Thaksin better stay out of the charter debate

opinion February 22, 2016 01:00

By The Nation

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His criticism of latest constitution draft rings hollow and steeped in self-interest

As a Thai, Thaksin Shinawatra has the civil right to criticise the latest charter now being crafted by a military-installed panel. However, as a politician who at the height of his power failed to show any respect for constitutional will, his verdict on this controversial document is ironic at best and hypocritical at worst. It’s also debatable whether self-interest was his biggest motivation.

Thaksin, in a call from abroad to Pheu Thai politicians earlier this month, said the draft charter would take Thailand backward several years. Somehow, he seemed to be giving written words some serious attention, suggesting the law of the land was something sacred and obligatory. Not the first time since losing political power, Thaksin wanted to be seen as someone who cherished and fostered a good constitution. History, however, tells us otherwise.

He came to office under what was described as one of Thailand’s best constitutions. The “People’s Charter” of 1997 featured measures designed to guard against conflicts of interest that spawned corruption in Thailand.

It empowered political bodies

like the Constitutional Court and National Counter-Corruption Commission to counterbalance crooked politicians and their increasingly sophisticated ploys to reap personal gain.

It prescribed fair means to turn telecom frequencies into some sort of national assets, meaning they should benefit Thais more and telecom companies less. It also advocated steps to prevent nepotism in politics.

As a recap of what Thaksin did, he still kept control of his telecom empire through his young son, let his wife buy a potentially lucrative piece of state-auctioned land, delayed the setting up of an independent body to liberate the telecom industry and formed a ministry that, among its first tasks, saw to it that telecom firms did not lose profits following liberalisation. And ever since he was ousted from power, he has led a campaign to discredit the anti-graft mechanism introduced and advocated by the 1997 constitution.

To cut a long story short, whatever the will of the 1997 constitution, he failed to respect it. It’s fair to say that while the charter was “torn up” by the coup that dethroned him, the constitutional spirit had been dead long before that. It’s also fair to say that, during that charter’s last days, Thailand’s backward slide had already begun.

In his latest phone-in, it was clear that Thaksin still judged a constitution by whether the military had composed it, or the extent that military influence, if any, would remain after an election. He overlooked the causes of military intervention, or even what could give the military a pretext or reason to intervene in politics. He can’t proclaim himself to be democratically minded if he continues to ignore the root cause of Thailand’s political problems, which is the lack of transparency and accountability.

A clean, democratic government is the only force that can hold military opportunism at bay. A government steeped in integrity, one that is clean and swift to get rid of its own corrupt elements, will enjoy immunity far greater than that provided by an absolute majority in Parliament. Thaksin has continued to lambast those who pushed him out of power and what they have done to Thailand constitutionally, but he has failed to make any kind of admission about what he did to one of Thailand’s best constitutions.

His criticism of the current draft charter, therefore, rings hollow. It’s a one-sided verbal onslaught that has failed to take into account what else, apart from coups, is responsible for taking Thailand down the wrong path. Unless Thaksin reconciles himself with the fact that he, too, is intricately part of the problem, national reconciliation remains quite remote indeed.