Thai Judges Strike Blow at PM Yingluck as Protesters Ready to Shut Down Capital

A total of 308 Thai MPs indicted for attempting to alter the composition of the Senate, further throwing prospects of snap elections into turmoil

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Dario Pignatelli / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's Prime Minister, reacts as she leaves Parliament House following a censure vote in Bangkok on Nov. 28, 2013

On Tuesday, 308 Thai MPs, mainly from the ruling Pheu Thai party, were indicted for attempting to alter the composition of the nation’s upper house of parliament. Critics say the move is the latest elite machination designed to oust embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) charged lawmakers who voted in favor of a government proposal to make the Senate a fully elected body with having acted illegally. The MPs face being suspended and even permanently banned from holding public office if found guilty.

While Yingluck herself was not included on the indictment, the decision heaps pressure on the 46-year-old Premier, and comes after the Constitutional Court ruled on Nov. 20 that attempts to reform the chamber were illegal. (A cabal of military generals determined the current half-appointed, half-elected composition following a putsch.)

(MORE: How Thailand’s Meddlesome Military Got Tired of Meddling)

“Just as the Constitutional Court verdict was politically motivated, the NACC’s is too, since it was pressed by the opposition, and this looks like another cog in the wheel of a bigger machine set in motion to topple the current government somehow,” Saksith Saiyasombut, a prominent Thai political blogger and commentator, tells TIME. The NACC has provided no reason for its decision.

Antigovernment protesters, numbering around 200,000 at their peak, have besieged Bangkok in recent weeks to demand the removal of Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party, which they say is controlled by her notorious brother Thaksin Shinawatra from self-imposed exile in Dubai. The billionaire telecom mogul is a divisive figure who was convicted of corruption in absentia following his ousting in a military coup in 2006 and faces two years’ imprisonment if he returns to the country. (The current protests were first sparked by a now shelved amnesty bill that would have facilitated his return.)

Eight people, including two police officers, have been killed and around 400 wounded in ongoing street violence. In response, Yingluck dissolved parliament and call a snap election for Feb. 2 in order to reassert her mandate. However, the protesters, led by former opposition lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, are unsatisfied. They are now demanding the establishment of an unelected “people’s council” to replace the elected government until unspecified reforms are enacted.

Thaksin-based parties have won every election since 2001 and maintain a power base in the populous, rice-farming northeast of the country. The demonstrators, by contrast, generally back the ironically named Democrat Party, which has not won a popular vote since 1992, and is supported by Bangkok elites and middle-class voters in southern provinces. The protesters want to rid the country of Thaksin’s influence, which they claim is due to vote buying in uneducated rural communities, a charge dismissed by academics.

(MORE: Thai PM Yingluck Dissolves Parliament, but Tensions Remain High)

The looming ballot had already been thrown into doubt by a Democrat Party boycott and fierce protests preventing the registration of candidates in six southern provinces. But the latest NACC ruling adds fresh challenges, as article 272 of the Thai constitution says an MP under indictment cannot “perform his or her duties until the Senate has passed its resolution” on the matter in question.

This may take several months, and as most of the 308 MPs now under investigation have already been nominated for re-election, they could feasibly be unable to take their seats, with the party unable to propose alternative candidates. “It’s all in the matter of interpretation, but the people who interpret the law are the judiciary, which is all anti-Thaksin,” says Paul Chambers, research director of political science at Chiang Mai University. “It’s a stacked court.”

Ominously for Yingluck, this is far from the end of her legal woes. The Constitutional Court is also due this week to rule on whether a proposed amendment to article 190, which would have allowed the PM to sign foreign economic deals without legislative approval, was unconstitutional. If so, the NACC could similarly indict every lawmaker who voted in favor of the amendment, further plunging the ruling party into a judicial quagmire. In addition, Yingluck also faces malfeasance charges relating to controversial rice-pledging scheme and botched attempts to handle catastrophic floods in 2011. “There’s this whole gauntlet of cases that Pheu Thai has to go through,” says Chambers, describing a “juristocracy of anti-Thaksinistas that are heading off the election.”

Protesters have vowed to shut down Bangkok on Jan. 13 by blocking key intersections. Some 20,000 police, along with troops, will be deployed across the city to secure government buildings and prevent bloodshed. “We’re concerned about the likelihood of violence … especially third parties trying to instigate violence,” National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told Reuters. Amid turmoil on the streets and in the courtroom, the one place Yingluck may have found some solace was at the ballot box. However, it’s looking increasingly doubtful that day will ever come.

MORE: Thailand’s Democrat Party Is Hilariously Misnamed

27 comments
eagles_gift
eagles_gift

Why does the media in the West insist on referring to Thaksin as being in "self-imposed exile", whereas Al-Jazeera correctly refers to him as a fugitive? The man is a convicted criminal on the run.

Louise Noyb
Louise Noyb

Canadians need to follow this example and stand up to corrupt Harper and his Cons.

