Rule of Law – what does it mean?

I feel I need to go back to this SOAS presentation by Peter Leyland before saying anything about Thaksin’s court verdict or anything else.

Imo, this quote goes straight to the heart of the matter:

…the rule of law is not the question of having the rule, but adhering to the rule and recognising it…

At this point it’s obvious that all major players in local politics have very very different views on what the rule of law is and what adhering to the rule of law actually means. Typical example – the coup makers said it was a coup for democracy. Discuss…

Let’s see, however, where these differing views are coming from.

First, the middle classes, elites, intelligentsia, pro-democracy coup makers, yellows, Democrats, mainstream media, The Nation, Bangkok Post etc. I admit that I’m in this group for the purpose of this discussion.

For them the “rule of law” meant principles of 1997 Constitution as it addressed their inspirations after 1992 Suchinda’s fiasco and disillusionment with money/rural politics as captured in Anek’s “Tale of two democracies”.

They expected politicians to be educated and capable (qualities they value in their circles), they expected politicians to represent people and be dedicated to national interests (as they see them), they also expected politicians to be honest, with strict rules against electoral cheating, enriching themselves, or working for special interests.

“Honesty” in those parts of Thai society has a rather interesting meaning – you are honest as long as you don’t get caught and publicly embarrassed, what people don’t know doesn’t hurt them. Same attitudes as towards sex industry or maintaining mia nois – be very discreet and you should be a fine, upstanding and moral member of the society.

So, these parts of Thai society thought that 1997 paper would provide them with all these clean and dedicated public servants they can held accountable to the electorate.

Well, they got the rule, but this is where “adhere and recognize” part comes in.

Actual politicians had very different ideas. Though at the time they were described and dismissed as old style dinosaurs, they were very much alive and kicking, and hungry. They saw politics as a way to power that they couldn’t reach by traditional means within traditional hierarchy – connections, education, manners, service, achievements, all that didn’t matter much during elections in rural areas that held keys to Bangkok.

Eventually “professional political parties” were born – lean, mean, designed to win. They realized the opportunities before 1997 constitution came into effect and they didn’t share any of its inspirations. Thaksin and his TRT took it to the whole new level, at least one step ahead of constitutional writers. Direct vote buying was out, selling themselves was in. Do whatever is necessary to win voter’s loyalty, feed and clothe them, sweet talk them and make generous promises, give some money if necessary. There was full support from HQs in Bangkok with “populist programs” to show that TRT really cared. Then they actually delivered.

Wasn’t it just grand? Wasn’t it just perfect democracy – leaders who were loved and who kept their promises?

Not according to Bangkok intelligentsia.

Let’s see what “rule of law” meant to these politicians – they surely have their own set of rules, otherwise their political machine would grind to a halt as they’d squabble and distrust each other.

I’d dare to say that their rules are rooted entirely in a patronage system. You are supposed to show deference to those above you and you should look after and protect those below. Don’t take more than is allowed by those above and spread gratitude generously to those below. Keep everybody satisfied and don’t rock the boat, thus the society will live in harmony and happiness.

It’s easy to see that all those 1997 inspired institutions like independent senate or counter corruption commission made absolutely no sense to this social group. By their rules there’s no such thing as corruption in the first place. Since all relationships are personal, for any transgression to be registered it must be offensive to someone personally, not to so some abstract “public interest” or let alone an anti-corruption body that is not even a part of their system.

There was zero tolerance for separation of powers, too. All powers needed to be co-opted into the same system and made work under the same rules. There was no place for the opposition either. The only purpose of having the opposition was to make the government look better.

The thing was that Thaksin managed to fully implement this system while outwardly adhering to the constitution but not to its principles. Bangkok intelligentsia was outraged. They had “UN is not my father and democracy is not my goal” proclamations, they had “my government will work for those who vote for me” policy statements that went completely against their fundamental beliefs, their fundamental democratic principles.

On corruption – as I said, the “yellow” side is pretty liberal when it comes to honesty, they didn’t really mind Thaksin helping AIS or Ipstar, what ticked them off, however, was the brassiness of it. One thing is to quietly take some money for yourself, it’s quite another to come out and say you need thieves to run the country and you need fraudsters to run the election commission.

They couldn’t accept taking natural human weaknesses and making them into new standards of governing. That’s not what they expected of their shiny new, 1997 inspired political system. Suddenly there was a gap in values that was growing wider and wider, see Thai Thai Thaksin for more on this.

