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No chance now for a graceful exit by our caretaker premier

Many believe it has taken too long for the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to reach its decision to formally charge the prime minister over the wholesale fraud in the rice-pledging programme carried out on her watch. But it's better late than never. Without adequate prudence on the part of the NACC, the entire school of slimy fish could get away.

Meanwhile, the caretaker premier's "Dear farmers" speech and the government's farcical actions to find money to fill the gaping hole left by stolen cash, while pinning the blame on others, provide a new definition of hard-boiled, nefarious self-delusion.

The showy quivering voice and welling tears as she talked about the plight of farmers sent many who had up till then been sitting on the fence, maintaining their impartiality as onlookers, straight to the other camp.

Instead of stubbornly playing the blame game, the caretaker premier should have talked about where the huge amount taxpayers' cash went. During the last parliamentary debate, the opposition party clearly showed where the money trail ended. A significant sum of looted booty went into the hand of government cronies, evidently bypassing those of the "dear farmers" the premier addressed.

Meanwhile, deaths and injuries related to the three months of protest passed the 700 mark on Tuesday, when the government's "Peace For Bangkok" - an oxymoron if ever there was one - mission went awry. This is 700 too many, and hides many more lives ruined among grieving families.

The government, being cornered by and stuck in its own game, insists publicly it is on the side of the right, and shall not yield or give up its power. Privately, "representatives" of the premier have been testing the waters with the "what if?" question, suggesting that the caretaker premier might be willing to leave the office should a few conditions be granted. First among the conditions is no seizure of Yingluck or her family's assets. Second, a blanket amnesty for her and her family over the rice-pledging scheme. Third, a pardon for the premier and her government over its failed attempt to push through the amnesty bill that would have exonerated the premier's brother of all wrongdoing. The clay pigeons were shot down without much lamenting.

More importantly, it is not requested conditions that torpedoed the possibility of dialogue, it is the bad faith with which this marionette government and its master have been conducting their negotiations. No one now trusts the government's words.

For months, Thailand has had no functioning government. The political conflict has turned into economic calamity for the country and its people. Worst of all, the social divide has deepened and will be much harder to reverse for years to come.

None of this matters much to the government, for whom only a misguided will to survive counts.

History provides us with an interesting comparison.

Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, following its invasion of Phnom Penh in 1975, declared "Year Zero" for Cambodia. The term originated in France in 1792 during that country's revolution. The Year Zeroes in France and Cambodia were followed by unspeakable acts carried out under reigns of terror.

The Year Zero policy commands that all previous cultures and traditions be destroyed and replaced by a new social order dictated by the revolution. Was this term the inspiration for the Thai government's declaration of "Set Zero" as it pushed the ill-fated amnesty bill that ignited a public outcry and brought the country to this desperate juncture?

That term obviously backfired. The caretaker government is running from place to place to hold meetings which are becoming fewer and farther in between. Our caretaker premier has become more like a phantom presence, as she leaves all the dirty jobs to be handled by her deputies. Gone is the dignity of the holder of the highest office of government.

January 29, 2009, in Iceland saw the "Pots and Pans Revolution" succeed in obtaining the resignation of the prime minister. It happened only after six days of intense street protests and clashes with the police, after the government's privatisation of banks put them in the hands of the few with close ties to the government and caused a financial-sector meltdown. The protesters threw snowballs and eggs at the prime minister's car, and banged pots and pans in front of the parliament and government house. After one Icelander had kicked things off a year earlier by standing up against the government's corruption and mismanagement, the Kitchenware Revolution was followed by citizens' forums and constitutional change. In 2010, the new parliament voted to indict the former prime minister (but not his Cabinet) for neglecting his duties. That fits the old dignified motto drawn from Franklin D Roosevelt's undelivered speech in 1945 (he died one day before giving it) - "With great power comes great responsibility", and also the Bible's "To whom much has been given, much will be expected."

It is said that self-inflicted tragedy is sadder than uncontrollable tragedy. In Jean Paul Sartre's play "No Exit", a character named Garcin cannot leave the room even though the door is open because he cannot face the responsibility that comes with his decisions and actions. Our caretaker premier could have chosen to gracefully leave office in order to demonstrate her responsibility to the country. She did not.

It's now a question of who will make the decision for her. Sadly, the heavy price of her dithering will be paid by all of us.


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