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Law scholar travels to Thailand
as nation ponders 18th constitution
Business & Law Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
Tom Ginsburg provided legal background to Thailand
as the country begins to write its 18th constitution.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Thailand has drafted 17 constitutions since becoming a constitutional
monarchy in 1932. Will an 18th constitution help restore democracy,
which ended last September after a military coup ousted Prime Minister
“There is some chance that Thailand will revert to a stable pattern
of democracy, but there are a number of wild cards, and things could
end up in a pattern of renewed instability,” said Tom Ginsburg,
a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
who traveled to Thailand earlier this month.
Ginsburg, director of the law school’s program in Asian law, politics
and society, gave presentations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai to academics,
government officials and civic leaders. He was a keynote speaker at
a seminar on constitutional law hosted by King Prachathipok’s
Institute, one of Thailand’s leading think tanks.
His talks were aimed at providing legal background as Thailand begins
to write a new constitution in preparation for a return to democratic
rule. The military government has promised to complete the new constitution
by October 2007 and hold free elections.
“Many in Thailand were in favor of the coup because of the problems
of corruption by the ousted prime minister,” Ginsburg said. “But
my own view, which I noted in my presentations, is that long-term democracy
and constitutional instability are incompatible. At some point, the
Thais need to develop institutions that function independent of the
personalities in office at any particular time.”
Ginsburg said a stable democracy is particularly urgent now because
Thai’s constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is 79
years old. The monarch has ruled for more than 60 years and is credited
as a moderating force among the country’s contentious political
The bloodless coup came after Prime Minister Thaksin dissolved the Thai
parliament for new elections, which were so poorly administered that
the country’s constitutional court ordered a re-vote. Thaksin
“The 1997 Thai constitution was a very good one. But probably
no constitution could have withstood the challenge of a populist billionaire
(Thaksin) who corrupted every institution,” Ginsburg said.
Ironically, a primary concern of the drafters of the 1997 Thai constitution
was to keep the military out of politics. There have been 20 coups in
Thailand since 1932, which is the only nation in Southeast Asia never
to have been taken over by a European power.
“It’s important to note that other democracies have had
characters similar to Thaksin in high office and eventually got rid
of them through constitutional means,” Ginsburg said.