Then the country had April elections, and that’s when another social group made themselves heard. I’ll call them “progressives”. For them it wasn’t Thaksin’s trying to solve his personal problems by dissolving the parliament, it was Democrat boycott that was offensive.

Their, “progressive” set of values and their rules and meaning of law was something different from the previous two groups. For them democracy is a naturally occurring phenomenon, what was said in 1997 constitution was not an ideal or a standard to strive for, it was something they assumed was already provided and included in the deal. Democracy is too big and important for them to become a victim of abuse, and nothing whatsoever could tarnish the value of elections. The “rules” is what the majority decides via elections, not what intelligentsia thought about some ten years earlier. If majority wants Thaksin, so be it – that’s “democracy”.

Thaksin, of course, loved it, Bangkok intelligentsia didn’t. PAD talked about checks and balances, rule of law etc. Progressives ignored all these things and simply said – elections decide everything, if Thaksin is “bad”, it’s voters job to oust him, not intelligentsia’s, and if their “checks and balances” system can’t help they should just shut up and vote for someone else. In a democracy voters are the ultimate judge, they said. Urban minority has no right to demand resignation of an elected Prime Minister, the country belongs to everybody, not just Bangkokians.

So here we have another set of values – rule of majority that tramps all other legal or moral principles.

This group grew significantly after the coup, which was clearly against their valued will of the majority.

To the “yellow” group, however, will of majority in a country like Thailand does not guarantee justice or fairness in any shape or form. They said Thaksin had to be removed to upheld the values of 1997 constitution, values that hold true regardless of what the majority thinks. They’ve managed to transfer these values to 2007 version, actually strengthening independent bodies, separation of powers, and demanding more accountability from the politicians. In their view 1997 constitution lives on.

Progressives are not going to accept this “military” constitution no matter what it says, however.

Nothing short of a reversal of a nearly four year old coup and prosecution of the coup makers is going to satisfy them. In reality there are very very few of them, anyone responsible for doing anything in this country realizes that it’s just not going to happen no matter what, but the progressives have aligned themselves with the red shirts, relatively new arrival on the scene.

Red replaced original black as a color of protest as thousands of Thaksin supporters breathed a new life in a dying anti-coup movement. So, what are the rules and values of Thaksin fans? Even though by now they have been “educated” of their rights and demands and ammart and double standards and so on, I’d still say they just miss good old times under Thaksin. Allegations of corruption are meaningless to them as they belong to the same, Thaksin built political system, though it doesn’t mean they don’t know what corruption is – they just don’t think it’s bad unless it affects you, me, or them personally. They don’t believe in its absolute, abstract evil.

With progressives shaping most of their ideology they learned to believe in value of the voice of the majority first and foremost. They reject any independent bodies as agents of the elites, they don’t see them as protectors of any kind of principles. I suspect they don’t believe these principles even exist as they’ve been taught that it’s the ammart trying to exert control over the will of the people. They don’t see the value, or the need, for the opposition, it has been grouped with ammart and destined for destruction. They believe the current governing coalition is based on ammart’s coercion rather than free will and assume that its members will happily join them should they “win” the elections, and by “win” they mean get more votes than Democrats, not to win over 50%.

To end “double standards” and restore the “rule of law” they want to overthrow the government and purge the independent bodies, judiciary and media of all ammart influence.

There are other, marginal groups in red movement, too, like republicans, communists, anti-royalists, and outright lunatics, but I don’t think they deserve any serious attention, they just hitching on the wagon and have very little influence.

So here we are – yellows with their 1997 legacy, Thaksin and politicians with their patronage based rules, progressives with their believe in the will of the majority, and red shirts with love for Thaksin and hatred of the elites.

There is simply no way all of these groups can agree on a particular version of the “rule of law” and willingly adhere to it.

The “yellow” offered solution is to enforce their set, hoping that it would eventually convince progressives and newly enlightened rural folks as offering almost exactly what they want. Meanwhile Abhisit is trying to convey to the politicians that these rules are not as bad as they look and old days of raping and pillaging are over.

So far it seems to be working, except some red hardliners are digging deeper and deeper and become more and more radicalized, and politicians still feeling uneasy about diminished possibilities. On the other hand there no other plausible alternatives. Perhaps after the election some new deal would present itself, but that is going to be a long wait as Democrats are only consolidating their power, not losing it.


Will there be a coup?

Can’t say it better than Suttichai Yoon, coup rumors is a “mob mobilization tool”, they have no substance and serve no other purpose.

Sad to see Thongchai Winichakul being caught in a rumor mill, too, as quoted in Irrawaddy. Students are letting common sense down, too.

To further embarrass the red movement they just announced creation of some “people army” to fight for democracy or against aristocracy or whatever.

The future looks better

Before the New Year the public was bombarded with dire predictions of a huge political upheaval and people were told to brace for the worst.

Nothing happened.

“No confidence” debate has been postponed, not only PTP has got nothing real to show, but they also must propose an alternative Prime Minister if they want to challenge the government. Should have thought about it before.

I cynically think they are just waiting for the court verdict on Thaksin’s assets as they tie all these historic democratic developments to his court case. One million march on Bangkok to finally overthrow the “ammart” somehow must be held just in time to save Thaksin’s money.

One must be either dumb or red to believe in this little coincidence.

At least when yellows were having all their “last battles” they were actually out on the streets. Reds seem to be just hiding their impotence.

Here’s an interesting quote on red prospects:

On the talk of a possible civil war, Wattanachai discounted the fear as a fantasy. He added that the red-shirt movement had the opportunity to overthrow the Abhisit Vejjajiva government last April but had failed to do so and was not likely to succeed again. The general also ruled out fear of heavy loss of life in the upcoming red-shirt protests.

Wattanachai is Surayud’s friend so his view must be indicative of what is thought in Surayud’s circles (he is a member of Privy Council, after all).

Unless reds are secretly cooking up a completely new strategy I tend to agree – they can’t possibly overthrow the state (the govt, the courts, bureaucracy, Privy Council etc) just by street protests. They had their chance last year, didn’t work.

The Khao Yai rally that finished even before it got into the news has also been a disappointment. Surely they put an unwelcome spotlight on Surayud and Privy Council by extension but that shot fell very short from the target, Surayud’s resignation, and if he really gives up the land they will have nothing else to go on. That was their only gripe that made sense to the general population.

Politically, we have seen two by-elections, in Mahasarakham and Prachinburi, that have shown PTP that they can’t easily roll over Newin even on their home turf, and stand no chance on neutral ground. Of course they sound more upbeat oficially, but if they have to fight tooth and nail in Isan, what are their chances of gaining some twenty-thirty seats to form the government?

I’m not sure they even worry about long-term prospects, what happens to them if Thaksin loses his money. What will be their use to him then? They dare not think of such unspeakable things.

Then there’s this ominous quote from UAE paper :

UAE and Thai officials are expected to sign an extradition treaty on Wednesday, a deal that Thailand hopes will lead to the UAE handing over the former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is reported to be living in Dubai.

Whatever the actual outcome, Thaksin’s looks like he is losing Dubai as a political base. Cambodia didn’t work out very well for him either. Africa, Montenegro or Nicaragua are just too far to run the revolution from.

And so the year rolls on, with main troublemakers looking rather powerless and non-threatening.

Another quote about Wattanachai I can’t make heads of tails of:

“He also ruled out the idea of another coup, saying the idea was “20 years behind its time.”

Could it mean that Surayud was very skeptical of the coup instead of being the mastermind? Could it mean that he agreed to take on PMship to save his comrades faces when they had no idea what to do after taking over?

I don’t rule that out, sounds more plausible than a massive conspiracy involving all of the Privy Council, the humongous “elites”, and even the monarchy itself.

Dubai Declaration

On a slow news day, PAD, or rather New Politics Party, NPP, came up with this new conspiracy theory, allegedly hatched in Dubai.

It’s not their first one, there were probably hundreds of them, but only one made a real splash – the infamous Finland Declaration. Will this new discovery of Thaksin’s secret plans deserve the same attention? I doubt so.

Read the article for yourself.

The only part of it that provoked my interest is the plan to block Bangkok roads with taxi cabs. They tried it in April, and it generally worked, but they haven’t thought this through then -they were just trying to create chaos. If they use the cabs to prevent the authorities from reaching large areas of the city, there will be power vacuum, and it could be exploited to undermine Abhisit and force a coup.

However, it won’t work if they are not prepared to go all the way – there’s little point in creating “independent red state” in a couple of Bangkok districts for a couple of days, they’d be cleared out eventually.

If they can pull off the coup, it is very likely Dubai (or rather “PAD Declaration” at this point) would come really true, with “national government”, freeze on Thaksin court cases and eventual pardons. The reason would be: “We gave Abhisit a chance at reconciliation, he failed, now we have to try some other way”.

