The headline is a bit of a rhetorical question since it was the army, via the Prayut Chan-o-cha military junta, that inspired, oversaw, and approved the 2017 Constitution itself. That’s Thai-style democracy.
In a regular democracy, however, the answer is obvious, the Constitutional Court is the higher power. Its function is to interpret the laws of the nation. Its duty is to provide justice for the people.
Today, 2 December, we will find out if there’s any justice left in Thailand.
The Constitutional Court will deliver the verdict on the legality of General Prayut’s continuous occupancy of an army residence.
The issue isn’t complicated to understand.
Unless one would purposely complicate things.
Put Section 184 and 186.1 of the constitution together, and we have a clear understanding that no MPs, senators, or ministers shall receive any gifts, donations, or presents of any kind from any government agency or anyone else while in office. Conflict of interest is the issue.
Throw Section 160 at General Prayut, and we also have a violation of “ethical standards.”
Shove Section 170 into his face, and we have “misconduct that warrants termination from office.”
But while the constitution is clear, army regulations are also apparent.
Army regulations stipulate that former army chiefs who continue to be “of service to the nation and the army” may use the residence, courtesy of taxpayers, who didn’t have any say in it.
However, army regulations don’t specify the case in which the occupier is a government employee, as in the prime minister.
But that’s neither here nor there. The constitution supersedes army regulations, right? The judges are the higher power in the laws of the land, not military generals, right?
In an actual democracy, the answers are yes and yes. But in the Thai-style democracy, the last time General Prayut got into trouble with the constitution was his failure to recite the complete oath of office to the Constitutional Court in 2019 when he took office.
Complaints were filed, but the Constitutional Court merely dismissed them, reasoning that it’s outside of the court’s jurisdiction.
It’s the quintessential “ain’t got nothing to do with me” argument.
General Prayut’s defense is this.
The army residence provides the best security. That’s all.
Now, if you are familiar with General Prayut’s daily routine, you would understand how serious he is about security. His security detail would make even the US president blush. General Prayut practically has an army to follow him everywhere.
It’s the nature of the junta. What you fear most are two things: 1) Assassination. 2) Counter coup. No security is tighter than those of dictators, former or otherwise.
Living inside an army base is the best security taxpayers’ money can buy for General Prayut.
Here’s another point worth noting.
Is General Prayut still considered “รัฏฐาธิปัตย์” (rat-taa-ti-bpat)?
The word means “the highest power in the land.” General Prayut was the rat-taa-ti-bpat in his five-plus years of dictatorship rule. Which means he was untouchable and above the law.
As the rat-taa-ti-bpat, General Prayut could do no wrong in the eye of the law.
But of course, we are no longer in an outright dictatorship. However, we are not quite in a democracy either. Nonetheless, if the past year-and-half of Thai-style democracy tells us anything, General Prayut still can do no wrong.
Be that as it may, this doesn’t mean a guilty verdict in the army residence case is an impossibility. Even if General Prayut appointed many of the judges himself. This is Thailand, after all. So it boils down to this:
A guilty verdict and stripping of his prime ministership mean he’s no longer useful. Anything else that lets him keep his job means he’s still useful.
And that’s all there is to it.