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An Apolitical Move in Politics

 

          On 21 February 2020, the Future Forward Party (FFP), the second largest opposition party in parliament, was disbanded by the Constitutional Court for violating election laws. On a separate account, FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is facing criminal charges for applying to be an MP despite owning shares in a media company, which is against the law. This has evidently caused dismay among many FFP supporters and political observers who have their own views about what constitutes a vivid democracy. It is perhaps comprehensible that many of them disagree with the court ruling, but it is disconcerting that an international NGO such as Human Rights Watch has called for a reversal of the ban, a termination of the charges, and has even gone so far as to urge foreign governments to pressure Thailand on this matter. 

          The main and oft-repeated allegation is that the ruling was arbitrary and ‘politically motivated.’ This is an extraordinarily presumptive and subjective conclusion, and in complete disregard to the independent judicial and constitutional process of Thailand. Indeed, the judicial procedure was carried out in accordance with the Constitution and the Organic Law on Political Parties B.E. 2560 (2017) without prejudice to the nature of the offense and its perpetrators. The Constitution itself had been approved by over 60 percent of voters in a nationwide referendum, indicating that the majority of the Thai people had given consent to the system of checks and balances stipulated by this supreme law. What state would Thailand become if one undertakes to tamper and revert the judicial process, each time that one disagrees with a decision? Any such suggestion could itself be regarded as having been formulated arbitrarily and with political motivation. 

          The Constitution of Thailand rightly lays out provisions to ensure an independent judiciary branch without any partiality. For instance, judges of the Constitutional Court shall not be a Member of the House of Representatives, a Senator, or a member of a political party within ten years before election or applying for selection to the Court.

          These measures emphasise judicial independence to protect the institution of the court, to free judges from outside influence, especially political pressure, and to ensure that the public holds the court in high regard. It is fundamental to have a court that is non-affiliated, non-politicized, and legitimate. That is why the Constitution structures the courts in such a way as to minimize political influence as much as possible, especially when courts will likely have to issue decisions on polarizing issues at some point or another.

          It would be totally disruptive to the system of checks and balances should the courts compromise their integrity and surrender to political influence. But with the preemptive measures set by the Constitution and intensive public scrutiny assisted by an extensive social media network, any irregular wrongdoing, if it might occur, can hardly escape public knowledge. However, in the case of FFP, the party was dissolved and its leader charged with a criminal offense because both violated the law, not because of any arbitrary ruling to restrict freedom of expression.

          It is therefore unrealistic that certain critics have demanded that criminal charges against the FFP leader be dropped, as if the law is something that could betaken so lightly, and customized upon demand. It should be stressed that the criminal charges against Thanathorn in this case arose from his ownership of shares in V-Luck Media Co., which he still held on the day he applied to become an MP. This is prohibited by the Constitution in order to create a level playing field among MPs, and ownership in a media company is considered to constitute an unfair competition.

          Based on facts and evidence, the relevant authorities have the responsibility to file charges against any individual who does not abide by the law. Needless to say, it would be equally discriminatory and biased to allow exceptions for a specific case due to an unsubstantiated assumption that the charges have ‘political motivations’.

          While Thailand may have lost one political party, Thailand’s political pluralism is still intact and plentiful, with 11 parties in the coalition government, and 7 parties in the opposition. Most MPs of the former Future Forward Party still retain their MP status and have already formed a new party to continue representing their constituencies in parliament.

          Thailand’s multi-party system and support for the rights of political party members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation, guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), continues unabated. The rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press are also guaranteed under the Thai Constitution, in line with Article 19 of the ICCPR. Thailand recognizes these freedoms as enablers of all other human rights and the foundation of our democracy.

 

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