Determining What is ‘Thai’: Thailand’s Constitutional Court and Identity Polarisation

The attempt to establish the Constitutional Court (since 1997) to consolidate the culture of liberal constitutionalism cannot avoid struggling with the entrenched national ideology, Thai-ness. This local notion of national identity determines what constitutes ‘genuine Thais’, that is, ideologies and people loyal to the predominantly Buddhist nation embodied by the righteous monarch.
Here, I aim to examine the Constitutional Court's roles in this regard. The judgments affirming the validity of coups in 2006 and 2014 as well as that annulling a constitutional amendment Bill seeking to establish the fully-elected Senate in 2013 will be assessed. These judgments, I argue, indicate that the Court gives a greater weight to the traditional notion of national identity, in particular, by asserting criteria constituting limitations to liberal-democratic ideas. The ultimate outcome of this is the greater polarisation within Thai society and the decline in popularity of the Court itself.