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Get used to the stench - it will get worse

In "Water for Elephants", there's a scene where the hero, who has just joined a circus, walks into what must be a very stinky area. "How do you stand that smell?" he asks the guy working there. The worker looks at him, genuinely surprised. "What smell?" he enquires.

Thai politics has been emanating foul odour for quite some time, which means the excitement and tragic events of the past few weeks is anything but extraordinary. The role reversal, the gut-wrenching hypocrisy and depressing deja vu are simply something inevitable. The only real headline is that our misery is growing and the sad ironies are getting out of hand.

Before we all get so completely used to the sorry state of affairs that it won't matter any more, here's a reminder of what Thailand has got in store still, even after some positive, surreal developments yesterday. Most issues in the list are legal or constitutional, and each is rooted in politicians' tendency to cherish loopholes rather than find true common values for the nation.

1. An absolute "amnesty paradox". Should anyone in future attempt to absolve "offences related to the political crisis", he or she must be out of his or her mind. Should Suthep Thaugsuban be included in a new amnesty? If yes, why is a government that advocates an amnesty that would possibly absolve him, accusing him of treason? If no, why did the same government try to absolve him to begin with?

No matter how "mad" Suthep seems to be in the eyes of his critics, his action is unarguably a product of the political crisis, which provided ground for a blanket absolution through the House-approved, Senate-vetoed amnesty bill.

That's just an example. This amnesty issue is already a messy ball of string and will be even more so after the events of the past few days.

2. Soul-searching in vicious circles. We are nowhere near being able to decide who is the boss or, to be more exact, "when" the "who" should be the boss. When the balance of power at a corporation goes wrong, the worst that can happen is confusion that runs the firm into the ground. But when a country has its Parliament and Constitutional Court at each other's throat, the damage is widespread, hard to fix and keeps feeding on itself.

Pheu Thai's refusal to accept the Constitutional Court's ruling against a charter amendment on how the Senate is formed could have far-reaching repercussions. That's simply because the court has issued verdicts on many other cases, not least its infamous 2001 acquittal of Thaksin Shinawatra on charges he concealed shares.

The argument that the share case was different must be used carefully, especially if Pheu Thai claims that the court a few days ago was "seizing power" from the people or that the court did not respect the judgement of the people. Thaksin was elected, just as the House of Representatives was elected. If the court was not supposed to rule on the House's behaviour, it should not have taken on Thaksin in 2001 either.

The argument that this Constitutional Court still contains traces of military dictatorship - unlike the one that took up the share case - begs the question, what else contains traces of dictatorship? Is the whole Parliament, set up through a Constitution installed under coup-makers, illegitimate, too? Is the Bt2-trillion borrowing plan illegal because it has been passed by a Parliament formed under a "dictatorial" Constitution?

3. Impeachment headache.

The National Counter-Corruption Commission is set to consider whether or not to indict government MPs. With the current process of indictment and impeachment subject to political scrutiny, those targeted can always proclaim their innocence and blame a conspiracy against them. If they directly defied impeachment and went about passing major tax laws or another massive government borrowing bill, Thailand's legal and constitutional trouble would only get muddier.

4. Absurdity of charter reform. Political rivals have turned the sacred issue of a constitutional update into a chicken-and-egg matter. If Parliament, formed through an "unacceptable, military-installed" Constitution, passed an amendment bill, is that in effect a bill passed under an unacceptable, military-installed process?

5. The ultimate, unanswerable question. Who will have the final say on all these issues? Parliament, of course, Pheu Thai insists. The Constitutional Court, the Democrats say. And both sides claim to be backed by the masses.

6. House dissolution and a new election will just pump more oxygen into the life support system. A Pheu Thai return to power will bring back the same old problems, while a Democrat government will face new ones, sort of. In the latter scenario, protesters might take to the streets to demand "justice" for the "Rajprasong deaths". But, assuming the Democrats and their allies are "in control" of Parliament, who would the red shirts be able to turn to, since they have virtually renounced the present "justice system"?

7. More nasty role reversals. The violence of the past few days means that more people might seek amnesty along the road. An extreme though unlikely scenario is a Democrat government flexing its parliamentary muscles to pass its own amnesty bill.

8. The real bad news. The above list includes things that are easily predictable. Certainly, there is more to come that we don't know about. Thai crises have always featured unpleasant surprises that keep adding to the mess. We call something a mess because we are not quite sure what's wrong with it. When we get one that keeps feeding on itself, the best we can do is hope to get used to it one day.




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