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Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak discusses the likely outcomes of the Thaksin assets seizure

March 2nd, 2010 · No Comments

When I spoke to Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, last weekend about the Thaksin assets verdict, he raised some thought-provoking points about why the Supreme Court’s ruling would not usher in a new era of political stability.

The ruling was in fact likely to strengthen claims by Thaksin’s supporters that the court judgement was far from being impartial or free from political motivations, he said.

“This [verdict] completes the coup cycle, but it does not resolve the crisis because the coup cycle has generated a process of contestation, a political transformation that will be ongoing,” he said. “When Thaksin came to power, he unwittingly unleashed forces between his control and beyond his opponents control. Those forces have taken on a life of their own.

“The red shirts have grievances, demands and expectations. They see double standards and hypocrisy. They’re taking Gen Prem, Gen Surayud and the establishment to task, and now they’re trying to make their last stand with the Abhisit government.”

While the court’s landmark ruling did break with tradition by showing that rich, powerful Thais can lose in court and have their ill-gotten gains seized, it also sets a benchmark by which the judiciary will be judged.

“In the 60s and 70s military dictators had some assets taken away but that was for corruption and graft, basically [in retribution] for their taking state property and state money. In 1991, it [assets seizure] was also for embezzling state property and money, for taking bribes. But on Friday it was mostly about abuse of power, not straightforward corruption and graft,” he said.

“The implication is that this will set a standard that will test the integrity of the judiciary. Having abuse of power as a benchmark, a yardstick, is a very grey area, all kinds of politicians and privy councillors benefit from their positions. This is going to be tricky down the road and it will reinforce the charges of double standards.”

As a result of last Friday’s ruling, more charges are expected to be levelled at Thaksin, and possibly at some of the officials involved in the decisions where he was found to have abused his power.

Dr Thitinan said such moves would be “used as a legal instrument to keep Thaksin and his associates at bay”.

If the judiciary is independent and fair it will also start taking action against officials in the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, which has been plagued by allegations of corruption relating to the “Thai Khem Kaeng” infrastructure investment programme, he said.

Thaksin will also take the ruling very personally. He will embark on a “personal vendetta,” said Dr Thitinan.

In the past, much of Thaksin’s rhetoric was deeply connected with his claims to be working for Thailand’s benefit. The ruling has changed this.

“We’re going to see Thaksin for Thaksin now, not Thaksin for Thailand,” he said

The other likely outcome is for the red shirt movement also to be less about Thaksin. Dr Thitinan said the movement now has much more organic forms of funding and mobilisation than in the past. To see it simply as Thaksin’s proxy force denies the complexity of the social and political transformations that are gaining pace in Thailand, he said.

“I think the red shirts will be increasingly more than Thaksin and separate from Thaksin,” he said.

“If the court had taken all of the [Thaksin’s] money away, the red shirts would see it as gross injustice and they would see Thaksin as the figurehead of their movement.

“He got some of his money back, so now the red shirts will be compelled to develop their own agenda, their own leadership, their own vision. At the moment they are lacking in that department … this is the gap that they will be forced to come to terms with.

“So the two main ramifications of the verdict are: one, the personal agenda, Thaksin for Thaksin’s sake; two, the red shirts for the red shirts, more than the red shirts for Thaksin, although it will take some time to separate the two.”

Background: Last Friday, the court’s Criminal Division for the Holders of Political Positions ruled that 46.37 billion baht of 76.6 billion in assets belonging to the Shinawatra family that had been frozen since the military coup be seized. Thaksin, while serving as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, had abused his power and entered into conflicts of interest that benefited Shin Corp, his family’s telecommunications empire, the court ruled.

The court ruled that Thaksin’s policies cost the Thai state 90 billion baht while benefiting Shin Corp.

It is worth noting that the Bank of Thailand valued the damages caused by the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance of Democracy’s seizure of Bangkok’s two international airports in late-2008 at about 250 billion baht.

None of the PAD’s leadership has been prosecuted for organising the demonstration, as yet.

Tags: Greg's Blog · politics · Thailand

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