New law must rake in all corrupt figures

The recent National Legislative Assembly (NLA) decision to approve a law on criminal procedures for holders of political positions has drawn mixed public reaction.

The draft law, seen as controversial by many for abolishing the statute of limitations for fugitive suspects and for granting power to the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions to order a trial to proceed in absentia, sailed through the NLA meeting on Thursday, with 176 yes votes and three abstentions.

In effect, this means cases which have gone to the court before the enactment of this law, except the ones for which the court has already issued verdicts, can be retrospective.

The advantage of the law is that from now on politicians will think harder before committing wrongdoing as running away will only be futile.

Yet some critics have expressed negative views about this law, which they believe was designed to target former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who ran away to avoid a judicial process shortly after receiving a two-year jail term for abuse of power in the Ratchadaphisek land sale.

Thaksin was ousted from power in 2006 when the military under then army chief Sonthi Boonyaratklin staged a coup amid a heightened political confrontation between the yellow- and red-shirt groups.

Echoing opposition to the law, which awaits royal endorsement, are politicians in the Pheu Thai camp attempting to protect their boss. Some have lambasted the law for being written in a way that breaches the core principles of the constitution and even human rights. Others voiced scepticism over the law's wording as being ambiguous, especially the clauses that deal with the court's prerogative in deciding if any case could resume in absentia.

However, the most serious concern is about the so-called Thaksin effect, with many regarding the new law as a political move against the ousted leader. With such sentiments, the national reconciliation process, which is already facing difficulties, seems impossible.

There are at least five court cases which were suspended due to Thaksin's absence. One is a libel case filed by the army, while the other four deal with alleged corruption in connection with a 4-billion-baht Exim Bank loan to Myanmar, the two and three-digit lottery scheme, amendment of satellite and mobile phone concession contracts, and Krungthai Bank's loan scandal involving the Krisda Mahanakorn group. Thaksin faced at least six arrest warrants over these cases.

Thaksin's self-imposed exile is seen as a ploy by the tycoon-turned-politician to take advantage of the statute of limitations.

As we can now expect the Thaksin cases to resume after the implementation of the new law, it's necessary that all parties concerned realise that it's their duty to cast aside any notions of the so-called Thaksin effect.

To start with, everyone must accept that this law will be applicable to all politicians or holders of political positions implicated in corruption or abuse of power. We should all realise that even though those in absentia are not present at a trial, they still have the right to have their lawyers represent them. In the case of Thaksin, the former prime minister has all the resources to hire top lawyers to handle his cases.

Besides, it's of utmost importance that the Thaksin cases proceed in a fair and transparent manner. Even after the enactment of the new law, the ousted leader still has the right to defend himself through his lawyers, who must be allowed to do their job without any state interference or intimidation.

All implicated in such cases -- be it the bureaucrats, politicians or those in the private sector -- must be able to present their cases and prove their innocence during a judicial process so that the court can deliver fair verdicts. Any move to politicise the cases, and/or stir chaos, should not be tolerated.

Only through fair trials we can clear all public suspicion, which, if allowed to continue, will hinder the national reconciliation process. We should make sure this law to rises above being a political trap, enabling the country to go through this transitional period peacefully while upholding the rule of law.

More importantly, as the state has insisted, the law was not designed for any particular person but for corrupt political position holders, hence those in the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration and the National Council for Peace and Order should also realise that they, too, will be subject to this law.

Even though the military regime may want to argue that they are not career politicians, the fact that they are holding and running state offices, and governing the country in the same way as the typical politicians, albeit with some special powers, exemptions should be avoided at all costs.

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