Prinn's case, party's fault

Prinn's case, party's fault

At last, #MeToo -- the global campaign to seek justice for victims of sexual assault -- has come alive in Thailand. While the original campaign began in the US when a number of Hollywood actresses spoke out against a formidable movie mogul, the Thai version has sparked no less controversy, as it poses a real threat to the nation's oldest political party.

In the high-profile case, Prinn Panitchpakdi, now a former deputy leader of the Democrat Party, faces sexual harassment and rape charges after two women came forward with allegations. After these cases came to light, more women are threatening to press similar charges against the politician.

In response to the allegations, Mr Prinn immediately resigned from the Democrat Party. He reported to the police on Sunday, though he denied all allegations against him and vowed to clear his name in court.

This lawsuit is expected to turn into a lengthy and gruesome trial. It must be noted that while Mr Prinn is considered innocent until proven guilty, care must be taken to ensure his accusers receive the understanding and respect they deserve for speaking up. Hopefully, their actions will lead to a fundamental change in the way society treats women -- as well as victims from other genders -- who have been sexually abused or harassed.

While Mr Prinn battles it out in court with his accusers, Democrat politicians seem to be clueless on how to deal with the fallout from the accusations.

Sixteen women's rights groups yesterday demanded Democrat party leader Jurin Laksanawisit take some responsibility for his former deputy's actions by himself stepping down.

While Mr Jurin has assured the party won't interfere in the case or tolerate sexual harassment, he also called the case an individual's failing. Yesterday, Pimrapee Panvichartkul, a party-list Democrat MP, apologised to the public and all victims and their families who are affected by this issue.

Leaked information from a party Line chat group showed an internal rift within the party, with some members calling on executives to take responsibility as they were the ones who appointed Mr Prinn deputy leader.

Other members seemed to disagree that the entire executive committee should face a probe over the conduct of one member. "Should party executives be investigated over an individual's conduct?" Malika Boonmetrakul, a close aide to Mr Jurin, was quoted as saying.

Ms Malika might be right in arguing the executive cannot be held responsible for all members' conduct because in every organisation, individual members will inevitably make mistakes, some of which will be entirely personal in nature.

But party executives are different from CEOs. Political parties sell personalities, talent and public service to society. Political parties have to recruit and develop candidates who will become future policymakers, legislators and leaders. Let's not forget the Democrats have produced four prime ministers, countless ministers and MPs.

As Thailand's oldest political party, the Democrat Party should be able to tell its members and voters its expectations in its recruitment process.

The fact that Mr Prinn was accused of rape when he was in the UK shouldn't have escaped the party elite's attention, regardless of whether he was cleared of the charges or not.

Did the party even look at his past record? The bigger question is, do they even care?


Bangkok Post editorial column

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