In a ruling on Monday that really failed to surprise anyone, Thailand’s Constitutional Court dismissed a charge that the ruling Democrat Party misused an election fund – one that could have seen it dissolved and a new government formed.
The Thai Constitutional Court is meant to have independent jurisdiction over the constitutionality of parliamentary acts, as well as the appointment and removal of public officials, and issues regarding the eligibility of political parties to participate in the electoral process.
The case against the Democrats, Thailand’s oldest political party, had been bought by the country’s Election Commission, which accused the party of spending 29 million ($US907,000) baht from the Election Commission’s Political Development Fund without proper authorisation during the 2005 election campaign. There were also allegations of an illegal US$8 million donation to the Democrats channelled in a highly convoluted manner from the third largest Thai cement maker by the great spoiler of Thai politics and Thaksin foe, Prachai Leophairatana, who controls the company.
Constitutional Court Justice Udomsak Nitimontree said the prosecution’s case against the Democrat Party was flawed and that the Election Commission that brought the case to court didn’t follow correct legal procedures.
In other words, the judges threw the case out on a legal technicality.
The party could have been disbanded if it had been found guilty by the court and about 40 of its executives — including PM Abhisit Vejjajiva — banned from politics for five years. Abhisit served as the party’s deputy leader when the alleged incident took place.
While this decision may lift a cloud of uncertainty from over the country’s immediate future, it could equally further inflame opposition red shirts who claim Thailand’s judicial and political processes are stacked in favor of the traditional elites and their supporters, such as the Democrats.
In the lead-up to the court ruling, the court itself became the subject of controversy from a series of leaked videos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3hSbZlnEo0). In one of these, a Democrat Party parliamentarian appears to be lobbying the secretary to the court president, Chat Cholaworn, to go easy on the party.
In other videos, swiftly blocked in Thailand by court order, senior judges appear to discuss how to cover-up an apparent leak of exam papers to relatives applying for jobs at the court.
Rather than recusing themselves or addressing the evidence, the court responded by claiming it was all a conspiracy by “ill-intentioned people” out to discredit it. The Democrats meanwhile accused their opponents of leaking the videos so the court would dissolve the party, since to do otherwise would be to imply that it had bowed to political pressure.
The tumbrels have been stilled for now – but for now long?