A time for the rule of law

A time for the rule of law

The National Legislative Assembly's (NLA) decision today in the highly sensitive, hotly debated impeachment case against former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will set the standard for future cases.

Sadly, many already believe that a decision has already been made. Despite its declaration of independence, the NLA cannot escape the fact that it was set up by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which seized power from the Yingluck Shinawatra administration after a coup.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may insist he holds no power regarding the case, but the conflict of interest is clear. There will always be an inherent doubt about whether a regime that topples a government can be a fair judge of that government's leader.

The case is already a sensitive topic as it comes after a number of years of highly polarised political conflict that remains unsettled and unresolved. But by voting to reject Ms Yingluck's bid to submit more evidence to support her argument that she had not been negligent in her duty as accused, the NLA heightened the widespread belief that it is being unfair to the ex-premier.

People who disagree with the process also argue that the military and the NLA are only pushing the impeachment because they want Ms Yingluck to be banned from politics for five years, reducing the chances of the Pheu Thai Party winning the next election.

But central to the impeachment is the controversial rice-pledging scheme. The plain truth is the programme was ill-conceived and poorly implemented. The policy was designed to win favour for the government at a massive cost to the state. Its implementation resulted in huge financial losses estimated to be more than 682 billion baht.

But whether corruption occurred and whether the prime minister, other ministers and officials turned a blind eye or were involved in allowing graft to take place is a decision that should be made by the courts.

That process now rests with the Office of the Attorney-General and the National Anti-Corruption Commission and, ultimately, the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Office. And that is where a judgement should be made if malfeasance occurred in the scheme.

There are a number of questions NLA members should ask themselves before voting on whether to impeach Ms Yingluck today for alleged intentional exercise of power contrary to the constitution or other laws in failing to halt the loss-ridden rice-pledging programme.

An impeachment is a process to remove a prime minister, minister or court president from office. Since Ms Yingluck was disqualified from office before the May 22 coup for illegally transferring a senior security officer, how can she be removed from office again?

Besides, the basis for her impeachment is tenuous as it rests on an alleged violation of the charter, which no longer exists as it was abrogated by the military when it took over.

Members of the NLA must have clear answers to the the questions and doubts raised before they can cast their votes. If they cannot find credible answers to these questions, they should let her face the judicial process, which is still ongoing.

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