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Thailand's anti-graft body has recommended that 250 former MPs, mostly from the toppled ruling party be impeached - a move aimed at destroying the careers of those linked to the Shinawatras, as Paul Chambers tells DW.
Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) argues that an attempt by the Pheu Thai party of ousted PM Yingluck Shinawatra to amend the now-defunct constitution to make the Senate fully, rather than partly elected, was unlawful according to a 2013 ruling by the Constitutional Court.
If the military-appointed lawmakers in the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) vote to impeach the former lawmakers, they could be banned from political office for five years, thus dealing a major blow to the party.
The move comes just a few weeks after the NLA decided to impeach ex-premier Yingluck for her role in overseeing a money-losing rice subsidy scheme. Almost at the same time, the attorney general's office announced it would proceed with criminal charges against her for negligence and alleged corruption in the rice program.
Thailand is currently under the rule of a military junta following a May 22 coup. The man behind the coup - General Prayuth Chan-ocha, currently Prime Minister - argued that the military takeover was necessary to avoid further bloodshed following months of political turmoil in the country pitting anti-government demonstrators against supporters of the Yingluck-led administration.
In a DW interview, Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, says that if the NLA upholds the NACC's impeachment of the 250 MPs, this will show that an arch-royalist juristocracy has managed to subvert democratization in Thailand.
DW: Who are these lawmakers the NACC wants to impeach and why has this been decided now?
Paul Chambers: The 250 lawmakers that the NACC wants to impeach are those elected members of the Lower House who back in late 2013 voted to amend the 2007 constitution so that the half-appointed, half-elected Senate would henceforth be fully elected.
In other words, elected politicians attempted to use constitutional methods in order to make the Upper House more democratic. Yet for the NACC, such a move represented merely an attempt to violate the spirit of the 2007 constitution. As a result, the NACC voted for impeachment.
The NACC has been slow to decide this case for two reasons: first there have been several items of business on the NACC's agenda prior to this case; second, the ruling junta has been reluctant until now to allow the case to proceed. Currently, the junta sees itself as sufficiently entrenched in power to permit the impeachment case to proceed.
What exactly are they accusing the lawmakers of?
The lawmakers are accused of misuse of authority under the now defunct 2007 constitution. If the National Legislative Assembly, which is dominated by the military, upholds the charge of impeachment, then the 250 MPs will be forced out of politics for 5 years.
In your view, is the NCAA move to retroactively impeach the legislators lawful?
The lawfulness of the NACC action is up for interpretation. Clearly, the NACC interprets that their impeachment was lawful. However, it was certainly not a just move to make. Under the 2007 constitution, the elected Thai MPs did have the right to try to amend the constitution - and they certainly did try. The goal was to extend democracy in the Senate. How can the NACC perceive this as corrupt or unlawful?
What is the military junta trying to achieve with this latest move?
The NACC is a partisan, arch-royalist entity which is seeking to destroy the political careers of Thai politicians who worked with and under Thaksin Shinawatra, his sister Yingluck and their proxies.
How is this likely to impact the future of democracy in the Southeast Asian nation?
If the NLA upholds the NACC's impeachment of the 250 MPs, then we can conclude that an arch-royalist juristocracy - as supported by the military - has gained such heightened powers to the extent that partisan, arch-royalist interpretations of rule of law have come to subvert democratization in Thailand.
NLA recently decided to impeach ex-premier Yingluck for her role in overseeing a money-losing rice subsidy scheme
This alliance between judiciary and military in Thailand - resisting decisions by elected officials such as the 250 impeached politicians - does not bode well for the future of democracy in Thailand, as long as this arch-royalist alliance continues to exert influence across the country.
If the NLA does not vote to uphold the impeachment of the 250 - as happened with the 38 Senators - then we can conclude that the military is not necessarily a mechanism of the judiciary. Regardless, the mere fact that the 250 elected lawmakers have been impeached for merely seeking to extend democracy in the Senate reflects the continuing erosion of Thai democracy.
Paul Chambers, Director of Research at the Thailand-based Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai.