The protest movement in Thailand is not triggered by class differences as described by many foreign journalists. It is, in fact, inspired by the discontentment towards the unprecedented levels of governmental corruption, the elective dictatorship in parliament, and doubts about the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s expertise and competence to lead the country based on good governance and respect for the rule of law.
In 2001, many middle class Thais voted for Thaksin Shinawatra believing that he entered politics to contribute to the development of Thailand. However, it turned out that he came to power to exploit the country for his personal business interests. Thaksin’s era can best be described as the era of unprecedented nepotism and corruption. The self-exiled former prime minister has many corruption and political malpractice charges currently pending in the Thai courts, charges from which he has intentionally fled.
All cases were investigated by a special task force set up to perform as an ad hoc attorney general, and by the Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. All legal grounds and juridical procedures were based on Thailand’s criminal laws, and not by any special law.
It is a well-known fact that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, who has no background in politics whatsoever, acts as his proxy. The majority party in parliament – the Puea Thai Party – is still under total control of Thaksin, given the fact that many Puea Thai members of parliament, as well as cabinet members, still travel abroad to pay homage to Thaksin as a symbol of “the Big Boss”, and in order to receive instructions from him. Yingluch, herself, does not have any leading position in the party. She is neither the leader of the party nor a member of its executive committee.
|Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra talks to Al Jazeera|
At present, governmentally-enabled nepotism is widespread in Thai society and has crept into the civil service and law enforcement agencies. The fact that this government has shown its “true colour”, contrary to their promised manifestos, has brought the people to the street.
Additionally, the peaceful demonstration is triggered by the rampant corruption of Yingluck’s government. To name a few, the Rice Mortgage scheme, which Thaksin explicitly and publicly claimed as his program, and the current government has wholeheartedly implemented as policy, has caused the country to lose not just $13bn, but also Thailand’s competitiveness in the rice export market. The scheme has many loopholes which allow people with government connections to embezzle money.
This government has also tried to circumvent the budgetary practice by submitting a bill to allow them to get $70bn for infrastructure megaprojects – projects that are, at best, vague and in embryonic stage. The bill is only four pages long, lacks any details, and will subject the country to a 50-year loan.
The final straw?
The main cause that has united the demonstrators, is that the government has circumvented the rule of law by submitting the Amnesty Bill to exonerate Thaksin from all the corruption charges. Moreover, the Amnesty Bill, which is now pending for confirmation by the House of Representatives, will prohibit any investigation into Thaksin’s involvement in the governmentally-ordered extrajudicial killings and abuse of human rights in the restive southern border provinces, as well as the criminal crime cases in the war on drugs, while he was prime minister.
This bill also aims to reimburse Thaksin from approximately $1.5bn which was seized by the verdict of the Supreme Court in 2010, when he was found guilty on five counts of corruption, deliberately hiding his wealth, and masking ownership of shares in his family-controlled telecommunications company, Shin Corp. The court also found that Thaksin’s government pursued policies that enriched his family’s companies, including through loans to countries like Myanmar.
Additionally, the demonstrators find the government’s populist policies intolerable. Examples of such policies are, in addition to the rice mortgage scheme, reduction of excise tax for first-time car buyers, credit card for farmers, revolving credit, and free electricity and water for villages. These policies are enacted solely to gain votes while, in turn, bring the country deeper into debt.
Responsible politicians do not consciously and morally introduce such policies knowing that they will cause irreparable damage to the country’s fiscal situation, as well as imbuing a “culture of beggars” among the people. These policies are not only contrary to fundamental economic principles, but also shake the core of universally accepted democratic values. Populist policies may buy votes, but, they take away the determination for self-improvement and the value and ethics of hard work.
Finally and significantly, this government has destroyed the “true democratic value” the Thai hold dear. We value transparent and accountable government, and politicians who respect the rule of law. While the government keeps on insisting that they are lawfully elected within the democratic process, they have intentionally forgotten to mention that the last election was full of electoral fraud and vote rigging.
Checks and balances no longer function as Prime Minster Yingluck, her cabinet members and the Puea Thai members of the House of Representative, continuously feign ignorance of the parliamentary system. Censure motions are treated by the government as a joke. The Prime Minister does not answer questions posed by the opposition and rarely attends parliamentary debates.
The Principle of the Rule of Law, checks and balances and separation of powers eroded further, when recently, some Puea Thai members of the House of Representative filed rebellion charges against the Constitutional Court judges over their ruling on an amendment to the constitution regarding the composition of the Senate. The Court ruled that the charter the government wanted to amend, violates the constitution, and that the procedure was improperly implemented.
Moreover, some Puea Thai parliamentarians committed fraud by voting by proxy. The question is how can we, the Thai people, place our faith and trust in the government when they are the ones abusing, by every means possible, their executive and legislative powers for personal gain and not for the interest of the nation?
The Thais have a legitimate right to protest against a corrupt and unlawful government. It has done enough damage to our beloved country. We cannot allow them more time in power to cause more damage.
Kasit Piromya ia a former Thai Foreign Minister. He is currently a member of the Thai parliament.