Sunday, July 29, 2012

Abhisit turns red!

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the opposition leader, delivered a surprise blow this evening when he put on a red T-shirt and declared: "Red is everybody's colour. I am reclaiming red because this colour doesn't belong to any particular group of people in this country."
The Democrat leader was apparently launching a counter-move in his major speech last night announcing that the ongoing conflict isn't between political parties or colours. "It's a battle between the people doing the right thing and those who are bent on doing evil. It's between those who want to do things for the country and those trying to do things to benefit their own relatives," he said.

It's an obvious counter-attack from Abhisit who has come under a renewed assault from the ruling Pheu Thai Party claiming that he had dodged army conscription. Defence Minsiter ACM Sukampol Suwannathat has taken the trouble to lead the latest attack on the opposition leader by producing army's documents to show that Abhisit had been dubious about his conscription. The opposition has threatened to sue him for defamation.
Now, if Abhisit wears red, would Thaksin Shinawatra wear blue?

Yingluck says govt isn't in retreat

If you think the Yingluck government has been beating a retreat, think again. Or that's what the premier said yesterday.

She told a major gathering of Pheu Thai MPs that by stalling on the constitutional amendments and withdrawal of the "reconciliation bill" from Parliament, her government wasn't "backing out" at all. In fact, it's the other way around. "We are moving full steam ahead," she declared.

The "tactical move" that may be interpreted in certain quarters as a retreat, she said, was merely to create an atmosphere of reconciliation -- and avoiding any confrontation.

It's obvious that the powers-that-be are shifting their power game. The strategy is to calm down and wait for the right moment to attack. Her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, speaking through a tele-conferencing system on the same day, told his MPs that they must adhere to a "cooling down" strategy so that the Yingluck government could operate for a lengthy period of time.

The clear adjustment of tactics is to keep the government afloat for as long as possible so that the main objectives could be achieved without disruption.

Without a doubt, Pheu Thai leaders have come to realize that every day that they remain in power means the continued weakening of opposition Democrat Party.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Constitutional Court's verdict adds new ambiguities

First, there was euphoria on both sides. Then, there was doubt. Now, the protagonists are set for another showdown.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling last Friday was initially hailed by both the ruling Pheu Thai Party and opposition Democrats as well as their respective supporters as being a compromise that should calm down the country’s tense political atmosphere.

The government side praised the court for rejecting the opponents’ petition to rule that the ruling party’s move to amend the constitution was constitutional and that it was aimed at overthrowing the country’s democratic system.

The judges said there was no evidence to back up the claim since the petitioners were only “anticipating” a scenario which wasn’t supported by any substantial actions.

The opponents, on the other hand, were delighted that the government and the ruling party could not rewrite the whole charter without a prior referendum.

At one point during the aftermath of the verdict reading, some analysts even suggested that the court’s ruling was a “win-win” decision for all sides concerned. These academics said the court had finally come up with “way out for society.”

But hardly had a day passed when both sides began to cast doubts on just what the verdict actually meant.

The first question is: Can the Pheu Thai Party and supporters proceed with a vote in the third, and final reading, of the constitutional amendments to set up a new constitutional drafting assembly to rewrite the charter?

Nobody can come up with a clear answer to that question. The court’s verdict “suggested” that since the current constitution was put into force by a referendum, therefore any attempt to change any part should first seek approval from the public through another referendum.

“Is that an opinion or a judgment?” asked Samart Kaewmeechai, chairman of the Constitution Amendment Panel in the House.

Another related question: And if a new referendum is to be held on the issue, should it be held before or after the new constitution draft is completed?

Yet another follow-up question is: If a referendum is to be held, what question is to be put to the public?

The verdict made it clear that if the ruling party wants to make changes to the constitution, it could do it on an “article-by-article” basis, not a total rewrite. In that case, the government-backed party with a majority in the House would have to start the process all over again – back to Square One, so to say.

Some Pheu Thai Party members say that route would in fact provide a speedier process for them to amend the constitution since they have the majority votes in the House and could push for all the changes they want without the added burden of having to hold a referendum.

