Thailand, where no charge is ever too absurd
If the Pheu Thai government can either round up 23 million referendum votes or just simply bulldoze the constitution change proposal through parliament, then I will tip my hat, even if I don’t wear a hat.
- Published: 10/01/2013 at 11:29 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
Afterall, courage, ingenuity and efficiency deserve a victory.
But thus far, all we see are fear, indecision and ineptitude.
The Democrats put them in jail; the Pheu Thai government keeps them in jail – and so the story goes. We are talking about the so-called "political prisoners", and let's also throw the lese majeste convicts and detainees into the mix.
I put "political prisoners" in quotation marks because one man’s "political prisoner" is another man’s "imprisoned terrorist" -- so readers can interpret it according to their colour-coded allegiance. It’s neither here nor there for me.
In 2010 the Democrats put in prison thousands of "political prisoners" and those accused of lese majeste. In 2011, Pheu Thai campaigned for election on the release and justice for those imprisoned, by way of amending the 2007 constitution.
They promised this to their support base, specifically the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorships (UDD). But just before this New Year past, the Pheu Thai government again backed away from a third reading of the charter amendment bill, thereby ensuring those they have given promises to remain in jail… just a little longer.
But there is still pressure being applied, as neither Bangkok prison nor Dubai mansion like to wait very long. It’s been too long already. But while the more cautious members of the Pheu Thai camp are saying "let’s go ahead with a public referendum", others are warning "are you crazy?".
Section 9 of the Referendum Act (2009) requires more than half of the eligible voters must take part in a referendum for it to be valid. With about 46 million eligible voters, that’s more than 23 million. That’s a long stretch.
About 15 million people voted for Pheu Thai in the July 3, 2011 general election. Even if they all showed up, they would need eight million more. Could they convince more people to turn out and vote? Could they rely on Pheu Thai's coalition partners to rake in the numbers? Meanwhile, the opposition has only to convince people to stay home.
It’s a complicated risk, because if Pheu Thai cannot get the numbers, then it’s a huge political defeat and might be the end of any talk of a charter change. (As a side note, that is one cleverly written Referendum Act, eh?)
The more rambunctious Pheu Thai members may say that they have a clear majority in the parliament. The people voted for them. The people voted on this promise. No need for a referendum, just ram it through the parliament. Bulldoze, baby!
Yet still, the more cautious ones might counter, hold on a second. Yes, we can do that. But then the Constitution Court might ban us all for a plot against something or other.
Although the bulldozers would disagree, pointing out that the Democrats had already tried to get Pheu Thai banned for allegedly plotting against the monarchy with the charter change proposal back on July 13 last year, but the court dismissed the case.
But then the cautioners may again counter, yes, and they told us to have a public referendum. Read between the lines.
Oops, the bulldozers might say, we see your point. But still, they might cry, why must the judges interfere? To which the cautioners may reply, it’s the checks and balances of democracy – the judicial, the executive and the parliamentary counterweigh each other.
Naturally, the bulldozers can’t accept this, pointing out that there’s an invisible hand behind the judiciary. To which the cautioners may answer, well there’s a very visible hand squarely behind us.
Meanwhile, those "political prisoners" and lese majeste offenders still languish in jail as the Pheu Thai Party, so far, doesn’t deem it worthwhile to take such a political risk on their behalf.
As well, one man still makes a Dubai mansion his home, suffering the injustice of having to hold meetings and conduct the affairs of Thailand in mansions and penthouse suites around Asia. Instead of getting to shop at the new Siam Centre Ideaopolis, he has to make do with Champs Elysees and the like.
Could there be any story more tragic since the Capulets clashed with the Montagues? I think not.
In regards to the charter change, it is perhaps farfetched to imagine on what grounds the Constitution Court could ban the Pheu Thai Party. But let’s not forget, former prime minister Samak Sundaravej was done away with because of a cooking show.
This is Thailand, where no charge is ever too absurd. The fear is real.
Just like the TV action drama Nua Mek 2 that was yanked from Channel 3. Why? Because the plot involved a female prime minister? That one of the bad guys was a billionaire politician? That there’s corruption, tax evasion and attempts to sell Thai assets to foreigners? Because there’s black magic versus "heavenly" magic (read between the quotes, please)?
Of course, such a storyline defies Section 37 of the Broadcast and Telecommunications Operations Act that prohibits radio and TV content deemed detrimental to the monarchy, national stability or public morality.
Heaven forbid, viewers might emulate the bad guy and start practising corruption, cheat on taxes and sell Thai assets to foreigners. We can’t have that. In any case, Channel 3 said it was because of the excessive violence in the show – the likes of which we have not witnessed since Mercutio crossed sword with Tybalt.
See, this is Thailand, where no charge is ever too absurd. The fear is real.
This is similar to the fate of the 2011 Thai adaption of the movie "Shakespeare Must Die", which was banned because the plot follows the tragedy of a Thai Macbeth whose own corrupt morality is exploited by a manipulative wife to seize the throne from a rightful monarch, only to meet with a tragic and deserving end.
Again, heaven forbid, some husband and wife duo might plot to take over Thailand after watching the movie. Thank goodness, the film was banned.
You see, this is Thailand, where no charge is ever too absurd.
Throughout our history, a number of movies, TV shows, newspapers, people and parties have been banned or imprisoned because they were deemed to be detrimental to the monarchy, national stability, public morality or the man in Dubai. The fear is real.
So if the Pheu Thai Party decides to keep the "political prisoners" and lese majeste offenders in jail a little longer, just a little mind you, just until things work out, then it is all very understandable.
Who wants to risk their MP status and ministerial portfolio for those already in jail? No way.
Now where’s my hat?
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
- Position: Political and Social Commentator