วันที่ พฤหัสบดี พฤษภาคม 2550

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Like it or not, the political Big Bang is set for May 30


It's been variously dubbed "Thailand's Political D-Day", "The Day of Reckoning" - even "Judgement Day".


Whatever the Constitution Tribunal decides, May 30 has become the centre of speculation upon which the country's political future hinges.


You could get academic and debate the implications of the 15-member judicial tribunal's verdict on the future of Thai politics - if the over 100 executives of the country's two largest political parties are found guilty and banned from running in elections for the next five years.


If the story at times sounds to be mired in technical legalities deliberately aimed at confusing the public at large, the issue boils down to one burning question: will Thaksin Shinawatra, ex-prime minister and former leader of the Thai Rak Thai Party, be allowed to run in the next general election?


The other related, but no less controversial question is: will the Democrat Party be dissolved along with the Thai Rak Thai Party? If so, will that mean that the leadership of both parties, including Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, will be barred from politics for the next five years?


Based on that "worst-case scenario", political pundits have had a field day over the past few weeks publicly dissecting the scenario whereby we are forced to choose between Chuan Leekpai (former premier from the Democrat Party) or Banharn Silapa-archa (former prime minister from the Chat Thai Party) to be our new political leader. And to turn that paradox into a "perfect (political) storm" scenario, what about General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh (former premier from the New Aspiration Party) as another possible candidate for the next premiership?


It would be amusing if it weren't so depressingly surreal.


The main charge is simple and clear-cut: the two parties paid smaller political groups to run in the last elections with ulterior motives to undermine the other side. Both Thai Rak Thai and the Democrats have denied the allegations.


What isn't as clear-cut is whether the Constitution Tribunal judges will consider the additional punitive measure imposed by the coup-makers after September 19, last year (Article No 3 of Announcement No 27 to amend the original 1998 Political Parties Act), which made it compulsory for all executive members of a party found guilty in this regard to be prohibited from politics for five years, applicable in this case.


The original penalty was merely to ban executive members from forming a new party or assuming an executive post within a party for a five-year period from the day a guilty verdict is handed down.


It was been argued by some constitutional law experts that if judicial precedent were any guide, the courts would not apply an amendment carrying a more severe punishment to an offence that had taken place before that amendment came into effect.


In other words, if the party's executive members had committed the offence before the clause stipulating a more severe penalty had come into effect, they would be subject to the penalty specified in the original act, and not the coup-makers' subsequent amendment. And that in practice means that Thaksin, barring any other barriers, which are numerous, along the way, may still be able to play an active role in politics in the next election.


But legality certainly won't be the only factor to be taken into consideration. Besides, the current panel of judges may not necessarily subscribe to that particular line of thought - which means the much-speculated and controversial political "Big Bang" may still come about.


With the threat of a violent confrontation from pro-Thaksin elements promising a massive protest movement against any negative verdict against Thai Rak Thai and the Democrat Party's vigorous defence against dissolution, the Surayud government and the Council of National Security (CNS) will have to step in to ensure social order no matter how the verdicts turn out.


At this very important juncture in Thailand's political development, it is vital that due judicial process must not be allowed to be subject to threats and counter-threats from the parties concerned.


This is no time to allow political pressure, no matter where it comes from, to subvert the professional judgement of the panel of judges charged with the unenviable crucial responsibility to hand down a verdict on one of the country's most contentious political issues.

Suthichai Yoon

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