It is very likely to work, as the current troublemakers, Thaksin and his reds, will be placated and Democrats will be declared incompetent yet still invited in the government. I don’t think Democrats would agree to this, but, faced with the new reality, public opinion might go against them.

Coup makers can also manage fallout with PAD if they keep Thaksin away from public eye for the first few weeks. Thaksin never thought much of PAD’s ability to mobilize people, he probably isn’t concerned with that possibility now, he just wants to make a deal with (alleged) PAD backers. A coup would give him a big bargaining card and “elites” would be forced to accept his demands.

There will be huge backlash on the net and internationally the country’s image will suffer, there will be a price to pay, but it won’t come out of Thaksin’s pocket, so it’s not a real problem.

Basic strategy – force a coup against Abhisit and negotiate new terms with new powers, even if they are not explicitly pro-Thaksin. It’s worth a try as his situation can’t get any worse anyway.

Apart from red demonstrations protected by taxis, assassination of scores of anti-Thaksin leaders, also mentioned in the declaration, can also force a coup against helpless Abhisit. That would be just a terror campaign, and it might force the “elites” to back down just like they were forced to react to PAD takeover of the airports a year ago.

When I read myself here it looks like Abhisit is Thaksin’s main obstacle, and in a way, I think, it is. Prem can be sidestepped and isolated and his allies would eventually accept the new reality, but it’s Abhisit’s control of the military and police that needs to be overcome first.

But enough with wild plans. While reds themselves might believe in their power to cause all these changes, the rest of the country would have none of it unless reds come up with really big numbers. A million in Bangkok would certainly suffice but anywhere less than a hundred thousand is simply not enough to get noticed.

Sustained terror campaign is probably impossible to carry out in Thailand at all. Bangkok is not deep South, people talk and see and report things here.

Latest addition – some say that Thaksin twitted that Nov 30-Dec 3 dates are not the best dates for the rally. I can’t confirm this one way or another. His latest tweet was a while ago and it seems he was just talking to some of his fans.

South Park Wisdom

Just watched the latest episode, Whale Whores, it’s about Japanese dudes killing whales and dolphins, and ruining Stan’s birthday in the process. So Stan goes to rally his friends to do something about it but Kyles just retorts: “It’s not like we can the change the way the entire country thinks. I don’t like it, but it’s just the way they are”. Stan, of course, disagrees, but it’s something foreign commentators on Thai politics should take into account – it’s just the way they are.

In 2003 the govt unleashed a drug war and lots of people were simply killed, allegedly by fellow drug traffickers, but it’s the attitude of the entire country that was shocking – there was massive popular support, and no one showed any mercy to suspects being gunned down in the streets in the broad daylight. Some monks approved of it, and some singers composed songs about it.

There were several attempts to investigate those murders and link them to Thaksin, but even after the coup those investigations went nowhere. That gave a lot of ammunition to anti-coup campaigners because the reason they assumed was that there were too many anti-Thaksin elites involved in the drug war as well. I don’t remember any particular names or any presented evidence, but the way the chief anti-drug war campaigner and investigator Kriengsak Choonhavan let it go without any statement does make it look suspicious – if there were names besides Thaksin, they were not meant for the general public knowledge.

I, personally, don’t believe in this conspiracy theory, even it seems plausible. It might not be the uncovered names but the general lack of enthusiasm that killed those investigations. No one would admit to anything and everyone would just ignore this seemingly noble cause. There were certainly no whistle blowers in the corridors of power, no one felt strongly about the “injustice”.

That’s just the way they are.

There’s no unconditional right to live here,  every situation is judged on its own merits, some people deserve to die regardless of the “due process”. And the due process is probably the last thing people would rely upon if they search for justice, they would probably rely on trusted sources outside officialdom. Everybody in the neighborhood knew who the drug dealers were and when they were killed no one shed a tear, let alone complain about some judicial ideas like presumption of innocence.

My point being – don’t get worked up over Thais not displaying the usual indignation when something illegal happens, like the coup or the drug war. If justice has been served in their eyes, they don’t care much how it came about.  So when some activists start their arguments with “the coup was illegal”, half the country doesn’t get it: “Generals did the right thing in removing Thaksin. Justice has been served. What’s the problem?” , and the other half wouldn’t mind another coup if it went their way and reinstalled Thaksin.

It’s just the way they are, and it doesn’t mean they don’t care about justice or fairness, they just look for it in different places. More on this topic later.

If it appears that I’m lecturing here – I put this post in “Fundamentals” category, it’s where I come from, it’s here to better understand why I form certain opinions on current events.