If law Isn’t Law but ‘Popularity’ Over the Rule of Law
The Assets Concealment Case.
Let’s take a look at the double standard of the thaksin kind. Something that thaksin is master at using then and now. ‘Ink’ had asked Villager in the BP to present his arguments regarding the shambles that thaksin made of the rule of law in his ‘assets concealment case’. This OP will also include his undermining of the spirit of the ‘people’s Constitution’.
A verdict which he narrowly escaped by the skin of his teeth in what could be considered a technicality. Since Villager was unable to do so for whatever reason - I wish to act as his surrogate to show one and all; the “thaksin standard” that shows his contempt for the law. I would like to show in ink the many facetious “V e r b i a g e” that subtly supports thaksin and his contempt of the law and the “people’s Constitution”. I will start off with a quote by the Chairman of the Constitutional Court three weeks after the verdict which deepened the confusion about what was being judged. He went far beyond legal arguments into a political and moral assessment (TN, Aug. 31, Sept. 1, 2001):
“An aspiring politician can never identify the public interest if he or she still clings to self or vested interest. The heart of political reform is to nurture politicians who uphold sound moral principles and aspire to observe stricter dharma than other laymen . . . . What the accused did, shows he is a product of the past. He still thinks the same old way and acts in the same old way, like other businessmen in the Thai-style capitalist system. He only propagated that he had achieved enormous business success through honest means, but he never explained exactly why he managed such a success such a success in such a short period of time. Nor did he explain how he would solve the conflict of interest stemming from his fortune and that of the country. . . . Politicians who are inclined to put their self-interest before the public interest cannot be expected to make a positive contribution to the society they are supposed to serve.”
Around a month before the January 2001 election that returned thaksin as PM, the NCCC charged that he had concealed his assets on three occasions over 1997-8 when he had been obliged to file statements as a minister. (The three amounts were small as compared to the true assets that are now before the present court and other assets that we can all see that were actually hidden.) The assets were in the name of is driver, maid, security guard, and housekeeper. Two of the three domestic servants had for some time figured among the top 10 shareholders of the shares on the SET. If found guilty, thaksin would have faced a five-year ban from politics. The issues in the case divided public sentiments – not just over thaksin as a leader but the practice of politics and the future of the country.
This was a test case of the much vaunted “People’s Constitution” of 1997. This charter had created Thailand’s first-ever Constitutional Court and gave more teeth to the NCCC with the aim of reining in the country’s profit-oriented business politicians. The NCCC charged that: “There is grounds to believe that the use of nominees by thaksin and his wife was part of an dishonest scheme, or there would be no need to use the nominees in the first place.” (TN, Dec. 27, 2000). By the time of this case the Constitutional Court had ruled on nine similar cases, and each time had upheld the NCCC’s charges. The most recent ruling, just hours before thaksin’s verdict, resulted in a political ban on one of thaksin’s big business friends – Prayuth Mahakitsiri.
thaksin repeatedly argued that he made his enormous fortune before entering politics, and that he was a new type of politician who didn’t need power to make money. (Can you spot the difference between his defense and the charges laid against him?) In a further argument of sophistical verbiage a thaksin supporter, surakiat chakthranont (2003) painted the case as a contest between the future and the past. He described the offices of the NCCC as cramped, old-fashioned, and dreary. He sketched the apparently aimless confusion inside these offices as the standard of bureaucratic culture. He used the old term of “Khun Nang” as a pejorative term that made them leftovers from the feudal order. He contrasted all this with the soaring office towers and modern management culture of the shinawatra business empire.
He treated the charges as totally irrelevant. The whole affair was just dirty politics or worse – not about right or wrong. His masterful presentation turned the tables, of the Constitutional Court responsibility to monitor the tricky machinations of the politicians and their business friends over on its head. Rather the Court, and the independent bodies, became the remnants of the old feudal-bureaucratic order/ which “stole power from the people” and tried to prevent the people from having their own chosen leader. In Suratian’s summation: “The people wanted someone to work for them, not some pure, unsullied angel who would rule and lord over them.” (surathian 2002, 32). Facetious verbiage of this thinking would be used over and over again to the present with the manipulation of the reds and their political action groups/federations throughout the country and with the ignorant rural grassroots throughout Thailand.
In an astute form of marketing the case was fought as much in the public space as in the confines of the court. In his first public statements, thaksin effectively admitted he knew about the nominees but claimed it was “normal business practice.” Later he claimed that the judges were ignorant of commercial law. But as the hearings approached, he switched to the argument that he knew nothing of the nominees. His wife had handled such transactions, and her secretary who drafted the asset declaration had not understood that these holdings should be included. It was just an “honest mistake” by the women around him. His lawyers also added technical points; specifically that thaksin had not needed to make these assets declarations at all!
