Submitted on Thu, 12 Jan 2017 - 05:52 PM
Thailand’s junta has shown itself unwilling to reconsider the inclusion of capital punishment in its Organic Act on Political Parties. Meanwhile it persists with a national reconciliation plan — but such harsh controls on politicians raise the question of who reconciliation is for, and who will be excluded.
Tough sanctions for corrupt politicians
In preparation for elections, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) is currently drafting four organic laws on political parties, the Election Commission (EC), the election of MPs and the appointment of senators. The CDC has 8 months to complete this, after which the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will have 60 days to deliberate on them.
The law on political parties has already been submitted for royal endorsement. The draft imposes severe sanctions on politicians found guilty of fraud and/or buying or selling political positions. If the law is passed, those who have caused between 100 million to 1 billion baht in losses to the country may face capital punishment.
The measures against corruption proposed by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) also stipulate 20 years in prison for politicians who have caused losses to the country of between 10 million to 100 million baht and 10 years for losses of between 1 million and 10 million baht.
The chair of the CDC, Meechai Ruchupan, argues that the death penalty will discourage corruption among politicians. But the proposal has aroused concerns and harsh criticism from politicians and academics.
Meechai Ruchupan (Photo from Khaosod)
Ongart Klampaiboon, a deputy leader of the Democrat Party, has questioned why the death penalty will be imposed only on elected politicians while the constitution allows unelected Prime Ministers and cabinet members. Unelected officials may commit similar offences so should be subject to the same punishment.
Khanin Bunsuwan, a former Pheu Thai MP, has noted that corruption is a crime that occurs worldwide, with a broad and abstract definition. So it is easy to make accusations and build false evidence for the purposes of defamation, destroying political enemies and discrediting rivals.
Khanin added that decisions on whether corruption is prosecuted often depend on the discretion of judges and law enforcement agencies. Even if the laws themselves are free of bias, cases can be fabricated, making it difficult to guarantee justice.
Addressing delays in the drafting of the organic laws, junta leader Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha has already warned that elections could be postponed until early next year.
National reconciliation — but for who?
While alienating politicians with harsh punishments, the junta is at the same time trying to promote national unity. It is considering inviting all political parties and groups for a peace dialogue before the elections are held.
National reconciliation targets the divisions within the country that are the legacy of political turmoil over the last decade. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has been put in charge of the reconciliation process.
"I really want all groups to live peacefully. There must be rules acceptable to all sides. But I haven't thought about how things will turn out in the end and it's best if the media doesn't try to speculate," Prawit said.
Proposed measures to facilitate reconciliation between opposing groups include a pseudo-amnesty for demonstrators charged with minor offences. Such individuals will see their cases dismissed if they plead guilty. They will then be barred from taking part in activities that lead to divisions; otherwise court proceedings against them will resume, reported the Bangkok Post.
According to the Bangkok Post, the proposal is expected to be forwarded to the NLA on either 23 or 24 January 2017.
Exceptions to the junta’s amnesty plans raise questions of who is to be excluded from the process of reconciliation.
The amnesty will not apply to those suspected or found guilty of violating the country’s anti-corruption laws, or Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, the lèse majesté law, according to Suchon Chalikrua, a representative of the NRSA.
Chaturon Chaisaeng, an embattled politician from Pheu Thai, has argued via a Facebook post that amnesties alone will not lead to real reconciliation. He suggests the junta consult further with a range of stakeholders before releasing an official plan. Failure to do so will reflect the junta’s lack of understanding of the principles of reconciliation.
“The junta head and his affiliates have never allowed an open discussion about the root of Thailand’s social conflict,” read Chaturon’s post. “[They]’ve never listened to opinions and proposals that various sectors have tried to promote.”
Despite Chaturon’s criticisms, Nipit Intrasombat, a deputy leader of the Democrat Party, still supports the junta’s reconciliation plans. He reasons that politicians should not be included in the reconciliation committee since they are themselves part of the country’s conflicts.
“If the first step is the coup, the second step should be reconciliation. Though the government started quite late, better late than never,” said Nipit.
From a politically neutral perspective, Angkhana Neelapaijit, a National Human Rights Commissioner, has urged the junta to commit seriously to a truth commission, rather than focusing on political amnesties.
Only a serious investigation into the political violence of the past decade can prevent further atrocities, while amnesties merely sweep the root causes of conflict under the rug.
“If governments keep issuing an amnesty whenever a [violent] event happens, violence will remain possible in the future,” Angkhana stated. “Governments must be responsible for violence they are themselves involved in. There must be disclosure of what really happened and who will be accountable.”
Soldiers play live music to entertain people in Pathum Thani Province as part of the junta’s reconciliation plans (Photo from Manager Online)