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The Total Cost of Amnesty

Note: The original title of this essay in Thai was “ราคาสุดซอย,” which literally means “The Cost of the End of the Soi Amnesty.” A soi is a small street off a larger one. One of the names given to the blanket amnesty bill that was considered in recent weeks was the “นิรโทษกรรทสุดซอย,” or “End of the Soi Amnesty,” meaning an amnesty that covered all people lined up in the soi, from the entrance to the end. —Translator

I was more than 800 kilometers away from Kok Wua and Ratchaprasong during April-May 2010. None of my relatives, not even one, were among those who protested in accordance with the law. But I was anguished by the armed siege on the protests, the seize that caused nearly 100 people to lose their lives and more than 2,000 to be injured.  And I was anguished by the unjust use (abuse) of the law against another 1,000 people after the protests.

I wish to inform Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that I have no personal “pain” (grudge) with anyone at all. Nevertheless, I oppose the amnesty bill because I am concerned about how those who come after us will live in a society in which those who hold power use violence in this manner. If Thailand is going to progress, it must do so as a society in which the peoples’ rights and freedoms to fully participate in democratic politics are guaranteed (not only their right and freedom to read any given newspaper).

Those who hold power in Thailand have used brutal violence against the people many times. Every time, they have been granted amnesty. The justification for amnesty has been identical to the one used by Khun Yingluck: in order for Thai society to progress. This justification has been made with no concern about with the destination of this progress. If this is truly for the sake of our children and grandchildren, the brutality of those in power must come to an end. Pardon should not be granted to those who still do not acknowledge that they did anything wrong, as in the draft bill that was passed by Parliament through the support of the Pheu Thai Party, of which Khun Yingluck is an important member.

I speak about this issue in order to say that the announcement of total retreat did not do anything to help increase the standing of the government.  This is because the people who share my perspective on the opposition of this draft bill do so not out of personal outrage, but out of concern about the future of Thai society. They may also perhaps feel affronted. I believe that aside from me, there are many more who feel this way. Even though we do not have the power to protest in the streets and to make it onto the television news, we still feel this way.

I do not know which advisor drafted the statement for Khun Yingluck. But when the statement came out of her mouth, it showed what opinion Khun Yingluck and the Pheu Thai Party have of us. We should learn from this and commit it to memory.

Anyhow, I have not yet mentioned that perhaps Khun Yingluck’s opponents used the ambiguity in the announcement of the declaration of retreat to deftly vilify her. For example, the Isra News Agency, under the Thai Journalists Association, reported that Khun Yingluck announced that she would fight to the end. If reporters who are literate in Thai understood this, then before anything else, the Association ought to train reporters in reading comprehension.

I do not understand why the advisor did not draft a straightforward announcement that the bill would be withdrawn through a resolution of the Senate, given that the government’s sentiments on this matter are not accepted by the majority of the people … including both those who are demonstrating in the streets and those who are not in the streets.

Simultaneously, the objection of the group that opposes this bill is similarly deplorable as well. It has become ordinary news that athletes, stars, the Anti-Corruption Commission, judges, and university administrators have all come to protest. But in nearly all of the statements and interview comments that I read and heard, they oppose the draft bill for the sole reason that the bill allows Khun Thaksin, who should be punished for the abuse of function, to get off without punishment entirely.

I raise the comments made by the rector of Chulalongkorn University during an interview as an example. He said that the draft bill destroyed the rule of law and promoted corruption, because even if one commits embezzlement, it is no problem and one will receive amnesty. As a university professor, the rector said that he felt troubled, because how could he teach his students to be virtuous? If society is forced to allow corruption to go unpunished, how can he teach his students to be virtuous?

But the rector did not mention how the coup destroyed the rule of law. He did not discuss the details of the Ratchada land case and the ruling of the court that it was an abuse of function (in which who benefitted from the abuse of function could not be proven). He did not bring out the details in the case of the seizure of assets, nor the uncertainty of many lawyers as to whether or not the evidence amounted to a legal offence.  And, of course, he did not talk about the process by which this case was carried out, a process that was put into motion by the coup.

I do not want to intimate that Khun Thaksin Shinawatra is innocent, because many even more significant incidents took place while he was prime minister. This includes, for example, the Krue Se massacre, the Tak Bai massacre, extrajudicial killings, the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit, etc. In not even one of these cases has there been an investigation that illuminated what happened. Even the carrying out of duties to support his own interests and those of his friends, whether it was an instance of dishonesty that occurred with the equipment for Suvarnabhumi Airport or when the stock price of Shinawatra-held companies increased unusually, none of these were investigated and made clear, or at least not to a point where an explanation that all could accept was offered.

