The danger of solving a crisis with another crisis
July 05, 2012 00:00
By Suthichai Yoon
Another "constitutional crisis" in the offing this week? You must be joking. We don't consider a "crisis" a crisis anymore. It has become just an ordinary part of political life.
The origins of a crisis are quite easy to come by in Thailand’s political circus these days. All you need is for a politician to point an accusing finger at his opponent and start filing a complaint with one of the “independent agencies” for a ruling.
It doesn’t even have to be a political issue. The complaint could be about anything at all, as long as it pits one against the other and a “third party” has the constitutional right to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.
The first sign of a “crisis” is when one of the parties concerned begins to believe that he or she stands to lose in the process. The first salvo will be against the independent agency involved. It will be accused as being biased or leaning towards the other side.
The formation of the crisis continues into the second stage, even before the first hearing on the case begins. Supporters of one side start to give interviews in a threatening tone: If the verdict doesn’t come down in favour of us, we will mobilise people to protest.
The party that is convinced it will win the case will trumpet the whole exercise as being part of the process of real democracy, which the other side is trying to undermine.
It used to be that members of the independent agency would keep mum, believing that as long as they carry out their duties strictly, according to the law of the land, the public would understand and no amount of outrage from one side or the other would affect their work.
But that’s not the case anymore. Even members of “independent agencies” set up under the Constitution aren’t quite sure about the public being on their side only if they do what they are supposed to.
“The public” now, it seems, has been split into factions by the relentless pressure from parties to the conflict – so much so that it’s become a general belief that if you keep quiet in a verbal storm, you might be tacitly admitting the allegations thrust upon you.
That’s why we have recently witnessed prosecutors, judges and other members of the judicial branch joining the fray of public discourse, which, unfortunately, has been mostly negative. These judicial officials have felt the need to explain their position so that some segments of the public will not be swayed by self-serving politicians.
This week, the Constitutional Court is holding hearings over allegations that the ruling Pheu Thai Party’s attempt to amend the constitution is unconstitutional.
It’s a classic confrontation, Thai-politics-style, once again. The ruling party says the current Constitution isn’t democratic enough. They promised the electorate that, once elected, they would push for charter changes. Now that they have the majority in the House, they will fulfil their election pledge.
The opposition and some senators say the ruling party’s move is aimed at rewriting the “whole” constitution, which, according to this line of argument, is unconstitutional because changes can be made only article by article.
Of course, both could be right and both could be wrong. So, the opponents of the government brought it to the Constitutional Court to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.
As soon as that happened, the ruling party said it sensed a conspiracy which, it claimed, could lead to the dissolution of the Pheu Thai Party. That means the ruling party thinks it could lose the battle and is doing everything possible to tell the judges that the red shirts won’t tolerate that kind of verdict. They say it’s not a threat. It’s simply a statement of intention.
The Constitutional Court is inviting both sides to produce witnesses and written statements. It is due to hand down a decision soon. No doubt the judges have come under intense pressure – not for the first time, of course.
Another crisis? No, to some Thais who can’t be bothered following political news with any great interest, it’s just another hiccup.
But you can’t treat a serious ailment like a mild cold.
The country could plunge into a real time warp. We don’t learn from the past. We can’t handle the present. We can’t see the future. It’s pitch dark out there.