23 January 2015

“Thai democracy is dead...”

Democracy Monument

The National Legislative Assembly voted today to impeach former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. She has therefore been banned from political activity for the next five years. (Her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, also received a five-year ban, in 2007.) The verdict was largely a foregone conclusion, as the NLA members were all appointed by the junta.

Yingluck will also face a criminal investigation, the Attorney General announced today. Yingluck had planned to give a press conference following the impeachment vote, though the military prevented her from doing so. Instead, she issued a statement online: “Even as Thai democracy is dead and the rule of law destroyed, anti-democratic forces still remain prevalent as a destructive force, as evident from what I am experiencing.”

Yingluck’s impeachment had been recommended by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, following its investigation into her controversial rice subsidy scheme. (In 2011, the Pheu Thai government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. The result, however, was that other countries increased their rice exports, leaving the government with vast stockpiles that it could not sell.)

Given that Yingluck was removed from office by the Constitutional Court on 7th May last year, her impeachment eight months later seems designed purely to prevent her from returning to power in future elections. It also, therefore, reinforces the impression that last year’s coup (as in 2006) was intended primarily to remove all traces of Thaksin’s political influence. (Thaksin led the most popular political movement in Thai history, though he was viewed as a threat by the military and the Privy Council, thus his nominees Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat were both removed by the Constitutional Court.)

The NACC had also recommended the impeachment of Somsak Kiatsuranon and Nikhom Wairatpanich—former speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively—though their impeachments were rejected by the NLA. Somsak and Nikhom had organised parliamentary votes to amend article 117 of the constitution, in an attempt to restore a fully-elected Senate.

(The 1997 constitution established an elected Senate for the first time, though after the military’s 2007 constitution the Senate was only 50% elected; the proposed amendment was rejected by the Constitutional Court.) Ironically, the military violated the constitution by declaring martial law, and then tore up the entire charter when they launched the coup, yet Somsak and Nikhom faced the threat of impeachment for attempting to amend individual articles in parliament.

Yingluck was elected in 2011. Just as Thaksin was deposed following People’s Alliance for Democracy protests, Yingluck was dismissed after protests by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. In both cases, the protesters caused maximum disruption as a pretext for a coup—the PAD occupied Suvarnabhumi airport in 2008, and the PDRC sabotaged the election in 2014—though no protest leaders have been prosecuted. In Yingluck’s case, the protests began after her attempt to secure an amnesty for Thaksin, a policy that was condemned by both sides of the political divide.

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