March 19, 2014 00:00 By Tulsathit Taptim
"Strangulation" is the word used in some Western media to sympathetically describe what's happening to the caretaker government of Yingluck Shinawatra. She again projected the image of a victim after the Constitutional Court last week killed her admini
Let’s forget about peace for a while, as it won’t come easily, no matter what. Let’s consider whether and/or how she can practically get out of this. The relentless protests on the streets are her political dead-end. Last week’s Constitutional Court veto and a few other judicial matters are becoming her legal dead-end. And with the Bt2 trillion mega-spending plan dead in the water, an economic dead-end is looming.
They are combining as one big dead-end. Western sympathy alone won’t be enough to save Yingluck. And sympathy is looking less and less likely to come from foreign investors. If her government does somehow manage to stay in power – improbable, of course – who would want to bet on its projects? Who would provide more computer tablets? Who would buy Thai rice? Who would supply high-speed trains or lay down the new railroads?
The threats to “divide Thailand up” – whether or not they were made out of frustration or of malice – stemmed from this extreme desperation, the realisation that another Yingluck-led administration would not be just a political lame duck, but also a bad one to do business with. Suthep Thaugsuban’s supporters, unpaid farmers and the anti-corruption mechanism have targeted where it hurts – key economic agencies and policies.
Was it just one blunder, the amnesty bill, that led Yingluck to this point? If we look at it carefully, the bill shared the same traits as other legal problems besetting this caretaker government. The amnesty bill, the attempt to change the Constitution so that most international treaties would be spared parliamentary scrutiny, the transfer of former National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri, the Bt2 trillion borrowing plan: all reflect “democratic empowerment” gone crazy.
And if we are to look farther back, the Ratchadapisek land scandal and the aforementioned cases also have a few things in common. Politicians in power ignored serious warnings about what they planned to do, thinking the “democratic mandate” allowed them to do it or would shield them from drastic consequences. When things went bad, they never blamed themselves – the conspiratorial opponents were always the culprits.
It was the same with the tax-free sale of Shin Corp to Singapore’s Temasek. Ditto when Thaksin Shinawatra was accused of hiding a massive amount of shares in nominees’ accounts. Everything was because the rule of law was being used to persecute a popularly elected man, and it was never about whether that popularly elected man should set an example by diligently upholding the law.
The question of whether the all-out street campaign against Yingluck is justified or has gone way overboard is a good one. But equally important is the question of whether Yingluck could have avoided it. As many people said after her “They use laws to hunt me down” complaint, the ultimate question is whether she has broken the law or not.
Being “picked on” is bad, but it’s different from being “persecuted”. The latter involves genuine victimisation while the former implies guilt and the unfortunate act of getting caught. That the same laws may not have been enforced against other people is bad, but that doesn’t mean penalised offenders should call themselves “hunted”. And especially not if they hold other state powers or wield major political influence. If all election winners were legally untouchable, the world would be a much messier place. What has befallen Yingluck, her brother Thaksin, late Democrat bigwig Sanan Kachornprasart, ex-Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin or even current Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra is democracy exercising its own restraints. It is democracy emphasising that checks and balances are as important as results at the ballot box.
And how many times can the law hunt “innocent” people down? One violation of the law could be an honest mistake. Two could be a bad mistake. Three could be a very bad mistake. But violations repeated again and again? Such a scenario begs the question of whether the lawbreakers are being defiant due to a misunderstanding of their “mandate”.
“Every time she cries, I feel sad for Thailand,” read a Facebook post. Yingluck the person is entitled to sob her frustration away, of course, but Yingluck the prime minister has bigger priorities than herself, her party or her family. If she is to cry, it must be for a system flexible enough to let her become a national leader in spite of her brother, but flawed enough to blur the line between breaking the law and being its victim.