Judges divided at 11th hour
Leaked reports suggest fears of a power vacuum; Constitution Court chief said to favour convening Parliament now
Judges from the Constitution, Supreme and Administrative courts appear split over how to rule on the April 2 election as they take note of His Majesty the King's advice and head into an unprecedented judicial summit today to defuse the political crisis.
Leaked reports suggest Phan Chantarapan, the acting Constitution Court president, is inclined to convene the new Parliament as the unfilled seats will not impair the legislative work.
Phan has also apparently expressed concerns that a power vacuum might result if a new government is not formed within the 30-day deadline.
It has been predicted that today he will try to convince Chanchai Likhitjittha and Akaratorn Chularat, the presidents of the Supreme and Supreme Administrative courts, to rule in favour of opening the House.
The argument is that a new Parliament should be convened to defuse tension before starting to untangle the problems behind the crisis.
His Majesty the King on Tuesday told the judges to solve the crisis and said the April 2 election, marred by several legal and constitutional violations, would not produce a legitimate Parliament.
The King's speech led to expectations that the election results would be cancelled and a fresh election held to kick-start Thai political life.
Supreme Court judges are reported to want the election scrapped to wipe the slate clean and allow rival politicians to settle some of their differences.
Wirat Chinvinijkul, secretary-general of the Supreme Court, said judges would be reviewing two important questions.
First, were the poll and the subsequent by-elections held with honesty and justice in accordance with the law and the Constitution? Second, what is the legal scope of the judiciary in looking at the disputes emanating from the electoral process?
"We shall be consulting with the judges at the Constitution and Administrative courts. We'll work to resolve the crisis," Wirat added.
The position of the Supreme Administrative Court over the election remains unclear but will take all the cases filed against the conduct of the polls into consideration when it arrives at a verdict.
The three top judges may not find a solution to end the political crisis in one sitting because they face many hurdles in finding an appropriate legal stance to get the country out of the political quagmire.
The judicial summit is likely to take more than a few sessions to sort out the political entanglement and the Supreme Court's Akaratorn is expected to be the swing vote.
Yesterday, each court held a press conference to outline its summit agendas.
Phan said he would discuss the Constitution Court's jurisdiction relating to the electoral process and the performance of the Election Commission (EC).
"I will propose the three top courts examine every aspect of the electoral process, including the status of the Royal Decree for the election," he said.
He would not speculate on the summit outcome but argued that the EC did not exceed its mandate in managing the polls.
After defending the EC's performance, he said only his court was empowered to rule whether the House could convene if some of the 500 seats remained vacant.
Phan said the EC was fully empowered to manage the third round of balloting, scheduled for Saturday, in a bid to fill the remaining House seats.
He refused predict how his court would rule on whether the election outcome should be validated or the partially filled House be convened, saying he did not want to commit judicial prejudice.
"The judicial ruling will be based on the Constitution and the law and meet public expectations," he said, expressing confidence that the crisis would be amicably resolved.
Akaratorn said: "The judicial summit is not expected to issue one combined ruling of the three courts but exchange views from each court to be handled within their jurisdiction."
He said his court would rule quickly on each case relating to the electoral process but it was not obliged to do so before convening of the House.All 233 top judges of the justice courts nationwide convened a closed-door meeting yesterday.
At the summit, many senior judges will accompany the presidents of the top three courts.
Phan is to lead two judges, Ura Wang-omklang and Nopadol Hengcharoen, who are seen as close to the government and court secretary-general Paiboon Warahapaitoon.
Akaratorn will be accompanied by his top aide Sonthaya Pongsuriyawan.
The Supreme Court is in charge of organising the summit and nine senior judges will assist Chanchai, including Wirat, Jaran Pakdithanakul and Jiraniti Hawanont.
The Democrat Party yesterday petitioned the Central Administrative Court to abandon the election on the grounds that it was "unconstitutional".
In a separate case, three lawyers yesterday submitted a citizen's petition asking the Supreme Administrative Court to cancel the Royal Decree for the election.
The trio - Nitithorn Lumlua, Nakhon Chompoochat and Pairoj Pholphet - chose to litigate as individuals rather than involving their professional group, the Law Society of Thailand.