Can end of rice saga lead to a fresh beginning?

opinion July 31, 2017 07:00

By The Nation

Thai justice system braces for another turbulent moment

This week begins another highly crucial period for Thai politics. The closing statement of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra wraps up an excruciating and controversial trial in which she was accused of dereliction of duty in connection with the rice-pledging scheme. What happens between now and the immediate aftermath of the verdict, scheduled to be handed down on August 25, will most likely chart the country’s political course in the years to come.

There are various complications to consider. The trial has taken place under a military rule, a situation many find unacceptable. Yet there are a great number of Thais who believe that powerful politicians cannot be brought to trial for alleged corruption or other serious political crimes when their peers rule the country “democratically”. Others ask questions about how far elected politicians can go in implementing campaign promises or how high up “responsibility” extends when a government policy goes wrong.

And there is the internecine political divide, which led to bloodshed several times over the past decade. The polarity has thrown some basic principles out the window. Human rights or moral values in general have given way to selective judgement, normal in extreme partisanship but very unhealthy when national progress is concerned.

The Yingluck case has brought those questions and problems to the fore. They are likely to reach a boiling point near the end of August, when the ruling is read. 

Whatever the ruling is, a large number of Thais will be deeply dissastisfied. An uproar on social media one way or the other is certain. Violence is justifiably feared.

A so-called “compromise” has been mooted. It is said that to prevent an uprising by Yingluck’s opponents or supporters who want totally different verdicts, maybe she will be put on  probation. This, it is believed, will keep both camps at bay. She, at least, will not end up in jail and her opponents should settle for her being found guilty of negligence.

The scenario will mean the country is going nowhere, though. It will only mean political factors take precedence over legal facts. Actually, that has been a problematic characteristic of Thailand, both before and during the political crisis.

The ultimate question is how longer political considerations will continue to dictate legal cases. Thailand has been hampered by this bad tradition for too long and it was this national flaw that brought the country to this spot in the first place. The Yingluck case would not have been this politically difficult had Thailand strictly adhered to legal principles.

Her case has caught much attention here and abroad because she was a former prime minister, and the sister of maverick Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now in exile because of exactly the same divisive moral, legal and political issues. But hers is not the only testament to how things go off the track in Thailand. It’s time the terms “justice” and “injustice” expanded beyond the political realm. A good legal standard never causes a political divide. Lack of it does. True reform demands that legal fairness should not apply to only politicians or any particular group of people. Real reconciliation requires legal equality for all Thais, no matter their social, economic, political or legal status. 

Perhaps in another world where legal equality reigns, Yingluck will be judged based on evidence. If she is to be acquitted, it will be because the evidence says so. And vice versa in case she is found guilty. Whether that world is coming close to reality will depend solely on Thai people.