Friday, July 11, 2008

Thailand's courts: newly assertive, but how independent?

In the previous post, I wrote that any recent "judicial revolution" or "judicial coup" in Thailand has left open some big unanswered questions. The main question, it seems to me, which I did not address fully in the post, jumps out at you when you read Macan-Markar's article:
On the political front, too, the superior courts in the past did not stand up to power, when Thailand was under the grip of its many military dictators. . .

‘’Until April 2006 there hadn’t been much awareness that the courts should and could play such a decisive role in the country’s politics,’’ says Streckfuss. ‘’The king’s speech directed the courts to be more active. And since then, the courts have been causing the government a lot of grief.’’

‘’The courts are emerging as a possible key entity to redefine the relationship between the people and the government,’’ says Thanet, the historian. ‘’What we have is a new power equation. Governments will have to face up to it.’’
The point that needs to be made here is that military-backed governments tended to enjoy the support of the palace. Whereas in recent years the involvement of the judiciary in constitutional matters coincided with the rise of a strong democratically elected prime minister (Thaksin). And at times it appeared to observers that Thaksin did not have the full support of the palace.

The evolution of the Thai judiciary is best viewed not only in relation to its ability to check Thai politicians, but to what extent it has advanced positions dear to the monarchy and military. Before we applaud the rise of any newly assertive judicial branch in Thailand, the question begs to be asked: to what extent, in practice, does it operate as independent branch of government? And this is a difficult question for anyone in Thailand to address. That's because the people of Thailand lack the freedom to criticize either the monarchy or decisions handed down by judges.


  1. "Whereas in recent years the involvement of the judiciary in constitutional matters coincided with the rise of a strong democratically elected prime minister (Thaksin)."

    Not sure what your point was here, do know that the court system was rendered almost powerless under Dr T.

    An entity of government finally does a job for which they were appointed and paid and you are advising caution?

    Samak and crew can't get to work on time. Spend some space on beating them to do the job to which they were elected and continue to be paid.

    People who do their jobs should not be critised at least until they make a mistake. Think about that, beat your kid because he brought home a straight A report card because he might some how turn that into something bad?

  2. Robin,

    The court system can't have been that powerless under Thaksin to have invalidated his electoral mandate in the 2006 election.

    The point I was trying to make was that it was not until Thailand got an elected leader that the courts got so active. Another way of looking at this is to observe: the courts became potent the moment the militarist and royalist elite found themselves most powerless. Coincidence?

    Regarding Samak: If he's not doing his job, surely it ought to be up to members of the coallition to give him the boot or -- failing that -- voters during the next election?


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