Fighting his legal complications, thaksin courted public popularity in a way no previous Thai PM had found necessary. He promised to bring prosperity: “I promise to lay a pipe from where B600Bn Baht is stored and send B300Bn to our people” (BP, June 15, 2001). He staged-managed his court appearances by arriving on foot and glad-handing his way through the ‘crowds’, like a movie star. He attended a religious ceremony with 1,017 monks in the presence of nine Buddha images and 30,000 onlookers and conducted a chanting rite to ward off evil influence (a prominent monk described this as voodoo) (BP, 15 and 16 June, 2001). The Assembly of the Poor in coordination with another monk collected and delivered over one million signatures in his support a few days before the verdict (BP, 1 Aug, 2001). thaksin’s former classmates from his cadet days turned up on his doorstep in full uniform, along with the entire press corp. A trt MP declared, “The people believe thaksin is the only one who can solve their problem” (TN, 28 June, 2001). thaksin himself claimed he alone could boost economic growth and rid Thailand of poverty:
(Time, Asia edition, 13, Aug 2001, 19).“The people want me to stay and the people know what’s right for Thailand. And who should I be more loyal to? The people? Or to the Court? I love people. I want to work for them. “
In effect he challenged the court to risk the public discontent that would flare up if he were removed.
As the day of the verdict drew near the press divided the judges into two camps. On one side were the ‘legalist’ who would decide the case on grounds of law alone; on the other side was the ‘political scientist’ who would make a judgment on the costs and benefits of removing thaksin or leaving him in place. However legal and political issues were not the only force in play. One judge later admitted he had been “unsuccessfully lobbied” on the case:
(TN, 4 and 21 Oct. 2002). This points to and confirms the confusion between a political trial and a legal trial.“I witnessed many subtle attempts by politicians to sway judges. The attempts were so discreet as to leave no tangible evidence. . . . I had to admit I felt strong pressure from the pro-thaksin mob”
The final outcome was a surprise to many. The judges decided in thaksin’s favor by a split decision of 8 - 7. This judgment was curious in several ways. In 17 comparable cases both before and after the thaksin ruling, and in very case endorsed the findings of the NCCC. The 8-7 decision itself was combination of two divisions which both went against thaksin. In one where they adjudged whether the charges should have been made at all; the judges ruled 11 – 4 that the charges were proper and according to law. Now it gets confusing; in the case whether thaksin intentionally concealed his assets the 11 judges who voted that the charges were proper voted 7 – 4 that thaksin had violated the law.
Now it would seem for all tense and purposes that thaksin had lost, but this wasn’t the case. Due to a technicality the 4 who voted that the charges were unwarranted were added to the 4 who vindicated thaksin in the second charge became a majority: 4 + 4 = 8. Therefore the 8 – 7 split that we saw in the press and which vindicated thaksin.
The Court's verdict was not about the law or the spirit of the then Constitution but about politics and popularity. But for thaksin this enthusiasm for the law was misplaced, later he would challenge whether legal correctness was more important than popular support:
(BP, Aug 5, 2001)"It's strange that the leader who was voted by 11 million people had to bow to the ruling of the NCCC or the verdict of the Constitutional Court, two organizations composed of appointed commissioners and judges, whom people had no chance to choose. This is a crucial point we have missed."
He could not and still does not understand that the ruling was not about politics or popularity but about advancing the 'rule of law' another step. If we want to discuss, "if law is the law" then we should be discussing and highlighting pojamarn's assets concealment case in which she was adjudged guilty on July 8, 2008. The Court, in detail, gave its judgment without bias and with sound reasoning. pojamarn was given a two-year prison sentence and is presently appealing the judgment.
In reality it is naive to expect that the rule of law to come into play at the flick of a switch. The judiciary faces an enormous challenge to prove that they can deliver on the hopes of their supporters by applying the law evenly without fear and favor.
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It is a great counterpoint to another apologistic topic in this index.
What struck me as sad and beyond logic was that not many people have read it or made any comments to it. It shows succinctly how thaksin, using his popularity and 'majority', was able to intimidate the judiciary and make a farce of the rule of law.
The subject is pertinent and topical to the present day, whereby thaksin's clones and loyalist, his barbie doll sister, government ministers, ptp, legislature, police, and confused populace (UDD) have been integrated into a broad based self-serving grouping, with the stated goal - to bring thaksin back clean and clear of all his sins; to whitewash and forget his many crimes. His egotistical abuses of power; his circumventing of the laws of the land to enrich himself and his cronies and lackeys; his murder of innocents in his 'war on drugs' and at Tak Bai; etc.
This topic shows to us all that what was then, will be now. But having learnt from his mistakes he, through his lackeys will overturn the constitution and re-write a new one whereby everything will be under his thumb in a new thaksin republic.
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Only political expediency and self-interest is of utmost priority.
And perplexed is correct: the only way to protect himself - is to re-write the constitution to ensure that only he can interpret it and that there will be no check and balances to bother him.
This topic clearly shows his dis-regard for the justice system and the rule of law.
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