When heir to the Red Bull empire Vorayuth ''Boss'' Yoovidhya reportedly hit Pol Snr Sgt Maj Wichian Klanprasert with his 32 million baht Ferrari while going more than 100km per hour, what did he do? The 27 year old kept driving, dragging the policeman another 200m and turned into his family's estate in Thong Lor.
When superstar Chermarn ''Ploy'' Boonyasak was accused of tax fraud, what did she do? The 29 year old told the public she could and should get away with it because she believes she's above the system.
There's a pattern of behaviour here. The same instinct kicked in for both individuals _ ''I can get away with it.'' Despite any trauma or distress, their initial reaction was that their status in society would ensure the patronage system favouring them in their plights _ and they were correct.
Pol Lt Col Pannapon Nammuang, an inspector at Thong Lor police station, arrested a scapegoat, a driver for the Yoovidhya family. The bao (servant) falling on the sword for his nai (boss) and an authority figure ready to play along.
Chermarn told the public, ''I have had a close and cosy relationship with the Revenue Department,'' and posted a photo of herself with the son of a former finance permanent secretary. Don't mess with her, she knows people.
Both cases demonstrate how the patronage system operates above the law, a reliable safety net for the rich and fabulous of society.
However, the two incidents proved too controversial, there was too much media attention and public outrage. They couldn't be so easily swept under the rug, so both individuals confessed to their crimes, teary-eyed at a press conference in Chermarn's case.
But worry not; the patronage system is sure to kick in sooner or later. If they can't get away with it now, there's still three months or a year from now.
Take Orachorn ''Praewa'' Thephasadin Na Ayudhya, her surname carries a lot of weight in Thai society. In December 2010, when she was 16 years old, she was speeding when her vehicle took out a van, killing nine people. A photo of her texting on her phone after the incident went viral online.
The outrage against her was deafening. There was no getting away with it, not at the time at least. But last week she was given a two-year suspended sentence and banned from driving until she's 25.
See, just wait a couple of years and the patronage system will kick in, your connections will save you. The only surprising thing was that she was driving a Honda Civic, not a European luxury car.
One doesn't even have to be rich, famous or have the right surname. Last month, five policemen convicted of murdering 17-year-old Kiattisak Thitboonkrong from Kalasin in July 2004 were released on bail by the Criminal Court. Three of them were sentenced to death.
Yes, death row convicts released on bail. The witnesses that testified against the policemen told reporters that they now fear for their lives. Again, the patronage system kicks in, if not sooner than later, if one wears the right uniform.
Just for a laugh, here's another. Kanpitak ''Mu Ham'' Pachimsawat, son of a former Miss Thailand and related to a former deputy police chief, was sentenced to 10 years and one month in jail for ramming his Mercedes into a crowd at a bus stop in 2007, killing a woman and injuring several others. This was another case that brought much public outrage.
He was released on bail pending appeal, but then in January 2009 he was also accused of smashing a rock in the face of a bus driver near Sukhumvit Soi 26 after his car was involved in a minor incident with the bus. Now 23 years old, he's still not in prison for any crime.
Outrage erupts like a tornado then subsides just as quickly.
In all of these cases, public outrage merely stalled the workings of the patronage system. But while one is but an emotion, the other is a system, well entrenched and practised. Sooner or later, the system triumphs as the public moves on and media find new stories to hammer. Old news is old.
Here's how the patronage system works in detail.
A cautionary tale well known in the Thai society is that involving the three sons _ Arthan, Wan (formerly Wanchalerm) and Duang (formerly Duangchalerm) _ of powerful politician and Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung. These days they have calmed down a bit, but they were notorious for their night-time antics in their younger days. Getting into fights and banging heads with the police, the youngest son, Mr Duang, was even accused of shooting a police officer in the middle of a nightclub in front of a big crowd, execution style.
Whenever they got into a confrontation with citizens or police they became infamous for screaming, ''Do you know who my father is?'' It was, of course, a rhetorical question meant as a threat.
On the night of the alleged execution, the press flocked to the police precinct where the murder was reported. Mr Duang had since vanished into thin air. Mr Chalerm rolled in with his second son, Mr Wanchalerm. He held an impromptu press conference, professing his son's innocence, red-faced, angry and slurring his words throughout.
One unwitting reporter made the mistake of asking if Mr Wanchalerm, the second son, was also there when the incident took place. The visibly upset Mr Wanchalerm immediately threatened the reporter, saying that the people of Thon Buri would have his ass for even suggesting such a thing. Thon Buri is the district of which Mr Chalerm is an MP, his lordship's fiefdom.
The next night, Mr Chalerm appeared on a TV talk show, sober and smiling, speaking politely. It was a bid to recover the face of loss from the night before.
Meanwhile, for many months his youngest son stayed disappeared. Rumour had it that Mr Chalerm hid him in the mansion of former prime minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. Gen Chavalit was the godfather of a political patronage network _ the New Aspiration Party _ that was once powerful but had since been swallowed up by the Thaksin Shinawatra political machine.
Think of Mr Chalerm as a former underboss to Mr Chavalit, and now an underboss to Thaksin. Another story is that Mr Duang fled to Malaysia.
Perhaps in a bid to mock society, Mr Chalerm proclaimed that he knew who the real killer was. It was some dude called Ai Puad. He said that he was personally hunting the culprit down.
Eventually, as public outrage and pressure mounted, Mr Chalerm and his wife brought Mr Duang to police. But somehow witnesses refused to testify, some disappeared and the CCTV footage was no longer available. The case was dismissed. See, Mr Chalerm said afterward, it was Ai Puad after all.
The incident happened in 2001. Now it is 2012 and Ai Puad has yet to be found. Meanwhile, Mr Duang has recently been appointed to the Royal Thai Police force as a deputy inspector of the bureau's training centre. One of his duties is to teach shooting. The irony.
These incidents are not isolated cases. There is a pattern that spells out a cultural norm. When something goes wrong, the first impulse for the rich and fabulous is to think, ''I can get away with it!'' _ while the less privileged among us would go, ''Oh crap! I'm chocolate fudge!''
This belief comes from the trust and reliance on the well-entrenched patronage system that ensures connections triumph over justice, that if you are a part of or affiliated with a gang or a tribe (whether political, business or one in uniform), you will get away with it.
With the right connections to a patronage network, a phu yai (an elder, a powerful person in society) will wing-ten (literally ''run and dance'' on your behalf to get you off). In the Ferrari case, even the police admitted some phu yai had been wing-ten on behalf of the son of the Red Bull empire.
These are societal norms. In this latest tragedy, public outrage erupted, but read the online forums and you will see that everyone pretty much takes it for granted that eventually the Red Bull heir will get away with it. This is because we know how the system works in Thailand.
So if we were to wonder why there's such disrespect for the rule of law, why justice is blind to justice itself, but bright-eyed to money and power, why the process and function of democracy is continually stalled _ all of this is because the most privileged individuals in our society flaunt it and abuse it with impunity, favouring the power-play of feudalism over the standards of democracy. While the rest merely express impotent outrage.
The cases described here are not mere accidents, but show a pattern of behaviour in this feudal democracy.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator