Silently complicit in a far-fetched ruling

Silently complicit in a far-fetched ruling

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gestures as he arrives for a photo with members of his cabinet at Government House on July 16, 2019. AFP
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gestures as he arrives for a photo with members of his cabinet at Government House on July 16, 2019. AFP

The Constitutional Court's ruling that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's eight-year term in office did not expire on Aug 24 and that he can stay on is far-fetched.

It is contrary to a glaring fact that is well known to most of us. But that is the way the law of the land, be it the constitution or other laws, works and is interpreted.

It's like the case of a man who shoots someone dead in broad daylight under the gaze of many people. But none dare testify against the suspected shooter and no gun is found.

Moreover, the suspect has an alibi that he was somewhere else when the crime was committed. So, he is acquitted by the court due to insufficient evidence.

For some insiders, the court ruling on Friday, by 6-3 votes in favour of the prime minister, finding that his term should be calculated from April 6, 2017 when the current charter was promulgated, instead of Aug 24, 2014 when he became prime minister of the junta government after the coup in May that year, comes as no surprise at all.

Of the three minority justices who ruled the prime minister's term has already come to an end, the stance of one in particular, Thaweekiat Menakanit, is commendable.

He said that for a country or society to enjoy peace and order, not only should the law matter, but good conscience and the morals of people who are in power and tradition should be taken into account too.

There are issues which are not illegal, but are morally wrong, such as telling lies; hence, those in power should be role models in exercising their legal power with a conscience.

In interpreting the constitution pertaining to the prime minister's term in office, he said the interpretation should not be based on the letter of the law alone, but the spirit of the law as well.

But most justices passed over the spirit of the charter, in Section 158, paragraph 4, which mandates that the term of the prime minister, consecutive or not, shall not exceed eight years, as explained by the constitution drafting committee, headed by Meechai Ruchuphan, at its 500th meeting.

Both sides of the court may be right in their interpretation of the constitution. But the person who matters most is Prime Minister Prayut, the only person directly affected by the court's ruling.

He should be willing to admit the obvious fact that he has served as prime minister of Thailand since August 2017 after the coup in May that year.

The question is whether he has the moral decorum to accept that fact.

Or does he just want to make the most of the legal loophole to pursue his political ambition: which is to stay on until the House rises in March next year, another six months.

Or perhaps it is to stay on as caretaker PM after the election scheduled for May next year, hoping he may be nominated again as a candidate for the premiership by the Palang Pracharath Party.

But the party must think carefully, because this time around, he will be a liability for the party rather than an asset.

That explains why many people protested against the Constitutional Court's ruling after it was released to the public for the simple reason that it flies in the face of reality.

Equally deplorable is the prime minister's complicity by means of silence on the simple facts of his term in office.

Of course, people have the right to accept or to disagree the court's ruling providing they do not display their opposition in an unlawful manner which will subject them to contempt of court.

But for many, eight years under the leadership of the "three P" (Prayut, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda) are eight wasted years for the country and its people.

The years of broken promises, the widening political divide and disparity gap between the rich and poor, and lip service paid by the administration to rampant corruption in the government bureaucracy rankle with them, as well they might.

Despite the government's claims of achievements (among them the infrastructure megaprojects such as the metro systems in Bangkok, and motorways linking key cities), the number of people eligible for welfare cards keeps climbing, from 14 million last year to 17 million cardholders this year.

Such figures should have fallen, not risen. Eight years should be enough for the "three Ps". Thais deserve a better life and a better future.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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