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Thailand court rules on constitutional amendment case

The Constitutional Court of Thailand [official website] on Friday dismissed opposition party petitions challenging the ability of the ruling Puea Thai party [party website, in Thai] to amend the country's constitution. The court ruled that the parliament could amend the constitution on a piecemeal basis [BBC report] by amending separate articles, but that a national referendum would be required to rewrite the entire charter. At the current stage the case involved the Puea Thai party's desire to change one amendment that would then allow them to establish a drafting committee [AP report] for additional changes to the constitution, which they claim is undemocratic because it was written by an interim military government following the 2006 army coup that ousted now-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The powerful Constitutional Court could have dissolved the Puea Thai party with a ruling that the attempt to amend the nation's charter is illegal, as the judges have removed two Thaksin-allied prime ministers in the last four years, have dissolved major political parties and have banned top politicians from politics. Thaksin's sister, current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], heads the Puea Thai party, which opponents claim aims to amend the constitution as an avenue to dismantling the country's constitutional monarchy and paving the way for Thaksin's return from exile [Reuters report] without serving time for a graft conviction. The ruling party has denied such allegations.

Thailand's political system has remained unstable following the coup that ousted Thaksin, who left office after allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest. The ruling party has been constantly criticized and attacked by opposition parties since coming to power a year ago in a landslide election that was widely viewed as a referendum on Thaksin's rule. Last August a Thai court acquitted Pojamarn Shinawatra [JURIST news archive], Thaksin's ex-wife, overturning a 2008 tax evasion conviction [JURIST report]. She had been convicted for transferring stocks in the amount of $16.3 million to her step-brother and secretary, who were sentenced to three and two years, respectively. In July of last year opposition party lawyers filed documents with the Election Commission challenging [JURIST report] the Puea Thai party's victory in the 2011 election. They accused the party of having involved the former PM and other banned politicians during the campaign seeking the dissolution of the party. In February, seven "red shirt" [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] opposition leaders detained during anti-government protests [JURIST news archive] that began last March were released [JURIST report] on bail by a Thai court. They had been arrested on terrorism charges during the demonstration.

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