Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Respect the will of the people


Respect the will of the people

As political tensions again heat up with the official outcome of the Dec 23 election still unclear, all sides must eschew self-interest, show restraint and work for the good of the country.

This is the time when the rubber hits the road, when all sides will make clear whether Thailand will fall into political chaos again or finally pick up the pieces from the September 2006 coup and return to a stable democracy.

The Election Commission has a great responsibility to issue yellow and red cards in a fair and transparent manner. Since the evidence in the cases does not need to meet the standards for a proper courtroom, the EC must be very careful to demonstrate that it is not abusing the great amount of power bestowed upon it. If it makes decisions in an unbiased manner, then all sides can once again be confident that the country's independent bodies are working in the name of justice, rather than whoever happens to be in power at the time.

At the same time, all parties must respect the EC's decisions. Because no courts are involved, nearly every decision could be disputed on some grounds. But that does not mean they should be. It will become very clear soon if the commission is abusing its power, and that should lead to outrage from a broad spectrum of society rather than just the supporters of a handful of politicians. So political leaders should be patient and wait for the final outcome.

In response to the protest in Buri Ram province last week, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said: ''Thailand cannot use mob rule over the law. To do so would bring the country to a halt.''

He is right. But unfortunately his words carry little weight, coming from a man who took power after the military used tanks to subvert the will of the people. This is why coups don't rescue democracy; violence begets violence. And it will take time, patience and a lot of restraint from all sides to break away from the consequences of the many radical events that have happened during the past few years.

Think about the situation: the generals tore up the 1997 Constitution and now expect villagers to respect both a constitution drafted by the military and new laws passed in a non-elected Parliament. It is certainly understandable that the rural masses who supported deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra no longer trust the ''rule of law'' and feel that hitting the streets is the only way to make their voices heard _ not unlike what the People's Alliance for Democracy felt when Mr Thaksin cut off legal paths for dissent.

While it would be tempting for Mr Thaksin's allies to try and take revenge on the junta for its attempts to bury the former prime minister politically, it would not do the country any good. Once again the majority of people would be held hostage by competing power groups only interested in their own power.

What this country desperately needs now is a stable government that can reform the constitution to make it more democratic, and implement economic policies that improve the quality of life for all people. The petty political fighting needs to end. The PPP and the anti-Thaksin political establishment must move on and show a commitment to respecting the outcome of elections.

The next few weeks are crucial. Parliament is scheduled to open on Jan 22, so by then we should have a good idea of whether political tensions will ease. The return yesterday of Khunying Potjaman Shinawatra to face corruption charges in the courts was certainly a good sign. Mr Thaksin should follow her lead in the near future.

Most people are tired of seeing the country's institutions abused for the benefit of powerful leaders and their undemocratic agendas. Now is the time to start doing what the coup-makers promised to do when they seized power but completely failed to deliver: Improve the political system to ensure justice, transparency and democratic institutions that seek to uphold _ rather than subvert _ the will of the people.

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