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Thai Politicians Weigh Options Following Constitution Verdict

  • Ron Corben

Supporters of the judges react to the Constitution Court ruling outside the court in Bangkok, Thailand, July 13, 2012.

Supporters of the judges react to the Constitution Court ruling outside the court in Bangkok, Thailand, July 13, 2012.

BANGKOK — Thailand's political parties are weighing Friday’s key court decision on proposals to amend the country’s 2007 constitution. Some political factions are pressing the ruling party to defy the constitutional court, risking more serious political turmoil.

Prime Minister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party won last year’s elections on campaign pledges that included redrafting the country’s 2007 charter that was written by a military appointed national assembly. Critics say it weakens the power of politicians and political parties.

Last week the constitutional court ruled that the charter can be amended, but there must be a public referendum beforehand.

Although the ruling party still has not formally responded to the decision, House Speaker and Pheu Thai Party member Somsak Kiatsuranont on Monday indicated support for gradual reforms in line with the court ruling - instead of more rapid, sweeping changes favored by some political factions.

Some groups say the court’s call for a national referendum oversteps its authority and represents a threat against lawmakers.

The pro-government mass support base, the United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as Red Shirts, is preparing a more than 20,000 signature petition calling for the removal of the judges. Other groups, such as lawyers from Thammasat University, are also calling for the court’s dissolution through charter reforms.

UDD leader, Tida Tawornseth, says the court’s verdict represented a “judicial coup” with the judges exceeding their powers.

“The court cannot expand its authority. So if we want to have democracy we can say like a judiciary coup. We cannot accept," says Tawornseth. "This is a coup by the court, so many tomes it has happened in the past. Right now Thai people cannot accept because too, too much and now Thai people can learn the new kind of coup d’etat - we can say judiciary coup d’etat like this.”

Changing the constitution remains a hot political issue in Thailand and observers warn the issue could revive the kind of massive street protests seen in Bangkok in recent years.

The pro-Thaksin Red Shirt movement draws support from the poor and working class and rural communities. It played a crucial role in anti-government protests in 2009 and 2010 aimed at unseating a military supported government of Abhisit Vejjajiva.

But former pro-Thaksin government spokesman, Kudeb Saikrajang, says the verdict showed the court had sought to avoid social conflict and displayed judicial independence.

“They are more clever - the court - because they don’t want to lead to the conflict obviously. They try to show that they are good people," he says. "I think the Red Shirt doesn’t learn from the lesson anyway but those who learn from their experiences or the court and people in this field who used to take sides [with conservatives].”

Red Shirt leaders say they are still planning to press for a new constitution and have told supporters they may be called on to protest against delays in that process.
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