Reform should also aim for a just society

opinion January 16, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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It's time to bring an end to the era of "one law for the rich and one law for the poor"

The picture is a familiar one: People have once again taken to the streets in the belief they are being unfairly treated. They complain of double standards and unfair laws designed to benefit certain groups of people.
This kind of problem is not new to Thailand. Wealthy and powerful lawbreakers are often able to escape punishment. Meanwhile we hear reports of poverty-stricken mothers sent to jail for stealing food for their infants. 
Even after being found guilty in court, wealthy lawbreakers have managed to escape the hand of the law by fleeing overseas. We have witnessed rich politicians leave the country shortly before being sentenced for crimes involving corruption. Some have had the gall to claim they were the victims of political bias in the courts, despite having used the same courts to launch legal action against their political enemies. Miscreant politicians have also been accused of attempting to influence or even bribe court officials. 
Now, years of accumulated anger at such perceived injustice has finally bubbled over and sent citizens onto the streets. The protesters are fed up with “one law for the rich and another law for the poor”. Among them are many who have suffered at the hands of state officials or other authorities simply because they refuse to pay bribes or kickbacks. These citizens have diagnosed a worsening corruption problem in Thai bureaucracy and politics and are refusing to tolerate it any longer.
Their call for change is justified and credible. Thailand is crying out for a more just society in which the law is fairly enforced. People who break the law, regardless of their status, must be prosecuted. Politicians who help themselves to taxpayers’ money or use public office for private gain deserve more severe punishment than that handed out to mothers who steal to feed their babies. 
In addition to fair and efficient law enforcement, we also need to ensure that our laws are designed to be fair and to benefit all from the beginning. Lawmakers must be held to account so that new laws issued by the legislature are designed to benefit the whole country, and not certain groups of people. There must be no more attempts to issue laws like the controversial amnesty bill. Public outrage over the proposed amnesty, which would have absolved politicians convicted of corruption and serious crimes linked with political conflicts since 2004, brought crowds of protesters onto the streets. Lawmakers should instead be held to their duty of supporting draft legislation that would promote social justice, such as proposals for higher taxes on wealthy landowners and inheritances. 
A more transparent and just society in which everyone is equal under the law might still be an elusive goal for Thailand. But we should at least aim for it. Efforts toward reform would be a first step in this direction.