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SUNDAY, October 02, 2022
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In a real democracy, bad people are punished equally

In a real democracy, bad people are punished equally

FRIDAY, May 25, 2018
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The question of Thaksin’s guilt or innocence has risen again, but it’s secondary to debate on where we’re headed

It’s not “news” that self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants to return to Thailand, though some people are agitated about it. In recent days Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, another ex-premier, joined a slew of others in confirming what everyone already knew – that Thaksin is clamouring to return to his homeland but remains at a loss over how it might come about. 
If we can somehow resolve the “how”, then democracy might get another chance to flourish here.
Thaksin won’t come back until he gets a guarantee that he won’t have to spend “even a single day” in prison. He was sentenced in 2008 to two years in jail after being found guilty of abuse of power in the infamous Ratchadapisek property-sale case. He claimed the verdict was a conspiracy against him, even though he’d fought the charge and lost the case while he was still in power.
The facts of the case have always been blurred due to the political divide, and what happened to him only widened that divide. But it’s a fact that his then-wife Pojaman bought prime land in Bangkok with his consent. It’s a fact that she purchased it in an auction of land seized by Thaksin’s government. And it’s a fact that the law at that time barred state officials and their spouses from such transactions with the government in order to pre-empt conflicts of interest.
The purchase took place while Thaksin was in power. Following the 2006 coup that toppled him, Thaksin was put on trial for approving the purchase. He fought the charge in court while his party was still leading a democratically elected coalition government. The law prohibiting transactions between the government and state officials originated with the 1997 constitution, which was greatly admired as “the people’s charter” for its 
targeting of corruption among politicians in power and their 
associates. That law was designed to override all political prejudices.
The conflicts that arose between Thaksin and his rivals have been debated at length, and not just in Thailand. Key facts have been forgotten in the process as the legal affair was recast as an ideological battle between a politically persecuted “champion of democracy” and usurpers plotting his downfall. Thaksin’s critics, of course, see a national leader who wasn’t content to rule honestly. Emboldened by repeated election triumphs, he violated the law and got caught at it.
The phrase “champion of democracy” is nothing more than political rhetoric – and so are many of the criticisms levelled against Thaksin. The praise and condemnation are equally influenced by political sentiments rather than legal or constitutional tenets. 
In our shared yearning for a return to democracy, we will have to ensure that it is revived in the most straightforward, transparent and honest form possible. It should, certainly, be a system in which a person’s social status has no bearing on how they’re treated under the law. Anyone who commits a crime has to face justice that is equally applied. If this assurance is not in place, Thailand will remain a country where villains take turns donning democratic or dictatorial cloaks and go unpunished for their wrongdoing. Had Thai democracy been functioning properly, Thaksin’s characterisation as a 
victim or a villain shouldn’t have been in question in the first place.