Time we citizens wielded the knife

opinion April 24, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Our amoral political culture is the breeding ground of the rot afflicting Thai society

In times of political conflict, both sides talk loudly of the need to respect the rules and the law. But politicians often make the demand of their “enemies” while at the same time doing their best to evade the rules.

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra says he is ready to “sacrifice his family” by ending its political role so the country can emerge from the ongoing impasse and move forward. However, Thaksin also wants his critics to adhere to the law. “The country’s problems have been caused by failure to adhere to the rules,” a Thaksin aide quoted him as saying.

The ex-premier is correct in his analysis, though he could have been more specific. It is, in fact, politicians’ disregard for the rules and law that has led to much of the turmoil now afflicting the country.

Thaksin left the country shortly before being sentenced to jail in 2008 and has been in self-imposed exile ever since. The latest round of political turmoil came after the House of Representatives passed a government-backed blanket amnesty for all those involved in political conflicts of recent years. Critics and opposition politicians alleged that the amnesty bill, which was subsequently blocked by the Senate following widespread opposition, was chiefly aimed at benefiting Thaksin.

The ex-premier was handed a two-year sentence by the Supreme Court for abuse of power in connection with his then-wife’s purchase of a valuable property that had the state had confiscated, at a price far lower than its market value. Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the seizure of Bt46 billion of Thaksin’s money after deciding it had been accumulated improperly while he was in office. Just days after the court ruling, Thaksin’s red-shirt supporters took to the streets and staged a 10-week protest against the Bangkok “elite”. More than 90 people were killed during that time, including protesters, soldiers, police, foreign journalists, city dwellers and passers-by. Several other legal cases against Thaksin were suspended after he fled the country in 2008.

Obeying the law is a basic requirement for any ordinary citizen. But politicians are not merely ordinary citizens: they are leaders, responsible for running the country and making its laws. As such, they need to comply with more than just the laws of the land; they also have to abide by high ethical standards.

In fact, any politician knows right from wrong unless and until he fools himself into believing otherwise. Unfortunately, unscrupulous lawmakers often fool themselves and their supporters into believing that their actions do not violate any laws. When tried and found guilty, these politicians will accuse the court of being politically motivated and biased against them. The irony is that when they win lawsuits against their enemies, these same politicians often praise the same court for “seeing that justice is served”.

Thailand is in desperate need of politicians who obey not just the law but also commonly held standards of what is right and what is wrong. Our political culture of self-serving expediency has dragged this country into the mire of vicious conflict. To escape it, we, as citizens and voters, need to hold our politicians to higher standards.