Warranting contentious politics

Adding fuel to the fire of the Red Shirt protests in Thailand, a Thai court has confirmed the arrest warrant for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. (for background, I’ve added two links to books about Thaksin and recent political events in Thailand).

This is a good demonstration of how courts can serve to deflect attention on controversial decisions away from political elites. The government can simply point to the court’s “independent” and external validation of an otherwise controversial political act (notably, this BBC article doesn’t even mention Prime Minister Abhisit). Ideally, this will soften popular anger and allow political elites to distance themselves from the decision, if necessary (claiming that they’re only carrying out the law).

However, given the mistrust between Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts (see this interesting New Mandala blog for more on that), this strategy of judicial deflection probably won’t resolve much. Red Shirts view the courts as beholden to the political elite, meaning that they will probably view the decision as not much more than another attack on their patron. Ironically, this type of situation demonstrates some of the benefits of judicial independence – for without independence, courts cannot serve their validating role on behalf of political elites.

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