Category Archives: Thailand

Hiding Lesse Majeste

The Thai Constitutional Court recently affirmed a decision to hold a lesse majeste prosecution in camera. On its face, this seems to violate Articles 29 and 40 of the 2007 Constitution, which guarantee a right to a public trial. The Court justified the restriction as only used to the extent necessary. However, it’s not quite clear what is necessary about it? Is the court worried about public repetition of libel? Are in camera trials the next phase in Thai judicial politics? The New Mandala blog provides an excellent legal analysis here.

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There they go again…

As readers might have heard, Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the Puea Thai party won an overwhelming victory in Thailand’s July 3 elections. While military leaders ruled out a coup, the defeated Democrat Party is asking the Election Commission to file charges against Puea Thai. In particular, the Democrats want the Constitutional Court to dissolve Puea Thai because of Thaksin’s involvement in the campaign and allegations of “corruption.” According to the news I’ve seen thus far, this “corruption” largely amounts to Puea Thai candidates handing free noodles during campaign events. So far, the EC hasn’t actually filed a case against Puea Thai yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Thus far, history looks set to repeat itself. Of course, back in 2008, the Constitutional Court was instrumental in the PPP’s downfall. Last year, the Court refused to dissolve the Democrat Party on similar charges. There’s no reason to think the justices have changed their basic political outlook since the 2008 cases; I haven’t heard of any major changes in court personnel, nor have Puea Thai allies been in a position to appoint new justices. However, if the Court dissolves Puea Thai now, it risks cementing a reputation for partisanship. I’ll definitely follow this case to  see how it develops and if it actually goes to trial.

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Filed under Thailand, Thaksin

Thai tort

The New Mandala blog recently posted a book review of a very interesting new book, Tort, Custom, and Karma by David Engel and Jaruwan Engel. I haven’t read the book yet, but the basic argument seems to be that in rural Thailand the state legal system plays a minimal role in resolving personal injury disputes. They suspect that globalization and the process of atomization have distanced the state from the individual. 

I’ll write more once I read the book (I have it on my bookshelf). For now, my parting question would be whether the book simply explains northern Thailand or develops a theory applicable to many developing country contexts. Indeed, during my recent trip to Burma, many Burmese lawyers claimed that Burma was “unique” because people avoided the legal system. At the very least, Tort, Custom, and Karma shows that the disconnect between citizens and the law exists in a variety of contexts.

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Thailand v. Cambodia – fight on!

The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple has been mentioned on this blog before, but now it’s taken an even more explicitly legal turn. Cambodia petitioned the International Court of Justice to clarify its 1958 decision regarding the temple. That’s right – the ICJ ruled on this issue in 1958, and the countries are still fighting over it. It will be interesting to see what happens this time around – and more importantly, if a new decision actually resolves the dispute.

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Asia Foundation Thailand survey

The Asia Foundation has released a new survey of Thai attitudes towards politics and political institutions. Fortunately, it includes several questions about the Thai judicial system. Overall, the judiciary is still the most respected political institution (aside from the monarchy of course), with 59% of respondents claiming that it has “high integrity.” Perhaps more surprisingly given the public controversy, 63% of Thais regard the courts as generally unbiased or neutral. However, when respondents were separated into Yellow and Red shirts, the former had much more positive attitudes towards the courts than the latter. I highly suggesting skimming the pages related to courts and the justice system (pp. 69, 73, and 93).

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Updates from the region

First of all, I apologize for posting less frequently and with less analysis. Grad school is keeping me busy. I’m also working on some interesting articles, which I’ll certainly share when they’re ready.

There were two interesting bits of news from the region today:

Burma: In a recent speech, Aung San Suu Kyi encouraged Burma’s youth to criticize corruption and arbitrariness in Burma’s judicial system. Interestingly, when Irrawaddy magazine solicited for suggestions for Suu Kyi, I told her she should focus on the judicial system. Maybe she listed to me!


Indonesia: The Judges Ethics Council ruled that Constitutional Court Judge Arsyad Sanusi must step down after family members received bribes from a litigant in a case before the court. While he complied, the affair is a sad mark on the court, one of the few bright spots in Indonesia’s judicial system.


Thailand: Thai activist Da Torpedo won an appeal against a lese majeste conviction. This is one of the few times a defendant has won in such a case. However, it’s unclear whether the Constitutional Court will uphold the acquittal.

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Filed under Burma, indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand

Thai Judicial Politics – from a SAIS alum

One of my fellow SAIS alums, Seth Kane, has written a fantastic piece in Asia Times on the current state of judicial politics in Thailand. It covers some of the same ground my (now obsolete) New Mandala articles on the judiciary and constitutional court, but with an insider’s perspective on the Thai political scene. Seth also provides a useful contrast to much of the commentary by pointing out instances in which the courts have not sided with the Yellow Shirts. I encourage readers to check it out here. Congrats Seth!

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Filed under judicial independence, Thailand, Thaksin