The court and the monarchy

By Patipat Kittichokwattana

Thai constitutional court was founded by the 1997 Constitution, hopefully to develop Thai democracy with the King as head of state. The jurisdiction covers constitutionality review to any extent of the law, powers and duties of state’s agencies, exercise of political rights and liberties, membership or qualifications of a member of parliament and political party, and so forth. Some scholars note that the court was overwhelmingly achieved its function at the early period but, unfortunately, was gradually evolved to be a political actor after a while.

Dressel and Tonsakulrungruang notice “the judicialization of politics” to reflect the phenomenon that political and/or social actors have increasingly deployed legal strategies to advance certain interests. During a decade of political crisis, it has been questioned that the Yellow Shirt who backed by royalist, military, middle to upper class, and anti-Thaksin supporters repeatedly brought high profile political cases to the court aimed to gain advantages and suppress over opponents. Subsequent decisions apparently against the Red Shirt who backed by liberal activists, rural working class, and Thaksin supporters.

To be sure, Dressel and Tonsakulrungruang examined the court’s decisions and background both qualitative and quantitative approaches. They emphasize the court’s decisions while the Red and the Yellow took power over the government. The results showed only 37% of the cases during the Red were ruled for the governments whereas every case during the Yellow was decided in the governments’ favour. Moreover, a lack of diversity among the judges significantly affected the court’s decision. Evidence showed ideology coherence among the judges related to the increasing number of unanimous decisions.

Similarly, Mérieau points to the court’s decision that tends to oppose and refuse either politicians or elected government who perceived unfit with the monarch. She mentions the court as a high influential elite who inherently protect and preserve monarchical ideology. The court ruled to dissolve major political parties, banned hundreds of politicians, and dismissed two national elections that considered oppose to social, political, and economic order with the monarchy. She notices the former King Rama IX appointed much of retired judges to be a member of the Privy Council in which seemed to award their loyalty.

Those evoke much suspicious about judicialization of politics, judicial independence, and influences of the monarchy toward the court. In the meantime, scholars issued a hypothetical relationship to illustrate this phenomenon such as Network Monarchy, Dual State, Parallel State, Deep State, to name a few. Because of that, Mérieau draws an analogy of conspiracy theory to illustrate a doubtful relation between the court and the monarchy as Machiavelli’s quote “the art of politics is the art of conspiracy and counter conspiracy”.

Conspiracy theory is an attempt to explain the political or social event as a plot by a secret alliance of powerful individual or organizations. It is important to note that most conspiracy theories have been proved unreal, but some are under investigating such as the disappearance of MH370. Researcher indicates a sense of safety and predictability are the reason why conspiracy theories continue to exist nowadays. Therefore, some people believe the MH370 was remotely hacked and reprogrammed to fly to a secret location because it carried sensitive material or personnel wanted by Beijing. Certainly, it is based on political bias and insufficient evidence.

Moral qualities can predict acceptance of conspiracy theories. The study conducted by Douglas and Sutton found Machiavellian individuals who tend to exploit others for personal gain were more likely to believe in the conspiracy theories because they would do so if they found themselves in that situation. In other words, some Machiavellian Red Shirt is more likely to believe that the Yellow Shirt and the court manipulate to sack off the Red politicians and government because they are more likely to do so if they found themselves in the Yellow Shirt’s position. Nevertheless, this example is a metaphor.

Fortunately, there has been attempting to utilize more empirical evidence to prove this relation especially Dressel and Tonsakulrungruang who showed a statistically significant relationship between the court and the monarchy. But it needs a strong theory to clarify this relationship, otherwise it could be claimed as one of the conspiracy theories, too.

Remark:

Douglas, K. M., & Sutton, R. M. (2011). Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50(3), 544-552.

Dressel, B., & Tonsakulrungruang, K. (2019). Coloured Judgements? The Work of the Thai Constitutional Court, 1998–2016. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 49(1), 1-23.

Merieau, E. (2020, April 6). Conspiracy Theory [Video file]. Retrieved from             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC_S2YsmwDk&fbclid=IwAR11euV4xnsixtwN      z2tib8VCqsLGBlCj4QMzeypScWGziB-GmP5tZE5qn5M

[Photo Credit: www.deccanherald.com]

Patipat Kittichokwattana, PhD Candidate, College of Law, Government and International Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia