Thongchai on the Political Impasse

Thongchai Winichakul, the historian and “distant… disorderly spirit” of Thai academia again lives up to his billing with his new article on Matichon (via

If you follow his work, you will know that Thongchai is no Thaksin supporter (see his articles on the crisis in the South). But this article is perhaps the one of the most hard-hitting criticism of the PAD to come out of the supposedly anti-Thaksin press. He points out the irony of how the ‘people’s’ movement, who have in the past championed the empowerment of rural people and local knowledge (“ภูมิปัญญาชาวบ้าน”) are now effectively looking down on the votes of these very same people.

Thongchai starts off by listing three ways the executive can lose political legitimacy. The first two, the rejection of its policies or principles and lost of trust and confidence in the leadership, are things that only the electorate, casting their votes in fair elections, can decide upon. But if the lost of legitimacy comes through any wrong doing or corruption, no amount of votes can help the executive escape from its crime:

แต่หากอำนาจบริหารสูญเสียความชอบธรรมเพราะกระทำความผิด ใช้อำนาจในทางที่ผิด ต่อให้ได้รับการเลือกตั้งท่วมท้นถล่มทลาย ก็ไม่สามารถอาศัยคะแนนเสียงมากลบล้างการกระทำความผิดได้

สมมุติว่า พรรคการเมืองหนึ่งชนะการเลือกตั้งด้วยคะแนนเสียง 100% แต่วันถัดมาพบว่าพรรคนั้นกระทำการทุจริต หรือใช้อำนาจนอกเหนือกฎหมายหรือหัวหน้าพรรคไปฆ่าคนตายมาก่อนการเลือกตั้ง คะแนนเสียง 100% ก็ช่วยพรรคนั้นหรือหัวหน้าพรรคคนนั้นไม่ได้

The government tries to muddle the issue by saying that the overwhelming support of the people has ruled them not guilty of any wrong doing. But in principle, the process to decide whether wrong-doing has been committed or not lies within the power of the judiciary branch. From another perspective, anti-Thaksin groups certainly have to right to protest and highlight to the country and judiciary itself the government’s wrong-doing, but the ultimate power to decide is again with the judges.

The question then is why the judicial branch is not serving as a check and balance against the executive. Thongchai says political reformers and Thai society at large have ignored the development of the courts in this role until now and as a result there is no precedent of judicial review or scrutinization of the elected government.

It’s not strange then to see that the anti-Thaksin groups have largely ignored the courts until the King’s recent speech. Even with the almost daily expose of the evils of ‘Thaksin regime’, Thongchai observes that there has hardly been any legal action initiated by the PAD to prove these accusations in court. Instead, the anti-Thaksin groups have essentially decided that special circumstances (‘Thaksin is dragging the country into an abyss’) call for special measures (calling for royal intervention, etc.) that will ultimately come at an expense to democracy.

Thongchai questions these tactics and the extent of the damage done that warrant this kind of action – to him it’s not worth the trade off. I completely agree on this.


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