Impeachment is meant to be difficult and rare
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Impeachment is meant to be difficult and rare

Suthichai Yoon in an op-ed in The Nation a few days ago:

Senators’ duties as stipulated by the Constitution are to endorse those nominated to such important agencies as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Constitutional Court and a host of other “independent bodies” with highly influential roles to play to keep the executive branch from exercising excessive power.

But experience in the past few years has confirmed the worst suspicions. None of the attempted impeachments against senior politicians in Parliament and the Cabinet has succeeded. For one thing, the Constitution requires agreement from three-fifths of the total 150 senators to pass an impeachment motion. That means 90 of the 150 senators must stand united to pass the proposed move. That has never happened and won’t do so any time soon.

That means the upper House simply isn’t in a position to throw out corrupt politicians. Neither can it serve as a check-and-balance mechanism against political abuse. On the contrary, it is clear that in some cases, the senators closely affiliated to the powers-that-be have served to help whitewash corrupt politicians and political appointees.

Recent history stands witness to this ugly fact. When the Pheu Thai Party pushed through the controversial all-embracing amnesty bill that would have pardoned even the most corrupt politicians, present and past, the Senate, dominated by pro-government members, promptly rushed the draft legislation through, sparking the massive street demonstrations that transformed into the People’s Democratic Reform Council (PDRC) movement.

Proper checks and balances means that if you get 51 per cent of the vote, you don’t get your way 100 per cent of the time. That, however, doesn’t seem to be the guiding principle of the ruling party.

BP: Where does one start.

First, the Senate did not pass the Amnesty Bill. The Senate voted against the Amnesty Bill by 141-0.  The Senate actions didn’t spark the protests. The protests were already underway before consideration of the Bill by the Senate and these protests together with the government signalling to pro-government Senators in the Senate to the defeat the Bill was why it was rejected. Suthichai gets the facts completely wrong.

Second, impeachment is meant to be difficult and rare.  The concept for impeachment actually comes from the UK, but not no one has been impeached there since 1806. Impeachment still exists in other countries, such as the US, but under the US Constitution impeachment is also difficult with a two-thirds majority and it is still rare. Wikipedia:

The Congress traditionally regards impeachment as a power to use only in extreme cases; the House of Representatives has actually initiated impeachment proceedings only 62 times since 1789. Two cases did not come to trial because the individuals had left office.

Actual impeachments of 19 federal officers have taken place. Of these, 15 were federal judges: thirteen district court judges, one court of appeals judge (who also sat on the Commerce Court), and one Supreme Court Associate Justice. Of the other four, two were Presidents, one was a Cabinet secretary, and one was a U.S. Senator. Of the 19 impeached officials, eight were convicted. One, former judge Alcee Hastings, was elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives after being removed from office.

BP: Of course both the US Presidents who faced impeachment – Andrew Johnson and Clinton – were acquitted (Nixon resigned before being impeached). There is no impeachment of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the US, but they can be be expelled (or censured). Since 1867, only two members of the House of Representatives and no Senators have been expelled and on both occasions this was after those persons had been convicted of criminal offences.

Third on impeachment in Thailand, it is not always used for corruption. The Bangkok Post in 2012:

Based on the Senate’s voting record, Mr Suthep is likely to survive the impeachment bid.

No impeachment motion against political office-holders has mustered the required number of votes. Impeachment requires three-fifths, or 88 votes, of the 146 senators.

The closest call involved the impeachment bid against Pakdee Pothisiri, a member of the NACC, who was accused of violating Section 248 of the constitution by failing to resign from a private firm before accepting his NACC position. He survived the bid to impeach him by 84 to 56 votes [BP: Not sure if this is correct as according to The Nation it was 84 who voted to support him and 56 to impeach].

In an impeachment case against former premier Somchai Wongsawat, 76 senators voted to impeach, against 49.

Mr Somchai was accused of malfeasance in connection with the crackdown on yellow-shirt protesters on Oct 7, 2008 outside parliament.

Former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama also survived an impeachment attempt over his role in the listing of the Preah Vihear temple. Only 57 senators voted to impeach, while 55 were against.

Mr Noppadon was accused of bypassing parliamentary scrutiny of the Cambodian-Thai draft communique on getting Preah Vihear listed as a World Heritage site.

BP: Suthep wasn’t impeached either. 95 Senators voted against impeachment for Suthep and 40 voted for his impeachment.

Perhaps, the problem is not that the Senate doesn’t impeach enough politicians, but that the NACC finds a prima facie case too easily because they set a very low threshold for wrongdoing. Suthichai seems disappointed that politicians are not thrown out of office for so-called corruption, but none of the impeachment cases are of actual corruption.

Fourth, the government doesn’t control or dominate the Senate. Those who are more aligned with the establishment/against the government have a slight majority in the Senate. Around 60 of the 73 Appointed Senators and 16 of the Elected Senators are against the government which gives them 76 out of the 150 after the recent election. Before this, as you can see from above, those closer to the Establishment/against the government have not even come close to impeachment with a majority voting against impeachment (84 and 95 for Pakdee and Suthep respectively) whereas in the government/Thaksin side they have had much lower numbers voting against impeachment (55 and 49 for Noppadol and Somchai respectively). Despite these facts, Suthichai thinks the government dominates the Senate. He could not be more wrong.

The problem for him is that a simple majority is not enough for impeachment in Thailand, but three-fifths* is required for impeachment. Hence, up until now, there have been enough pro-government Senators to block impeachment of Noppadol and Somchai. Thus, the outrage from Suthichai because the Establishment can’t impeach those in the government/pro-Thaksin camp (the government doesn’t have a hope in hell of successfully impeaching anyone as long as we have an mixed Senate with 73 Appointed Senators which is another reason the Establishment likes Appointed Senators).

Now, a fully Appointed Senate controlled by Establishment figures, we could have impeachments galore of anyone in the pro-Thaksin side/government camp….. Perhaps, this will soon be called for…..

*Corrected this.