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A Week in Review: June 25 - July 1, 2011

Yes, we plan to give poverty an amnesty...

With outrageous promises being made by the candidates ahead of the election in Thailand, there is still talk of reconciliation. But before we can hope to give peace a chance, there is something else missing. What is it?

There was a big turnout for the early voting in Thailand last week. An estimated 2.6 million Thai voters took up the opportunity to cast their votes early and avoid the expected crowds on July 3. However, it seems the idea was so popular that some early birds were ironically unable to cast their votes because of the sheer numbers of people trying to avoid the crowds together at the same time.

There was also some controversy in Korat when 4 soldiers and a civilian were arrested for intimidating Phuea Thai canvassers. With their close ties to the Democrats, the Thai military has been making its presence felt ahead of the election in Phuea Thai strongholds in northeast Thailand where they have been visiting villages ostensibly to promote the King’s development projects.

This latest incident at least evens the scores in this dirty game after Pheua Thai candidate Pairoj Isarasereepong and his aides were accused of intimidating three military members of the government's “anti-drug task force” who were allegedly attempting to carry out a mysterious “drug raid” in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago.

Following a public outburst in response to the incident, the commander-in-chief of the Thai military, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, calmed down just enough to promise graciously that the army would not interfere in the election and would remain neutral.  

However, with 18 coups in 79 years of fledgling democracy, the Thai military’s neutrality tends to depend on which side ends up in power.

Prayuth chose to express his own neutrality by advising Thais to cast their votes for "good people". However, this seemingly innocuous statement was immediately seen by many in the Phuea Thai camp as an attack on Yingluck Shinawatra. Thaksin's sister/proxy and Phuea Thai’s candidate for prime minister is clearly not considered one of the “good people” even by her own supporters, it seems.

One person who is most definitely not one of the good people is Jatuporn Prompan. Having seemed for so long to be almost untouchable, the red shirt rabble rouser and Phuea Thai list MP finds himself behind bars for breaking the conditions of his bail.

Charged with terrorism for his role in the red shirt riots of 2010, Jatuporn had abused his immunity as an MP to remain free on bail for several months despite the severity of the charge against him. However, that bail was revoked for comments he made at a red shirt rally earlier this year and he is now being refused permission to leave prison to cast his vote in the election under section 100(3) of the constitution which prohibits a person jailed by court order from voting.

To rub salt into Jatuporn’s admittedly self-inflicted wounds, he will also lose his MP status if he fails to cast his vote. Election commissioner Sodsri Satayatum explained that "If on the election date the court does not allow Mr Jatuporn to exercise his right, he will lose his party membership and under the constitution, an MP must be a member of a political party."

While there can be no doubting that Jatuporn has brought this on himself, the whole way that the situation has been handled smacks of collusion and is symptomatic of all that is wrong with the less than impartial Thai judiciary.

Jatuporn, together with other law-breaking red shirt and yellow shirt leaders, should have been charged and processed equally, fairly and transparently by the Thai courts. Instead, we see the selective enforcement of the law that merely adds petrol to the raging fire of those who call for reform.

One person who certainly holds the Thai judiciary in contempt is Thaksin Shinawatra. While even Thaksin’s most loyally paid for supporters do not deny that their benefactor is corrupt, the overly subjective nature of the Thai judicial system only serves to weaken the otherwise solid case against him.

On the run from a 2-year prison term for abusing his power as PM, Thaksin is able to vigorously exploit the weaknesses in the system in a bid to avoid justice.

Having failed to topple the government through rent-a-mob protests and street riots, Thailand’s fugitive former PM is now banking on his Phuea Thai party winning the election so that it can grant him an amnesty and return his confiscated ill-gotten gains.

While millions of Thais live in abject poverty with little hope for a better future, the 2011 election has turned into a battle between those who believe Thaksin should be held accountable for his crimes, and those who are prepared to let corruption prosper at the expense of the Thai people.

In these troubling times, many Thais may be hoping to “give peace a chance”, but in Thailand we could start by giving impartial justice a fair go first.

Paul Snowdon – July 2, 2011

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