Let me echo the words of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, “If you don’t help to make democracy move forward, it will be the country’s downfall.”
These words first uttered in April of 2006 and repeated by the king several times since were aimed at the judiciary branch of the government. King Bhumibol seems to be a wise man in terms of understanding that Thailand’s real legitimacy in the world will come via the application of law rather than through trading or other measures.
Transparency International, an international watchdog group, recently ranked Thailand below 5 on its 1 – 10 scale measuring perception of corruption. Thailand ranks right up there with Greece, India, Mexico, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia in terms of perceived corruption.
Corruption in Thailand is so commonplace that not only does it not surprise people but they actually expect it. Politicians blatantly break the laws and when caught red handed they offer the most absurd excuses and neither the press nor the people demand better.
But recently, fuelled by King Bhumibol’s words, the judiciary has been on a tear. Corruption that would have been covered up just a few years ago is making it to the judicial branch and the judiciary has been very active in handing out painful rulings.
However the new PPP has become so used to a passive judiciary that they are still acting in a manner that shows total disregard for the law. The new active judiciary is throwing a monkey wrench in the PPP’s plans though by handing down judgement after judgement weakening the PPP.
While PM Samak’s government is currently feeling the brunt of the rejuvenated activism of the judiciary branch it is former-PM Thaksin who may have made a monumental error when agreeing to return to Thailand to face charges of corruption.
Much like the PPP party in general Mr. Thaksin seems to have been under the impression that once his boys were in office it would be politics as usual and he would be able to slip through some loophole and come out squeaky clean on the other side. Unfortunately for Mr. Thaksin the judiciary isn’t cooperating.
In addition to throwing out a lawsuit that would have invalidated the post-coup investigations of Mr. Thaksin the constitutional court made it clear they weren’t for sale when Mr. Thaksin’s lawyers tried to offer them a crude bribe.
Mr. Thaksin applied to travel to China and the UK and the constitutional court shot him down again which means that now Mr. Thaksin is truly stuck in Thailand and must face a court which hasn’t been very cooperative with his plans.
In the short to medium term the empowered judiciary will only lead to more political turmoil as fans of Thaksin will obviously be upset at rulings that go against their horse and opponents of Thaksin will likewise be upset for any rulings that go in his favour believing it’s politics as usual.
It will take some time for the judicial branch to earn the trust of the people. The people will need to have faith that the judiciary is applying the laws evenly and fairly. Unfortunately, they’ve been asleep for so long that it may be years before the people can put their faith in the fact that people are actually honouring the commitment they made when they took office.
There’s also a risk that a active judiciary attempts to usurp the powers of the legislative branch which would be just as bad as them being inactive. The whole idea of democracy rests on a system of checks and balances that ensures that no branch can wrangle an unfair advantage over the other(s).
The next few months could be a major turning point in the future of Thailand both as a democracy and as a player on the world stage. An end to corrupt politics might just open the door for a wave of candidates who run on a platform of transparency and fairness. A transparent and fair government could then open the doors for millions in foreign investment that has been too cautious to put money into Thailand.
It’s obviously far too early to tell which way this will break but it should be interesting to watch.