Thamanat saga a blight

Thamanat saga a blight

The Constitutional Court's verdict on the status of Capt Thamanat Prompow did not raise any eyebrows, nor did it bring the whole nation to a shocked standstill. After all, society has become used to surprises from our judicial system that run contrary to public sentiment.

The charter court ruled that Capt Thamanat, deputy agriculture minister and an MP from the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), is qualified to be a member of parliament and cabinet minister regardless of him having served four years in an Australian prison after being convicted in 1993.

In layman's terms, Thai law permits people with a drug conviction in a foreign country to become a politician or hold public office in Thailand -- the Land of Smiles and Land of Second Chances -- at least in the case of Capt Thamanat.

Despite there being no violent mobs or noisy mass protests in response to the ruling, the verdict creates a definitive seismic shift that will run deep in society. The best barometer of public sentiment seems to be a wildly popular cartoon in Kai Hua Roh (Selling Laughs) -- a local kid's cartoon magazine that has poked fun at the scandal surrounding Capt Thamanat. The cartoon went viral overnight. It shows an image of a man standing on an island yelling at an attractive woman standing on another island with the caption: "If I grope you on your island, I am not guilty when I return to my island."

Never underestimate the power of cartoons to stoke public sentiment.

The court ruling might prolong the meteoric political career of Capt Thamanat as a deal maker and de facto manager of the PPRP. Yet it will come with a hefty price for the government and society as a whole.

From now on, it will be hard to take the government's war on drugs seriously. All we can hope and pray for is that the government will not give Capt Thamanat the justice ministry portfolio that oversees the Office Of The Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).

The image of the current charter, which has been lauded as one that will clean up corruption and all vice, will become even more dubious. That will add momentum to the opposition movement which wants to rewrite the charter, especially the section about independent organisations formed under the current constitution including the charter court.

Yet the government, and especially the PPRP, still have a little leeway to prevent a complete meltdown in public trust and defuse this time bomb. The PPRP recently displayed some integrity that sets good standards for Thai politics.

Early this week, Samart Jenchaijitwanich, assistant to the justice minister, tendered his resignation after the PPRP's investigation committee found him guilty of using a proxy to attend classes and take exams to gain a doctor's degree at a university. It is noteworthy that the probe was ordered by Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, a powerful figure in the government who is reportedly close to Capt Thamanat.

On Monday, Mr Samart resigned from all his PPRP positions, including those tasked with preventing fraud.

Gen Prawit could salvage the image of the government and the PPRP by setting up a committee to review whether Capt Thamanat is morally and ethically fit to be a cabinet minister and MP. By doing anything less, "Thamanatgate" will likely hasten the demise of the party and the government.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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