Thursday, December 03, 2020

Rule of law: A new consensus needed to redefine Thai society 

Nov 03. 2020
Anti-government protesters gather at the Tha Phra intersection in the Thonburi district of Bangkok on Monday, as they continue to put pressure on the government to resign. Photo by Tanachai Pramarnpanich.
Anti-government protesters gather at the Tha Phra intersection in the Thonburi district of Bangkok on Monday, as they continue to put pressure on the government to resign. Photo by Tanachai Pramarnpanich.
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By The Nation Editorial
The Nation

The decision by a court to release pro-democracy protest leaders from prison kindles some hope of a resolution to the current political unrest.

The judiciary  will play an important role in restoring the rule of law, which has been considerably weakened since the 2014 military coup.

Academics have blamed the military-sponsored 2017 Constitution and related laws implemented by the former junta government and the current government for vitiating the legal and political system.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, however, continues to defend the actions of the two governments he has headed as a necessary enforcement of laws to preserve stability in the country. 

Critics counter that Prayut put the country under “Rule by law and fear”. Since the coup, the judiciary has also been widely criticised for applying double standards when judges hand down verdicts in political conflict cases. Among several cases, the most obviously controversial were the disbanding of two anti-junta political parties -- Thai Raksa Chart Party and Future Forward Party. The rights of many voters were snatched away from participating in parliamentary democracy.

The cumulative oppression of these actions have forced massive numbers of people across the country to defy the government and pour their frustrations on the streets.

Bold youth-led protesters are standing up to the powers and challenging what they view as unjust laws. At this juncture, judges, prosecutors, military officers, police and those serving in the National Anti-Corruption Commission and Election Commission have to seriously introspect their roles in the past that has snowballed into the current political chaos.

At this moment, judges will play a very important role in solving the political crisis. The question is whether they will rise to the challenge.

Recently, law faculty deans from four universities openly called for lifting the state of emergency in Bangkok. They also reminded the judiciary of its role as a checks and balances executive branch power, by scrutinising whether the government was using its power to infringe on citizens' rights. Judges must look at the protesters' demands for fundamental changes in the legal and political system.

Indeed, for genuine participation in politics, not only judges, but everyone has a stake and has the right to participate in shaping a new era of a fair legal and political system.

It is now clear that brute force, intimidation, jailing, discrimination or even espousing traditional values cannot maintain social cohesion, peace, stability and economic prosperity. The narrow nationalistic ideology: “Nation, Religion and King” can no longer accommodate new social forces that want to embrace freedom of expression, human dignity, human rights, equality, transparency, accountability, integrity in governance and democracy.

Thailand needs to fundamentally shift from a narrow vision of nationalism to broader values that will underpin a modern and dynamic state.

Those who strongly cling to old values have to face up to the reality that the new generation thinks differently, has new values and social evolution.

Every single issue related to public affairs needs to be put on the table for a free, frank and fair debate in shaping the outcome. This can be done only if we agree to set fair rules. First, we must all agree that we need fair rules which will ensure that everyone plays by the rules, and nobody, not even the King, is above the law.

Looking forward, the only way to protect everyone's welfare is an unremitting commitment to the rule of law.


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