Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Constitutional Contestation over Thailand's Senate, 1997 to 2014

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Constitutional Contestation over Thailand's Senate, 1997 to 2014

Article excerpt

Thailand's partly sabotaged and therefore inconclusive elections of 2 February 2014 were held amid an attempted civilian coup d'etat led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat Party Member of Parliament (MP) and powerbroker, who had been a key person in the military crackdown on the red-shirt protests in April 2010 that claimed more than ninety lives, most of them unarmed protesters. In the aftermath of the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's misguided and aborted attempt to push through Parliament a blanket amnesty bill that potentially would have enabled her brother and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to Thailand without having to serve his two-year jail sentence for an abuse of power in the sale of a piece of land to his then-wife, Suthep assumed the position of secretary-general of the People's Democratic Reform Council (PDRC). Since November 2013, his group had organized continuous mass protests aimed principally at toppling what they called the "Thaksin regime". (1) The immediate goals were to overthrow the legitimately elected Yingluck government (including an instant seizure of the Shinawatra family's and their "cronies" assets), effectively abolish the 2007 Constitution, establish an appointed government, and replace the elected House with an appointed "people's council", which would also be tasked with drawing up a new constitution. (2) After Prime Minister Yingluck had dissolved the House and called a snap election (prompted by the collective resignation of Democrat Party MPs from the House), the PDRC's protest tactics included the blocking of candidacy registration, advance voting, the distribution of ballot papers and voting on election day, while its "parent organization", the Democrat Party, boycotted the election altogether. Whereas the elections went smoothly in most parts of the country, it was partly disrupted in Bangkok, and made almost entirely impossible in the Democrat-dominated provinces of southern Thailand. The PDRC's key slogan was "reform before elections". (3)

The PDRC's protests were thus not purely an attempt to grab power from the government. Rather, they were also an instance of constitutional contestation, meaning a restructuring of the formal political order. (4) Though the PDRC's persistent calls for "reform" remained vague throughout their three months of protests before the elections, two issues were clear. First, they wanted to change the election system as stipulated in the 2007 Constitution. Since they held the view that the one-man-one-vote system in Thailand had brought "bad", "corrupt" and "incompetent" politicians to power, due to the "stupidity" of up-country voters in the north and the northeast of Thailand (Thaksin's electoral strongholds), a mere change from a mixed-member majoritarian to a mixed-member proportional election system--as extensively discussed during the drafting of the 2007 Constitution (5) --was certainly not what they wanted. Probably, their ideas were similar to those that had been proposed in the 2008 protests organized by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which had seen many of the same organizers and protesters who attended the PDRC rallies. Under the label of "new politics" the PAD had suggested that only 30 per cent of the MPs should be directly elected by the people, while 70 per cent should come from a selection process organized by occupational organizations. (6) This would have very substantially reduced the role of the politicians and political parties so much despised by these protest groups.

Second, Suthep suggested that the central government's regional administration system should be replaced by elected provincial governors. Conservative forces, such as the Democrats, had always been against this, because it would contradict the idea of Thailand being a strictly "unitary state", fearing that this kind of far-reaching devolution would lead to the re-establishment of semi-independent "kingdoms" on Thai territory (just as they had existed before King Chulalongkorn centralized the country's administrative system from 1892 onwards). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.