Death law behind times

Death law behind times

The author of the draft organic law on political parties last week produced a surprise proposal that is really quite extreme. Meechai Ruchupan, the head of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), wants to see the death penalty as the maximum punishment for politicians caught selling or buying political positions.

The controversial proposal follows the same path chosen by the National Anti-Corruption Commission which in July last year amended its organic law on counter-corruption by instituting the death penalty for the most severe cases of bribery.

The CDC does not acknowledge existing questioning on whether capital punishment is an effective and useful means to deter corruption and other crimes. Enacting the death penalty as the maximum punishment will be a massive and regressive step backwards in law enforcement.

Thailand has retained the death penalty, but the truth is that it is no longer prescribed, even for terrible crimes. Mr Meechai is effectively stating that corruption for profit by a politician is worse than the serial murder of children -- a hideous crime which in recent cases have brought sentences of life in prison.

Public support for punitive action is important, but ultimately good sense and reason must prevail. There was no lack of support for the extra-judicial "war on drugs" campaign that Thaksin Shinawatra launched in 2003. But it killed 2,500 people who never got to face justice in a nation supposedly under rule of law. The whole country knows now that many of the victims were innocent. The CDC must not capitalise on the public's fear and repulsion of corruption in the same way they had for illicit drugs.

Mr Meechai foreshadows perfect enforcement of a constitutional death penalty for corruption. There will never be unfair or slanted investigations. It will be impossible under the new law for politics to manipulate or direct anti-corruption probes because the proposed law will prevent this. This is circular reasoning and is obviously illogical.

If perfect law enforcement is a dream, which it is, then Mr Meechai and his supporters are simply failing to perceive reality with their main argument. The threat of the death penalty, claims the charter's chief author, "will deter corrupt people from getting involved in politics". This is, arguably, the worst possible reason to support his outdated proposal. It is astounding that Mr Meechai can make such a claim, let alone receive any support.

Unfair or unprofessional law enforcement is always possible. Deterrence is a red herring. There is a third and stronger reason that Mr Meechai should drop this issue from the draft organic law on political parties and end this controversy. Crimes should be defined by parliament, and punishments should evolve, to be in keeping with changing times.

With the possible exception of treason, crimes belong in the Criminal Code. Their enforcement belongs to police or to duly selected authorities. Justice is the job of the courts.

It is certain, and entirely pertinent, that the public strongly opposes corruption within public bodies. That includes government at all levels, state enterprises, commissions and all the rest. Corruption within this network of public service is particularly egregious. It is thus fitting that Mr Meechai and his CDC should stipulate the abhorrence of corruption, and the need to investigate and root it out wherever it exists in public life.

One can see Mr Meechai's positive intent to deter corruption among politicians and parliamentarians, but without the need to support capital measures as a means of punishment. Strong, efficient and exacting laws, along with fair, flawless and inerrant law enforcement, are needed to root out sophisticated corruption.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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