Friday, July 11, 2008

A judicial coup in Thailand?

Earlier in the week, two decisions were handed down by the Supreme Court of Thailand, either of which could spell the end of the elected government. At the time, I blogged that the upheaval stemming from the court decisions represented the "the deepest political crisis since the coup of September 2006."

Macan-Markar, writing in an IPS article observes that some academics are enthusiastically labeling this development a "judicial revolution." A weak judicial branch is commonly identified as a fundamental weakness of most developing countries. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that some observers would be tempted to see the emergence of a strong judicial branch in Thailand as a largely positive development.

However, Bangkok Pundit rejects this interpretation. He thinks no mere "revolution" has occurred, blogging:
. . . Yes, the judiciary can and should be a check on executive power. But power has been shifted too far towards the judiciary. The judiciary do not exercise just judicial power, they are involved in selecting Senators (who then in turn confirm judges) and members of independent organsiations. They choose amongst themselves who will fill the top positions and are of course unelected. . .
Furthermore, notes Bangkok Pundit, in Thailand the judiciary cannot be criticized. The Fourth Estate does not comment on the merit of judicial decisions. There is no oversight.
Who will guard our judicial guardians? Quite simply, it is a judicial coup and one we cannot criticise.
One legacy of the coup of 2006 was that the royalist-backed junta appointed government tore up the 1997 constitution. They wrote a new Constitution in such a way as to further empower an appointed judiciary. The PAD led street demonstrators which threatened to topple the government in June represented an attempt to counter the elected government's plans to amend the 2007 Constitution.

Questions remain. Has coup by judiciary made military coups obsolete? What power can any future elected government plan to wield? Thailand is one giant political question mark.

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