Thursday, October 17, 2019

Thanathorn’s self-defence can help or hurt politics

May 19. 2019
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By The Nation

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As long as the Future Forward leader stays focused on proving his innocence rather than attacking his accusers, society as a whole can benefit

Politically, Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit seems to have a slight edge. Relentless attempts to dig into his 

current or past ownership of shares can be seen as a conspiracy to nip a rising star in the bud. His massive fan-base is unhappy about it, and he can count on foreign support. Additionally, no matter what happens legally, he will remain in a strong position to shake up his opponents.

Legally, it looks like he’s constantly on the back foot. Fresh allegations and questions keep coming about 

his previous statements on share 

ownership, and now the Constitution Court is involved. Thanathorn and his party have dealt with some allegations, but others remain hanging in the air.

It’s imperative that Thanathorn clear the doubts for his own good and for the long-term good of Thai politics in general. Whether there is a conspiracy involved or not, he needs to prove that he’s not a typical politician who counterattacks accusers rather than providing solid, unambiguous proof of innocence.

There have been numerous examples of how vague self-defence damages politics broadly. In fact, what Thanathorn is determined to change – the incessant meddling of the military – is rooted in politicians’ failure to adequately defend themselves against accusations of dishonesty. Rather than showing undeniable proof of innocence, they choose to play victims, with predictable harm done to public trust.

Charges against Thanathorn began trivially enough. He was said to have registered his election candidacy while still holding shares in a media company. As a result, his candidacy was at stake. It was a shock at the time but seems minor now. Thanathorn’s defence strategy, though, has elevated the affair beyond a simple question of costly oversight versus criminal act. He insisted that the shares were transferred to his mother before he registered for the March 24 election. His accusers are seeking to poke holes in his story, and if they succeed, he could be portrayed as a liar – or worse.

His supporters won’t care, of course. In their eyes, he is being politically persecuted, pushed against the ropes and forced to do whatever it takes to survive. The problem is that his opponents see precisely the opposite and he could end up another massively divisive figure.

He is already causing divisiveness on a grand scale. But so far it has been strictly political because he has not been found guilty of anything. There are those who don’t like what he’d done and said in the past, even though he’s surely entitled to his ideological beliefs. His detractors are clashing with his admirers, who like his boldness and determination to effect political change.

Such disagreement is normal, but such matters become much more complicated when legal action comes into play. When people clash over legal matters, essential social and political fabric can be torn or weakened. Thailand has gone through enough of this misery and it can do without another major legal controversy. 

We hope Thanathorn will continue fighting accumulating charges and produce clear-cut evidence in his defence, remaining focused on proving his innocence rather than turning the attack on his enemies. If he can do this, his legal strategy will remain sound, since the judicial system deals in facts, not public sentiment. Moreover – and probably more importantly – that would benefit Thai politics in the long run.

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