Paloma Savaengcharoen
Paloma Savaengcharoen

Americans LEARN from the Thais and they mean business and taking this very serious. Starting next, Monday the 13th we WILL have a Bangkok shut down meaning around 20 some roads/highways will be closed and people will have a very difficult time to go to work or go shopping. Business will be very slow due to this chaos!They will not give up until the prime minister steps down and the government corruption is over, done with. The yellow mob want voting to stop and want to clear everyone from Thaksin side OUT and then voting will resume once the house is cleaned up completely! Election is in February but we will NOT do any voting until they are all GONE! I will try to keep you posted on what else is happening here in Thailand. Please keep the Thais and the Americans living here in your prayers. We need it real bad! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCtgP7lsXSc&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Sukrid Peansuwan
Sukrid Peansuwan

If PM resign, it is unconstitutional. And now Thai mob is anti-election. This acted like fascism that use some people to forced the government and took the power .It similar to Mussolini.

Vendetta
Vendetta

what a shame the democratic party does not win an election since 1992 and now they dont want to have an election . Their party name is not suitable with the way they are acting right now. zzzz Poor Suthep . Just go back to your place and leave Bangkok . Your just destroying the capital with your nonsense protest. We all know that you just want power and does not care about the people anyway. 

Zhala Alan
Zhala Alan

I didn't realize there was so much unrest in thai

Toi Sae Tang
Toi Sae Tang

TIME, you've got it wrong. Charlie Campbell, who wrote the article, does not worth being TIME reporter.

Tony Theodore Blythe
Tony Theodore Blythe

@Robert David: because those in DC have enough money to pay off judges every time.

Robert David
Robert David

again why don't we do this with our own government? its always others but never us

Yvonmoua
Yvonmoua

Thailand cursed due to digging Hmong refugees graves at Thamkrabor Refugee camp.  Thailand will do like this until die one by one.

NeverWrongSometimes
NeverWrongSometimes

Musahi has a new Nom de Plume, "Reporter".  Same old rhetoric though.

NeverWrongSometimes
NeverWrongSometimes

Charlie Campbell is such a crack up.  At least this time he is only "slightly" distorting the facts.  One thing that he consistently does is grossly under report the size of the protests, ("200,000 at their peak").  If that is true then the 20,000 police he says will be on hand, (exaggerated number), should have no problem with crowd control. That would be one cop for every ten protesters. Charlie is such a pathetic "journalist".

hingkalei
hingkalei

This must be a different TIMES,no wonder had discontinued being a subscriber.The reference of guy like Saksith and Paul Chambers helped your points.am impressed. by the way,Mr.Thaksin found guilty in August 2008 that was the People's power party period,so called Thaksin's puppet Government as claimed by the Prime Minister,Mr.Samak.The military coup was in 2006.

reporter
reporter

Western governments occasionally pardon convicts of crimes.  So, the amnesty bill that the Pheu Thai Party proposed is reasonable.  Making the Senate fully elected is also reasonable.  (The upper house of the Japanese parliament functions as the Senate, and this Senate is fully elected.)  So, the proposal by the politicians of the Pheu Thai Party to make the Thai Senate fully elected is reasonable.

What is not reasonable is the attempt by a violent minority (lead by the politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban) to overthrow the government.  It is being tacitly supported by the royal family.

Further, Thaugsuban claims that the amnesty bill and the proposal (for a directly elected Senate) are examples of abuse of power by the government.  Yet, both the amnesty bill and the proposal (for a directly elected Senate) are quite reasonable for Western democracies.  Why is Thaugsuban inventing reasons to justify violently overthrowing the government of Thailand?  Both Thaugsuban and the royal family (which supports Thaugsuban) are hungry for power.  They and their supporters are a grave threat to the future properity of Thailand.

If you are a Thai who understands how democracy in the West works and if you want Thailand to become a wealthy Western democracy, then you must kill politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban and you must kill the entire royal family.  What Suthep is doing is a deadly provocation.  He intends to destroy any hope of Thailand's becoming a prosperous Western democracy.


reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/


Teddy525
Teddy525

However, the way that the PM rose to power was unconstitutional, which is why the Thai demonstrators want to change that. In fact, it's not really the demonstrators who are acting like dictators, but rather the current government (dictatorial democracy). Except unlike certain dictators (like Hitler), the Shinawatra regime has never shown any love towards their country, and only hopes to gain more wealth from it. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQVjUsKSKUE&feature=youtu.be

TheSkiBaron
TheSkiBaron

OMG people like somebody, their influence is too strong.  The same thing could be said about the Army and the Monarchy and the UDD

eagles_gift
eagles_gift

@reporter Do you think that it would be considered 'reasonable' for a Western prime minister to push through an amnesty bill that allowed his or her criminal brother to be pardoned, or do you think there might perhaps be a conflict of interest there?


By the way, supporters of democratic processes do not usually advocate killing people so I guess we know where you stand on the matter.

nasa
nasa

@reporter We would like a democratic country is True, Free under the Thaksin administration.

TheSkiBaron
TheSkiBaron

@Teddy525 What a retarded bunch of statements.  Dictatorial Democracy, did you learn some new words that you are dying to use?  This government got voted in fair and square.  Just because you spoiled brats don't like it and think you are smarter than everyone else, doesn't mean you are right.

You people should figure out how to win an election rather than whining in the streets because you don't get your way.  Cry babies have tantrums.  Try doing some real politics and see if you are as good as the competition, so far all you people can do is run to Mommy and Daddy when you don't get your way.