Critics slam Thailand's activist judges
Judges increasingly are calling the shots in a tumultuous political situation. Are they playing fair?
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"The 2007 Constitution now restricts the executive to the point that governing is almost impossible," she says. "There is a need to strike a balance between giving the executive sufficient power to govern and ensuring effective checks and balances."Skip to next paragraph
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Calls for a bipartisan review
Somchai, a former judge who is married to Mr. Thaksin's politician sister, has called for a bipartisan review of the Constitution to defuse the political crisis.
His opponents in parliament and on the streets are wary of any changes that benefit his pro-Thaksin People's Power Party, which heads a six-party coalition.
Two other coalition parties are also facing campaign fraud charges that may lead to their dissolution, pitching Thailand into another election less than a year after the last ballot. Somchai is being investigated for owning shares in an Internet company that tenders for government contracts.
In addition to rulings on political conduct, Thai courts have also weighed in on governance issues. A foreign minister resigned in July after being rebuked by judges over his diplomatic support for Cambodia over a disputed border temple. Members of Thaksin's cabinet were also recently in the dock over a lottery scheme introduced in 2003.
This flurry of judgments is a necessary corrective to past abuses, says Kaewsan Atibodhi, a former senator and law professor who served on an official panel that investigated Thaksin's wealth. "It's not a question of judicial activism but of law enforcement. They must be active so that the law works. In the time of Thaksin, this didn't happen," he says.
Public criticism of court rulings, such as the removal of Mr. Samak for the seemingly trivial offense of working on a cooking show, is mostly muted, as contempt of court laws are strictly applied. A similar reticence applies to the monarchy, which is shielded by lèse-majesté laws that carry long jail sentences and are increasingly being used to silence domestic dissent.
In a statement from London, Thaksin criticized the courts in August for hounding him and his family, and claimed they were a tool of his enemies. That charge, while self-serving and seemingly crafted to support a political asylum plea in Britain, resonates with Thaksin supporters. They believe that Bangkok's royalist establishment holds sway over senior judges and that the rule of law is a fig leaf for continued elite rule.
"From an American point of view, this [judicial activism] is natural, that crucial decisions are made by judges," says Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. "But from Thai point of view, the question is who are these people and who gives them their orders?"