Sex scandal casts a shadow over Jurin

Sex scandal casts a shadow over Jurin

'Taking more responsibility than necessary can amount to an act of irresponsibility."

This is not Peter Parker speaking. This is Jurin Laksanawisit, leader of the Democrat Party, embroiled in a scandal about the alleged sexual misconduct of one of his deputies whom he admitted to having recruited.

And the sum of what he said, evasive as it sounds, is but a way of reiterating that he will not succumb to calls for him to resign to show responsibility for the scandal that is threatening to bring down what remains of the legacy of Thailand's oldest political party.

Indeed, what Mr Jurin said in response to questions from party members at a meeting last week could translate to both "taking more responsibility than necessary" and "taking responsibility beyond one's means".

Both versions sound cryptic, if not illogical, though.

Why does Mr Jurin, who serves as both commerce minister and deputy prime minister, believe it is excessive for a leader to resign to show responsibility for what his staff member has done?

To many people, let alone well-known political figures who are supposed to follow higher standards, this would be normal behaviour, a minimum expectation even. There is nothing excessive at all about people at the top taking a hit personally when a controversy or scandal erupts under their watch.

To speak mundanely, it's easier to lose a person than to let the damage consume the whole organisation.

Earlier Mr Jurin offered his "deepest" apologies about the issues involving Prinn Panitchpakdi who is facing charges of indecent exposure and rape. As many as 15 women have filed charges against the 44-year-old former head of the Democrats' economic team who has since resigned from all positions. Mr Prinn has denied all charges.

For his part, Mr Jurin admitted that he played an "important role" in recruiting Mr Prinn. He also acknowledged that as the party leader he cannot avoid responsibility. What he has done so far is resign from two government committees on gender equality and women's policies.

Sounds like a sacrifice?

To prevent such a case from happening again, Mr Jurin set up a committee headed by one of the party's prominent female members Ratchada Dhnadirek who is also the government deputy spokesperson.

Ms Ratchada said her committee will look into appropriate ways to provide assistance and reparations to victims of the alleged crimes. The panel will also work to strengthen the party's recruitment regulations to avoid another incident like that involving Mr Prinn which she admitted is making people lose faith in the party.

What is probably left unsaid are matters concerning the general election and how this could be a major test for the Democrat Party in this regard.

As it stands now -- Mr Prinn has left the party and he is probably no longer that much of a burden. The tie was cut. The former deputy leader has shown his "responsibility". The party can say the accusations are all in the past. It can swear it will uphold its principles, let justice take its course, and move on. That does not seem to be the case for Mr Jurin, unfortunately. People are asking whether the scandal is Mr Prinn's personal matter or a lack of judgement on Mr Jurin's part.

It does not help Mr Jurin's attempt to draw a tight line around the scope of "his" responsibility when another prominent Democrat member Thepthai Senapong revealed that he went ahead in nominating Mr Prinn as a deputy leader even though he had been told about the latter's background.

There lies the case against Mr Jurin, and his qualities. It is fine for him to exercise his authority as the party's leader to waive certain rules to make Mr Prinn qualify to serve as a deputy leader. It is also fair enough for him to dismiss information about Mr Prinn provided by other party members as Mr Thepthai claimed. It was within his jurisdiction.

Some among the public are asking is it alright for Mr Jurin to act as if he was not personally involved or responsible for the rise of Mr Prinn?

As long as Mr Jurin remains the Democrat leader, the question about his judgement, which has apparently expanded to that of his integrity and leadership qualities now that he refused to take more responsibility than necessary, will dog the party.

It's an uphill task for the Democrat Party to go into an election shackled by a sex scandal, and even more so if there is doubt surrounding its leader.

Mr Jurin seems to have indicated that his leaving the party, especially when it is apparently in trouble, would be an act of irresponsibility. But is his staying a responsible one? The answer may only be proven in the next election.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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