Fuzzy logic doing a disservice to nation?
I'm no legal expert, so I may not fully comprehend the legalese language of many court rulings, some of which just go right over my head, not because of the language itself but the logic within them.
The two latest rulings by the Constitutional Court have just left me scratching my head with bewilderment and frustration. In this, I'm not alone. Many legal experts have had to scamper to their law textbooks to make sure they have not missed some important principles.
In a ruling delivered on Sept 11, the court decided that it has no authority to rule on the question of whether Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has violated the constitution.
The question was posed after Gen Prayut was caught omitting a certain phrase when he gave his oath of office before His Majesty the King during the cabinet's swearing-in ceremony.
In dismissing the petition, the court said the swearing-in ceremony is "a political issue concerning the cabinet and the monarchy". As such, it was considered a matter which was beyond its jurisdiction to examine.
As I understand it, we have three pillars of democracy -- the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. Each provides checks and balances against the others, and each has the duty to respect and protect the country's constitution.
The fact that Gen Prayut failed to utter a complete oath is no longer in dispute. Such an act is a violation of Section 161 of the constitution which requires that a minister "must" make a solemn declaration as specifically stated before the King.
The act of violation was committed by Gen Prayut as an individual. The King cannot be held responsible or complicit in this act.
As head of one of the three pillars of democracy, Gen Prayut must uphold the constitution and must be held responsible for any violations he commits.
The oath taking is a political issue as well as a constitutional one. Using the power of logic of a layman, I can see no reason why the Constitutional Court could not rule on the matter.
The other ruling by the same court deals with whether Gen Prayut's status as head of the junta, the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), falls within the definition of "other state official" when he was nominated as the prime minister by the Palang Pracharath Party.
The ruling was delivered on the same day that the House was debating the issue of Gen Prayut's oath taking.
Politically, it was a victory for the beleaguered general-turned-politician. But it is also one of the most fuzzy and confusing rulings that is extremely difficult for laymen to understand.
Let me try to put the ruling in simple terms the way I understand it. It says, upon grabbing state power, Gen Prayut took it upon himself to set himself up as the country's supreme ruler. He required no law to give him such power and answered to no state officials or agencies. And he held on to his power only temporarily. Therefore, he could not be considered a state official.
Political scientist Prajak Kongkirati poses these rhetorical questions: [Gen Prayut] uses state power but he is not accountable to the state? He was not appointed by any law but issued and enforced laws concerning all public and private entities as well as the people? He was not legally a state official but received a salary from the public purse? He held on to power temporarily but stayed on for more than five years, longer than any elected government in Thai political history?
To which we may add: He wore official uniforms to attend official functions but was not an official?
With its rulings, the Constitutional Court may have relieved the retired general and current prime minister from the yoke of grave constitutional charges and allowed the government to move on.
But the question arises of whether the court rulings could contribute to a more volatile, unstable political situation in the future.
Bolstered by the two court decisions, Gen Prayut must have felt he could do no wrong. On the day of the House debate, he walked away from the meeting without answering the central question: How would he take responsibility for the constitutional blunder he created after he had said publicly he would solely bear the responsibility?
A statesman is someone who tackles difficult issues head-on and upholds his own integrity. So what do you call a political leader who walks away from the mess he created, leaving it to someone else to clean up and creating a nation of cynics?
Wasant Techawongtham is former news editor, Bangkok Post.
Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.