Thai Courts Set Next Hearing Dates in High-Profile Legal Cases

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Thai Courts Set Next Hearing Dates in High-Profile Legal Cases

The three cases could end with the removal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin from office and the dissolution of the country’s most popular party.

Thai Courts Set Next Hearing Dates in High-Profile Legal Cases

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin visits Hua Hin Railway Station in Hua Hin, Thailand, June 14, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/เศรษฐา ทวีสิน – Srettha Thavisin

Thailand’s courts are set for a busy couple of months after judges yesterday set hearings for a series of high-profile political cases that could once again destabilize the country’s political landscape.

Yesterday, Thai courts heard four cases involving high-ranking political leaders – each with potentially far-reaching political implications. As I reported yesterday, the first case saw Thailand’s influential former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra granted bail after being formally indicted with royal defamation. The charge relates to a media interview he gave in 2015, in which he claimed that the Privy Council had backed the 2014 coup that ousted his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.

Perceived criticisms of the Thai monarchy are harshly punished under Article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, also known as the lese-majeste law, which carries prison sentences of up to 15 years – and which government critics claim has been routinely used to silence dissenting voices. The Thai Criminal Court ordered Thaksin to next appear in court on August 19.

Also yesterday, the Constitutional Court heard a case relating to the country’s drawn-out Senate election process, which started earlier this month and is scheduled to conclude in early July. The challenge was brought on by six people, five of them senatorial candidates, who claimed the election breached the constitution. The Court ruled unanimously that this was not the case, allowing the election to proceed and removing at least one of the possible sources of political instability.

The remaining two cases heard yesterday, which, like the case against Thaksin, have a greater potential to destabilize the country’s politics.

The first of these concerns none other than Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. A petition filed by military-appointed senators claims that Srettha’s appointment to his cabinet of Pichit Chuenban, a lawyer and former Thaksin associate with a past conviction, violated the constitution. While Pichit has since resigned, the case could potentially see Srettha removed from office, tipping Thai politics into a new interregnum of turmoil.

In a hearing yesterday, the Bangkok Post reported that the Constitutional Court scheduled a hearing on July 10, “pending receipt of opinions from involved people and organizations.”

The cases against Thaksin and Srettha are seemingly part of an establishment campaign to police the limits of the political pact that allowed the former to return from 15 years of self-exile last year, which also saw Pheu Thai and its former conservative foes join hands to form a coalition government. As The Diplomat’s Bangkok-based columnist Tita Sanglee has written, conservatives have been angered by the alacrity with which Thaksin has reentered political life – and the cases against the two Pheu Thai figures are a likely warning for them not to “abuse” their newfound political liberties.

A similar, though less varnished, political logic underpins the final case heard yesterday, which involves the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP). The Election Commission has filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court seeking the dissolution of the party, which became the largest party in the Thai parliament after coming first in last year’s general election. The complainants say that the MFP’s campaign promise to amend the lese-majeste law, which the Constitutional Court has already ruled amounts to an attempt to overthrow Thailand’s political system, lies beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse.

The ongoing case closely resembles the case that saw the MFP’s predecessor party, Future Forward, disbanded by the Constitutional Court in early 2020. The party’s dissolution set off large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations in 2020 and 2021, from whose ranks the MFP drew its most energetic support.

Coming after the military-appointed Senate closed ranks to block the MFP from forming the government last year, this legal case is a more or less transparent attempt to quash a force that poses a direct threat to the conservative establishment, and its tribunes in the military and Royal Palace. After effectively usurping Pheu Thai as Thailand’s main pro-democracy party last year – recent polls show that the MFP’s popularity has only grown since it is no surprise that the MFP now finds itself in the establishment’s crosshairs.

Again, the anticipated hearing did not reach a conclusion, with the next court hearing set for July 3. As the Bangkok Post reported, the Court “ordered those involved to file their confirmation of facts or opinions within seven days, to facilitate the court’s consideration of the case.”

With three bangs of their gavel, Thailand’s judges have set the scene for a tumultuous second half of 2024 – and a prolongation of the political uncertainty that has cast a shadow over the country’s economic outlook.