It’s understandable why everyone has become fixated on the Yingluck Shinawatracase, but maybe we’re all barking up the wrong tree.
The rice price-pledging case, how it came about, how it panned out and how its “conclusion” is supposed to determine Thailand’s immediate political future have edged out the story of another legal episode that is actually no less important.
That other case concerns the heir to Red Bull, a stimulant-drink company with a massive wealth and worldwide reputation.
You may think the plights – or some may say privileges – of Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck reflect a glaring national flaw, but theirs are political, meaning what’s happened to them so far can happen anywhere.
Vorayuth Yoovidhya, on the other hand, represents a wider segment of the population and is more characteristic of what’s wrong in this country.
His alleged crime is a lot simpler than Thaksin’s and Yingluck’s. The young man was accused of a hit and run that killed a policeman several years ago.
There were no complexities of the ballot boxes’ “legitimacy” or soul-searching about how much a government leader should be held accountable for a policy that goes wrong. A cop was fatally run over by a Ferrari that Vorayuth allegedly drove, and that was that.
Yet Vorayuth remains a “free” man. Having fled the country, he has not been living in jungles or hopping from one secret hideout to another.
In fact, Thai law-enforcement officers know where he is, and the only thing that prevented them from catching him recently was – don’t laugh – because they didn’t know how to proceed with the extradition in English.
It was a shot in the dark, obviously. A senior police official said the extradition process involved translating some 30 pages of legal documents, “which needs to be done carefully”. You can be forgiven if you thought it was a joke. I did. After all, what’s so difficult about telling the authorities in a foreign country that this is a man accused of killing a cop in a car accident?
The man may finally be brought to justice, but that’s not the point. Thailand’s problem is someone accused of fatally running over a policeman in 2012 has remained free all this time.
The average guy on the street couldn’t do that. And it’s not just Vorayuth. Rich Thai suspects manage to stay out of legal reaches all the time and some of them even
re-emerge after a while to live a comfortable life as if nothing had happened.
This is our country’s worst characteristic, not what has befallen elected officeholders when the political wind changes its course.
Business firms don’t consider wrongdoings of their executives something to be ashamed of.
In Thailand, a major TV entrepreneur ran away from the law without causing any business harm to his company. Insider trading charges could do nothing commercially to another big firm.
It takes forever to hunt down popular monks accused of fraud. When children of rich or powerful people were responsible for deadly accidents, they just lay low until the social storm passes.
And speaking of social storms, they can lead to exceptions rather than the rule.
A few days ago, an affluent man was sentenced to jail after being convicted of killing two graduates in a car accident last year.
It would be have been interesting to see how the case of Jenphob Viraporn transpired without the accompanying social-media uproar. His lawyer is in the process of appealing the five-year jail sentence, though, meaning the case could drag significantly longer.
People take a look at Thaksin and Yingluck’s cases and declare that it is impossible to “reconcile” Thailand. Maybe we should start considering the possibility that we have been misguided all along.
Politics can be highly overrated, so any attempt at reform can be doomed from the very beginning if it’s focused on whether senators should be elected, where the prime minister should come from, or how big a constituency should be.
Yingluck’s closing statement in the rice-scheme trial yesterday portrayed her as a political victim and the Thai justice as a farce.
What she had to say and the fervour of hundreds of red-shirt people giving her support at the Supreme Court only confirmed one thing: “Political reconciliation” is as remote as ever.
But while that kind of “reconciliation” may be impossible, it is not that necessary and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps continue to seriously disagree with each other. “Legal reconciliation”, or giving everyone equal justice, is what we must try, and it must start with the likes of Vorayuth. Who knows? It might go downhill from there.