNS. On 31 May, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) noted that the group of judges appointed by an unelected and antidemocratic military regime were making a decision on the actions of an elected political party thus undermining the democratic process. The judges have "wounded their own authority and greatly risked lasting damage to public confi dence in their integrity." 1 The Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR), a local media freedom group in their statement released on 1 June asserted "this decision shows the recession of democracy development and the parliamentary system since the fate of political parties, politicians, political party members and Thai citizen is defi ned, decided and controlled by a mechanism from the coup overthrowing the constitution." 2

Although the CNS tried to legitimise the Constitutional Tribunal by using the "stability and peace for the King" pretext, the public still questions how the verdict made by the handpicked judicial body can conduct a justifi able process and outcome on the case. Many academics have openly criticised the absurdity of how the Constitutional Tribunal, established by an antidemocratic government, can dissolve a political party that was rightfully elected by the people while at the same time claim that the process is in line with international democratic standards. The logic is even more baffl ing that the Constitutional Tribunal used the 1997 Constitution against the TRT party, even though the CNS abolished the constitution after the coup.

This development reflects the tensions that arise from the military government, despite the wishes of general Thai society that the Constitutional Tribunal deliver a fair and just verdict that will change the political climate to a more positive one. More tension, however, was evident during and after the"Judgment day" than ever before.

Despite the four charges held against Democrat Party that were similar to charges of fraud during the 2 April 2006 general election, the Democrats went free without being held accountable. The judges ruled that none of the Democrat's executives will be barred from politics, while TRT was dissolved and 111 executive members were banned from politics for five years on the charges of hiring nominee parties to contest in the election that require the candidates to win more than 80 percent of the votes in uncontested constituencies. The Democrats were the opposition party under the Thaksin government and are now currently working closely with the military government.

Many legal experts also questioned how the CNS Announcement No. 27 that was declared after the coup could be used as a tool to ban TRT's executives for political activities for five years.

Apart from the question regarding the freedom and independence of the judiciary that is now being undermined, the uncertainty of the freedom of expression and assembly poses difficulties. The CNS had ordered all cell-phone distributors to send out short messages urging people to be "in order," not join the demonstrations, and work for "national unity". Large numbers of anti-coup and pro-democracy groups planning to hold the demonstrations before and after the verdict were forced to retreat with the CNS's threats to impose state of emergency regulations to curb "unruly protesters".

Before and after the release of the verdict, news agencieswere approached by the military asking for their "full cooperation" while the Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) reported that hundreds of political websites were shut down.There were many reports that police and military were preventing the people outside Bangkok from entering the capital to join rallies and demonstrations. Even though, late last week, former TRT MPs drew mass numbers of people who felt that the ruling was undemocratic -ironically resembling the 2005 mass demonstrations to oust Thaksin Shinnawatra.

Consequently, the political and human rights situation in Thailand must be closely monitored and highlighted in the months to come. It is likely that the referendum of the military drafted-constitution later this year will be voted down, as antimilitary dissidents are growing after the 30 May verdict.

1 "THAILAND: The judiciary is the real loser" published on May 31, 2007. For more information please visit: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2007statements/1041/
2 "The case of Thai Rak Thai Dissolution and the Obstruction of the People's Rights and Liberty" published on June 1, 2007. For more information please visit: http://www.media4democracy.com/mmc/detail.php?product_id=0000000026&la=