Thailand’s top court yesterday rejected the ruling party’s attempt to amend the constitution, dealing a defeat to a government that has been plagued by mass street protests.
However, the Constitutional Court’s ruling spared the government a worst-case scenario by turning down a request from opponents to dissolve the ruling party.
In its six-to-three vote, the court ruled that parliament had committed procedural errors in its bid to amend the constitution, saying that it did not allow critics sufficient speaking time during the debate and that several lawmakers had committed fraud during the electronic voting process. However, it said the acts “did not meet the conditions” to dissolve the ruling party.
“Democracy is not just about elections,” the court said in its ruling. “It does not give a mandate for representatives to use their power without considering what is right and legal under the rule of law.”
The ruling followed another political setback for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government when the Senate last week rejected its bid to pass a political amnesty bill that critics said was designed to bring home deposed former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.
Analysts said yesterday’s ruling could deepen Thailand’s political crisis by angering Thaksin supporters and emboldening his opponents, both of whom have staged mass protests for years that were recently revived.
Whether the Constitutional Court’s action would spark a minor skirmish or a major battle in the long-running war between supporters and opponents of Thaksin — who fled into exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption — depends on how the parties involved react to it.
Praise rolled in from Thaksin’s critics.
“I’d like to thank the nine judges for delivering justice,” said Somchai Sawaengkarn, a senator who helped bring the case before the court. “The verdict sets a precedent that shows the balance in Thai democracy — that the legislative, judicial and executive branches must work to balance one another.”
Leaders of a pro-government demonstration said they would announce their next move last night to thousands gathered at a stadium in Bangkok.
Thaksin supporters were bound to see the ruling as the latest in many court decisions against the former leader and his allies.
The courts, deeply conservative and royalist, played a vanguard role in the battles against Thaksin even before he was deposed by a 2006 military coup after he was accused of corruption and disrespect for the monarchy.
His sister Yingluck swept to power in a 2011 general election, unseating the opposition after a military crackdown on Thaksin’s supporters a year earlier that left more than 90 people dead.
Rangsit University political scientist Thamrongsak Petchlertanan said that with Thaksin’s side having an overwhelming electoral mandate, the court was “the last fortress of the establishment and the authoritarians.”
The proposed amendment to the constitution would have required all senators to be elected, rather than split the seats between elected and appointed members. Appointed senators generally share the conservative outlook of senior judges.