Khun Thaksin became innocent immediately when the process of bringing the cases became an effect of the coup (both with weapons and via judicialization).

Because one could doubt that all of the cases are the unjust political persecution of Khun Thaksin.

The rector was only speaking about one aspect of the rule of law.  He was referring to impunity for fraud without interest in conveying the details that other people might be able to use to make their own judgments. As teachers, if we provide information from a single side in order to reach a conclusion in line with our bias, does this constitute cheating the students? Given that teachers are not agitators, does this constitute corruption?

Furthermore, the rector did not mention the losses sustained by the people. He did not mention Krue Se, Tak Bai, disappearance, or the public executions in the middle of the city at Kok Wua and Ratchaprasong. This draft bill forces society to provide impunity to murderers as well. This is the case even though careful and transparent investigations have been carried out for some of these incidents (because investigation by the public may be possible). These are matters of real life. These are matters of actual flesh and blood. These are matters of the truly difficult suffering faced by the families and friends of the victims.  These are matters simply and completely forgotten by the rector. Is he without mercy?

Is it that the virtuous at Chula wish to instill in their students that they should never cheat, but brutality of any sort is acceptable?

The ongoing opposition in the streets in Bangkok therefore functions as a mitigating factor to aid Pheu Thai. A large number of Red Shirts oppose the draft bill, but the horridness of the opposition movement kept them from explicitly demonstrating.

However, to return to Pheu Thai: is there a price that must be paid for this political misstep?  And how much does it amount to?

I think there is a definitely a cost. As far as quantifying it, perhaps it includes the following:

1. The draft bill aids the revival and return to robust activity of the rival party, the Democrat Party, in Bangkok and other large cities. Khun Abhisit’s and Khun Suthep’s political path is relentlessly confrontational.  I believe that it no longer matches the changing mood of the people in the city. The internal politics of the party mean that it cannot divert from this path, at least during this period.  But when faced with Pheu Thai’s use of power to push through [the draft bill], this path has come to appear to have greater reason than before.

The Democrat Party perhaps know that they received a windfall and may try to extend their period of being the hero in the streets for as long as possible. For example, as I was writing this article, Khun Suthep announced that he would not end the demonstrations until the draft bill was completely defeated in Parliament… which means when the Senate does not accept the draft and it must be sent back to Parliament for a vote and is then defeated (or amended in line with the proposal of the Senate) … all of this takes up a fair amount of time.

2. This lengthiness also applies to the victims on the Red Shirt side who must continue to withstand suffering in the prison. Do not forget that the Pheu Thai Party itself has already left Red Shirt people behind bars for a long time. The first Red Shirt group who opposed the draft bill were Red Shirts who were affected by the blanket bill: the relatives and friends of people who are in prison. If they are have not experienced enough “pain,” then there will be more “pain.”  Simultaneously, it makes Red Shirts on all sides see more clearly that in order to secure the return of Khun Thaksin, the Pheu Thai Party is prepared to exchange even the lives of the “phrai,” at whatever cost. The Red Shirts have learned that Pheu Thai and Khun Thaksin are tightly linked. If the Pheu Thai Party truly believes that these people are not “red buffalos”, then they should not hold out hope that they will behave politically as before. They ought not to think it.

All of this does not mean that Red Shirts will not vote for the Pheu Thai Party.  But a not small number will vote for Pheu Thai as a matter of strategy. For those politicians in Pheu Thai, they should well know that an election won by strategy is difficult from one won through loyalty.

3. I believe that in the next election, even though Pheu Thai will still receive the most votes, the number will decline. Through being part of a coalition government, Pheu Thai will learn that they do not have the decisive voice.  The ongoing strong antagonism to Pheu Thai in society will make it more difficult for the party to implement its policies. For example, their projects improving infrastructure may not go as smoothly as before, until perhaps they cannot carry them out at all. Inevitably, this will cause the party’s popularity to unavoidably decline.

4. A not insignificant price that must also be paid is that a lengthy deferral of Khun Thaksin Shinawatra’s opportunity to “return home” is likely.  The victory of the side that opposes Khun Thaksin this time has caused all of those with power, inside and outside politics, to have to trade this “return home” for a much higher price that it has been in the past. For example, this price may be the Khun Thaksin may have to agree to enter prison, at least for a short period of time.

 

Source: ราคาสุดซอย โดย นิธิ เอียวศรีวงศ์

 

Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn