Who's been meddling?

A THAI RATH writer said Mr Thaksin never seemed concerned about 'systematic meddling in the judicial process' during his six years as prime minister


Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said in England that apart from attempts to remove him from the Thai political scene by assassination and a coup, there was an attempt by the coup-makers to cement their power after the general election was held by drawing up a toxic constitution and meddling in the judicial system. These were the reasons he gave for refusing to attend the scheduled court hearing on Monday against him and his wife in the Ratchada land case and seeking political asylum in Britain, noted a Thai Rath editorial.

Looking on the bright side, said the writer, one should be glad that Mr Thaksin had called for the rule of law for the first time, although he never seemed concerned about systematic meddling in the judicial process during his five years as prime minister of Thailand. During his administration, there were more than 2,500 people who died in the "war on drugs" without ever having a chance to defend themselves in a court of law.

Thai Rath said Mr Thaksin's accusation that the judicial system was meddled with for political ends was cloudy, as he did not specifically mention which organisation in the judicial system had been tampered with. In a criminal case, the judicial system comprises the police, the public prosecutors and the law court judges.

If Mr Thaksin meant that the police were meddled with, this is true, said the editorial, but not by his opponents. They were meddled with by the People Power party-led coalition government.

Immediately upon assuming power, the Samak government dismissed the police chief and appointed a new one while shifting Khunying Potjaman's brother from an inactive post to the National Police Office to assume the post of deputy police chief, in line to be promoted to police chief in the future.

That's not all. The Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) chief, who was a former law court judge and responsible for investigation into corruption cases during the Thaksin administration, was transferred out of the DSI.

Former Justice Ministry permanent secretary Jarun Pukditanakul, who was recruited from the Supreme Court to work at the Justice Ministry by the coup leader, claims there was an attempt to bribe Constitution Court judges who were considering a case which could lead to dissolution of the PPP.

There was also the incident in which Mr Thaksin's lawyers in the Ratchada land sale case attempted to give a high-ranking Supreme Court official a cake box containing two million baht. The lawyers were found in contempt of court and jailed for six months. The police are now investigating the attempted bribery case.

The Thai Rath editorial did not give much credence to Mr Thaksin's claim that the Council for National Security (CNS) tried to write the present constitution to continue the power of the coup-makers. If such were the case, why did the constitution not prevent the PPP, the self-confessed Thaksin nominee, from gaining 233 seats in last year's general election and becoming the core of the coalition government, with PPP leader Samak Sundaravej as prime minister.

The editorial reminded readers that the present constitution passed the people's referendum, as the first ever to be ratified by the Thai people.

The editorial concluded that it was not fair of Mr Thaksin to make the blanket charge of interference without specifying which agency was guilty, while at the same time his backers had clearly been shown to be systematically meddling with the justice system.

PPP future uncertain

Whether former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Khunying Potjaman will seek permanent political asylum in Britain is a matter of conjecture, said another Thai Rath writer. What is certain is that the political confrontation in Thailand should become less intense with the departure of the big boss,

This good news happens at the same time the local economic problems are beginning to ease due to successive oil price reductions during the past few weeks, lessening inflation pressure and making it easier for people to start spending again.

With inflation easing off, the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Thailand can avoid engaging in a war of words about interest rate policy, which is the prerogative of the central bank. The writer hoped that the Finance Ministry would also stop all rumours about firing the Bank of Thailand governor for daring to conduct an independent interest rate policy to contain inflation, because this affects the confidence of local and overseas investors.

On the political front, any application by Mr Thaksin for political asylum in England will at least mean he won't be back in Thailand any time soon. As he and his family still face many criminal lawsuits in this country, the only way that Mr Thaksin will come back voluntarily is if he is granted amnesty, or if the present constitution is amended to get rid of the CNS legacy.

Both of these would depend on the ability of the PPP-led coalition government to push the necessary legislation through parliament. As long as the PPP is in power, amnesty and constitutional amendment are possible.

However, said Thai Rath, the future of PPP is bleak, as it is facing charges of election fraud which could result in dissolution. The Election Commission is investigating the case, to be forwarded to the Constitution Court for a final judgement. If the PPP is dissolved, its leader and party executives are likely to be banned from politics for five years, as was the case when the Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved.

Now that Mr Thaksin is no longer in Thailand, the PPP is no longer united. If the PPP is dissolved, more core people will be banned from politics, affecting the future of any reincarnated party under another name. It will be hard to find good people willing to be party executives, and hard to win a new general election.

It will also be hard to find someone to replace the charismatic Mr Thaksin, the real leader of the PPP. Mr Samak is only a stop-gap leader.

With Mr Thaksin publicly announcing his retirement from politics, his name can no longer be used to court the votes of the grass-roots.

Finally, with Mr Thaksin gone, any reincarnated party will no longer have the financial support of one of the richest persons in Thailand, concluded Thai Rath.

Fiscal, monetary policies go hand in hand

The chairman of the prime minister's Economic Advisory Committee, Virabongsa Ramangkura, said on Wednesday that Thailand's economy is dependent on four factors: production, inflation, trade and current accounts, and political stability, according to the Thai News Agency.

Dr Virabongsa said the government must employ fiscal measures to ensure GDP growth while keeping inflation at between 2 and 5%. Local and overseas investors are looking closely at how Thailand manages its inflation in line with global inflation. As for trade and current accounts, the government must take care not to be in a deficit for too long. This does not mean a short-term deficit in trade and current accounts is bad, however.

The government must also ensure political stability to create confidence among overseas investors. All the four factors must be taken care of simultaneously, in the same direction with clear-cut goals.

Dr Virabongsa said that both fiscal and monetary policies must be implemented to achieve the same goal. If one measure is used single-handedly, the economy might face hiccups. Inflation must not rise too much, nor decrease too much.

Dr Virabongsa believed that the Thai economy can grow with stability only when GDP growth is gradual, step by step.

Meanwhile, Ajjana Waikhamdee, deputy governor of the Bank of Thailand, remarked that the central bank does not have any problem working with the Finance Ministry, insisting that the BoT gives much more importance to macro economic stability including inflation than mere GDP growth. This is the same goal as all central banks of the world.

"The central bank is not obsessed with fighting inflation as alleged by others, but the economy must be in equilibrium, i.e., inflation should not be too high with room for economic expansion. The Bank of Thailand knows full well that prescribing a monetary policy to promote economic stability has a side effect on the economy. We must make sure that our economy is strong enough to withstand the drug prescription. We will never prescribe too strong a medicine without considering the side effect," said Dr Ajjana.

As for the inflation trend for the rest of the year, Dr Ajjana said that it should slow down in line with the drop in world crude prices. The BoT will not issue an inflation figure forecast so as not to raise expectations or demands for wage increases.

Dr Ajjana declined to say whether the BoT would raise interest rates to fight inflation during the Monetary Policy Committee meeting on Aug 27, when it will review economic indices.

Bangkok Post