But there could be a trap there. Some government MPs fear that if they followed that option, their opponents could file a new petition to the Constitutional Court yet again, arguing that Pheu Thai was deliberating challenging the spirit of the current constitution.

“We might fall into a new trap – whether we proceed with voting on the third reading of the pending constitutional amendments or if we restart the process to go the route of changing the charter article by article,” another senior Pheu Thai Party leader said.

Even those against Pheu Thai’s moves are beginning to wonder how the ambiguities of the verdict could be cleared up so that they could not be exploited by the powers-that-be to tinker with the constitution to suit their ultimate political aims.

Now, as you can see, things could change overnight. The initial joy by most parties concerned have has turned into skepticism and a sense of desperation.

“Victory” for the political parties, however short-lived and illusory, doesn’t necessarily translate into “victory” for the people.

That’s because this is Thailand and every legal ruling is plagued by all shades of interpretations that end up as stalemates. This is just the latest, not the last.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The danger of solving one crisis with another crisis

Another “constitutional crisis” in the offing this week? You must be joking. We don’t consider a “crisis” a crisis anymore. It has become just an ordinary part of your political life.

The origins of a crisis are quite easy to come by in Thailand’s political circus these days. All you need is for a politician to point an accusing finger at his opponent and starts filing a complaint with one of the “independent agencies” for a ruling.

It doesn’t even have to be a political issue. The complaint could be about anything at all as long as it pits one against the other and that a “third party” has the constitutional right to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.

The first sign of a “crisis” is when one of the parties concerned begins to believe that he or she stands to lose in the process. The first salvo would be against the independent agency involved. It would be portrayed as being biased or leaning towards the other side.

The forming of the crisis continues into the second stage even before the first hearing on the case begins. Supporters of one side would start to give interviews with a threatening tone: If the verdict doesn’t come down in favour of us, we will mobilize people to protest.

The party that is convinced that it would win the case will trumpet the whole exercise as the process of real democracy that the other side is trying to undermine.

It used to be that members of the independent agency would keep mum, believing that as long as they carry out their duties strictly according to the law of the land, the public would understand and no amount of public outcry from one side or the other would affect their work.

But that’s not the case anymore. Even members of “independent agencies” set up under the constitution aren’t quite sure about the public being on their side only if they do what they are supposed to. “The public,” it seems, has been split into factions by the relentless pressure from parties to the conflict – so much so that it has become a general belief that if you keep quiet in a storm of verbal exchange, you might be admitting the allegations they thrust upon you.

That’s why we have recently witnessed prosecutors, judges and other members of the judicial branch joining the fray of public discourse, which, unfortunately, has been mostly negative. The judicial officials have felt the need to explain their position so that some segments of the public would not be swayed by pure self-serving politicians.

This week, the Constitutional Court is holding hearings over allegations that the ruling Pheu Thai Party’s attempt to amend the constitution is “unconstitutional.”

It’ classic confrontation Thai political style once again. The ruling party says the current constitution isn’t democratic enough. They promised the electorate that once elected, they would push for charter changes. Now that they have the majority in the House, they would fulfill their election pledge.

The opposition and some senators say that the ruling party’s move is aimed at rewriting the “whole” constitution which, according to this line of argument, is “unconstitutional” because changes could be made only article by article.

Of course, both could right and both could be wrong. So, the opponents to the government brought it up to the Constitutional Court to decide who’s right and who’s wrong.

As soon as that happened, the ruling party said they sensed a conspiracy which, they claimed, could lead to the dissolution of the Pheu Thai Party. That means the ruling party thinks it could lose the battle and is doing everything possible to tell the judges that the red-shirt people won’t tolerate that kind of verdict. They say it’s not a threat. It’s simply a statement of intention.

The Constitutional Court is inviting both sides to produce their witnesses and written statements. It is due to hand down a decision soon. No doubt, the judges, once again, have come under intense pressure, not for the first time, of course.

Another crisis? No, to some Thais who can’t bother to follow political news with any great interest, it’s just another hiccup.

And when you treat a serious ailment as a mild cold, that’s when the country has been plunged into a real time warp. We don’t learn from the past. We can’t handle the present. We can’t see the future. It’s pitch dark out there.