After the Verdict: Where do we go from here?
The Constitutional Court’s verdict to dissolve the Future Forward Party (FFP) and ban 16 party executives from politics for 10 years on February 21, 2020 sends a shock wave to the democratic development in Thailand.
Legal and political experts scramble to explain, argue against, or defend the decisions. Activists and political supporters step up activities to protect their interests in earnest. Others vow to fire back at anyone who disagrees with their grievances that have been reignited by the event.
By a casual look at the landmark decision, it seems like the voices of several million Thais are ignored by the conservative establishment.
How can the Court overlook this important and popular movement of our time? What was so wrong about the promising young party to warrant such a harsh treatment?
The question concerning “their representation with Thailand’s electoral system” was even mumbled on a website by one of the most established democracies, which their own politics is in disarray.
The first answer to these puzzling questions lies in the heart of the legal rulings.
Among the 4 rulings, the key verdict was on the 191.3 million baht which the party leader Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit lent to the FFP party.
According to the Political Party Act, Sections 66 and 72, the Court considered the “loan“ illegal, citing specific requirements in the law that a political party must follow strictly if money is to be borrowed or transferred.
By violating those rigid requirements, the FFP party which is classified as an institution under a public law falls under the influence of individual lender. Something that the current Constitution and related political and public laws prohibit and will hold the party executives accountable.
The debates on these rulings, especially on the technicalities of those laws, the intentions of the Court, and the ramifications of the verdict may linger in Thai society and some overseas establishment for years.
But for non-partisan individuals, the ruling is simple. It amounts to an influence of the rich and powerful bosses over others in Thai politics.
In politics where influence is king, this is not unusual. But in a society where a cult of personality reigns over democracy, this is worrisome.
Under the dark clouds over Thailand, however, the Court’s rulings could be seen as a strobe to a simple rule — that is no one is above the law, no matter how popular, how powerful or how rich that person is.
This simple rule is, in fact, the rule of law that is so critical in an established democratic society.
Soon, the Thai Court will be put back to test again as similar cases involving other political parties including those that support the current government are reaching the Court.
The second answer to the question of where do we go from here lies specifically in the Thai Parliament.
The Court’s decision to dissolve the FFP party means that the remaining 65 former FFP MPs must find a new political party within 60 days.
In technical terms, they should not have great difficulty to take over another registered political party in which the name has already been surfaced in the media.
But in political terms, can they survive? For how long? Most of them are new to politics, with little or no experience at all.
If they manage to survive in the combative Parliamentary politics, can they lead Thai society like their falling leaders?
The answer may surprise quite a few people.
A closer look at these remaining MPs reveals that they are mostly young, active, energetic and most importantly committed to their representation than many old-timers.
Overshadowed by their former leaders who focused mainly on just a few anti-establishment issues, these 65 wandering souls represent much wider interests with more modern approaches in agriculture, economics, law, security, healthcare, technology, environment, LGBT, international affairs, and others.
Some of these opposition MPs even received compliments from government leaders for their good works in the Parliament.
Without being held hostages by historical baggage like their predecessors, if put together successfully under another party and providing that they learn quickly from their recent mistakes, the survivors from the defunct FFP may emerge in Thai politics as leaders in real terms.
After the day that one of our largest political parties fell to the ground, the combination of the two answers above should provide a better clue than those of overly pessimistic views on where Thailand’s electoral representation system will be in the future.
Political Science Faculty, Chulalongkorn University