11 July 2024

Nakharin Mektrairat has been voted in as the new Constitutional Court president by his fellow judges and will replace Worawit Kangsasitiam whose term ended in September.

Nakharin, 66, received five votes from the nine-member court, with two votes each for his two competitors. His official appointment as court president is pending royal endorsement.

Nakharin has been a Constitutional Court judge since November 2015 and is known for his decisions in two key cases – one regarding then-prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s eight-year term limit, and the other, the dissolution of the Future Forward Party.

Past rulings

In the first case, Nakharin found himself in the minority when he ruled that General Prayut’s eight-year term expired on August 24, 2022 as he had served uninterruptedly as PM since 2014 following the coup he led as the Army chief in May that year. Nakharin pointed out that the constitutional clause on the PM’s term limit was meant to prevent domination of power.

However, most of his colleagues ruled in favour of Prayut, allowing him to stay on in office. The majority ruled that Prayut’s tenure should be counted from April 6, 2017, when the current Constitution took effect.

In the case against Future Forward, Nakharin was among the majority of Constitutional Court judges who ruled the party had violated the Political Parties Act by borrowing 191 million baht from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit to fund its operations.

In February 2020, the court dissolved the party and banned its executives from politics for 10 years.

Nakharin was also among the majority a month earlier when the court ruled that Thanathorn held shares in a media company, contravening constitutional rules for MPs.

In his personal verdict, the judge said testimony by Thanathorn and his family and evidence he produced to support the claim that his shares in V-Luck Media were transferred to others before he registered for the 2019 general election were outweighed by official documents and testimony by witnesses unrelated to the defendant.

More recently, Nakharin was one of seven Constitutional Court judges who decided to suspend Pita Limjaroenrat, then-leader of Future Forward’s successor, Move Forward, as an MP. The suspension came after the court accepted a case in which Pita is also accused of holding media shares while contesting an election.

Key cases this month

The selection of a new president comes in a month when the Constitutional Court is tasked with ruling on three key cases.

The court on Wednesday (January 17) found former transport minister Saksayam Chidchob guilty of concealing shares and his ownership of Buricharoen Construction Co Ltd by using nominees. Nakharin was among a majority of judges who ruled against Saksayam, who is secretary-general of the coalition government’s Bhumjaithai Party.

On January 24, the court is scheduled to rule on Pita’s fate.

And on January 31, the court is due to rule whether Move Forward’s policy to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code, better known as the lese majeste law, was an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

A political science professor

Born on July 28, 1958, Nakharin received a bachelor’s degree from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science, a master’s in history from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Arts, and a doctorate in international studies from Japan’s Waseda University.

After completing his studies, Nakharin lectured in history at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Humanities. In 1989, he became a lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Political Science, where he became an associate professor.

He served as dean of the faculty between 2004 and 2010, the university’s vice rector for academic affairs from 2010 to 2011, its vice rector for human resources from 2011-2014, and vice rector for administration from 2014-2015.

Nakharin was appointed as a visiting professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan in 1995, and at the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies at Japan’s Kobe University in 2001.

Back in Thailand, the political science professor was appointed to two Constitution Drafting Committees set up after coups in 2006 and 2014.

Nakharin was selected as a Constitutional Court judge in November 2015 under the previous 2007 constitution. His nine-year term ends in November this year.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk