Ideally, Thailand should be the beacon for democracies the world over. Its constitutional court has ruled that the country’s prime minister, albeit in a caretaker capacity, is guilty of violating the Constitution by ordering the removal of the national security head in order to suit her interests. The removal of an elected head of State by court order is rare but not unprecedented, and it would have done wonders to Thailand’s international standing had the action not been tainted by doubts about judicial independence. The Thai anti-graft bodies and constitutional court are suspected to have sided with the anti-government protest movement, and the gusto with which they have tried to nail the Yingluck Shinawatra government in cases of constitutional violation have done nothing to dispel that notion. There is still a chance that Ms Shinawatra’s punishment might be compounded by a five-year ban from politics if the anti-graft authorities find her guilty of corruption in the rice subsidy scheme they are investigating. The 2007 Constitution gives enormous powers to the judicial bodies and, technically, there is nothing wrong with what these bodies are doing. However, given that much of Thailand’s recent politics has been determined by the battle between the old Thailand elite and supporters of the Shinawatra family, and that the 2007 Constitution itself was a product of a royalist anti-Shinawatra regime, the ruling is bound to prove a red rag for the Shinawatra supporters. They are planning a country-wide protest and since the ruling comes as a shot in the arm for the anti-government protestors, Thailand seems directly headed for a violent confrontation on the streets.
In Thailand, violence on the streets has always served as a cue for the army to take control. This time might be different though. Thailand’s royalty may have circumvented a coup by making the crown prince commander of two distinguished army units, without whose support the army cannot make a political move. But the uncertainty may remain, particularly since the Opposition is still haranguing over the July elections. One way out for the Pheu Thai party, which still heads the caretaker government, is to choose Ms Shinawatra’s replacement without much ado and give him or her as much support as it would have a Shinawatra. A non-Shinawatra as PM could also take the wind out of the Opposition’s sails.