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A Week in Review: December 18-24, 2010

Revealed at last – the keys to national reform in Thailand. But what are they? Find out here…

After several months of using up tax payers’ money, the National Reform Assembly (NRA) finally presented the government with its totally underwhelming 9-point plan for social, political and economical change in Thailand last week.

While the plan proposes such cute but wishy-washy ideas as helping people live together, reforming taxation and social welfare systems, and involving the public more in brainstorming sessions, it also includes some worrying points, such as what appears to be an even more propagandist approach to Thailand's state media broadcasts.

In terms of true national reform, without a doubt the most important points in the plan relate to improving the national education system and decentralising power – both of which are vital to narrowing the wealth and class divides that stoke the current environment of political unrest in Thailand.

Since the most important aspect of good comedy is timing, it was no surprise that the government chose the same week to announce its own ‘One Province One University’ and decentralisation plans, which include doubling the pay of local tambon (village/community) officials from 9,200 to 18,400 baht per month.

One other part of the NRA’s plan refers somewhat euphemistically to ‘researching and developing’ a judiciary system that is constantly beset by allegations of corruption and nepotism. In recent weeks alone, we have seen the release of several incriminating videos of Thailand's Constitution Court judges on YouTube, and last week an Appeals Court judge was facing dismissal for ‘severe disciplinary offences’ that included taking kickbacks totalling tens of millions of baht from defendants in a number of legal cases. Yet another case involving Election Commission members illegally awarding themselves a retroactive pay increase is also currently in process.

While such corruption is so institutionalised that it barely merits a mention in the local Thai media, it is at least refreshing to see it being tackled even if it is like trying to hold back the tide with your bare hands.

Playing its part, the government also dismissed a minister last week over alleged irregularities in the use of money from a state student loan fund in a rice deal. Nevertheless, despite Abhisit’s clean image and his crusade on corruption, recent public opinion polls have indicated that Thais feel their country is even more corrupt now than under the Thaksin regime – a worrying sign indeed.

One final point in the NRA’s plan was a possible amnesty bill for those ‘facing injustice’ – a somewhat vague definition of who qualifies for such a pardon. Considering themselves to be facing injustice despite openly calling for their supporters to burn Bangkok and refusing to condemn (or even admit) any of the violence that was committed across Thailand in their name, seven red shirt leaders sought bail last week.

Meanwhile, yellow shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul had his appeal against a 1-year prison term for defamation rejected last week. While the case against him seems somewhat contrived and I would personally question his guilt, the fact remains that he has been sentenced to a year in prison by a court of law and had an appeal rejected, yet he remains free.

Could somebody explain to me how the Thai legal system works in such cases? I recall Thaksin going to watch the Olympics in China after being sentenced to a 2-year prison term and never coming back. Do these same conditions apply to all convicted criminals, or is it only the super rich leaders of colour-coded personality cults?

And finally, the State of Emergency was lifted in Bangkok last week, which means that the red shirts will now be able to gather in their thousands once more and block off major intersections…Hang on a minute.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Paul Snowdon – December 25, 2010

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