Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Let us be clear. The successful impeachment motion against former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawat, submitted to the junta’s appointed Assembly by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, over her role in the rice price support scheme for farmers, is a total farce and a red herring. It is a deliberate part of the anti-reforms designed to destroy democracy. It has nothing to do with the rice scheme.
Yingluk is accused of “allowing corruption to take place” in this rice scheme and of presiding over financial losses to the government.
Firstly, it should be made clear that there is no evidence what so ever to prove that Yingluk herself was corrupt. In fact “corruption” is now a convenient insult to be thrown at anyone who the middle classes or the elites dislike. The most corrupt organisation in Thai society is in fact the military. Nearly all Thai generals, including the present junta leaders, have accumulated wealth amounting to hundreds of millions of baht, way beyond what they could earn from their normal salaries. This has been going on since the bad old days of the military dictatorships in the 1940s. Part of this money comes from corrupt deals and bribes. The other part comes from their abuse of power and influence to do business, own sections of the media and appoint themselves to the management boards of state enterprises.
Anyone paying attention to the mainstream media’s comments about Taksin Shinawat would be forgiven for believing that Taksin and his cronies were filthy corrupt politicians who had been pocketing millions and bleeding the country dry by offering “too many” pro-poor policies to the “ignorant” masses. These reports mentioned Taksin’s corruption as though it was an indisputable fact and that he alone was responsible for corruption.
Taksin is a super-rich tycoon. He is still super-rich even after having a large portion of his assets seized by the pro-military courts. His wealth primarily comes from exploiting the work of others, no different from any tycoon or business leader and no different from king Pumipon who is the richest man in Thailand. This is a form of gross robbery, but it is “legal” robbery under the capitalist system.
The only corruption charge placed against Taksin was the charge that he was Prime Minister when his wife bought a plot of land from the government. This was undoubtedly against the rules. But the courts accepted that the price paid was the genuine market rate and they also ruled that his wife had no case to answer. Taksin also used various tax avoidance schemes to avoid paying tax on his immense wealth.
Secondly, it may well be the case that corruption occurred at some levels of the rice price support scheme, probably associated with dishonest rice milling and rice trading companies. Yingluk’s opponents want to punish her for failing to stop this corruption. If failing to stop corruption is a reason for impeachment, then every single Thai Prime Minister, including Prayut, should be impeached.
Thirdly, much of the financial losses to the state which resulted from the rice price support scheme come from two sources. The government was using state funds to guarantee rice prices paid to poor farmers. Such losses are totally justified and are part of distributing income to the rural poor. But other losses came from relying on the world rice market and hoping that the price of rice would rise, which it did not. Instead the government should have sold rice cheaply to the urban poor and recouped any short fall by taxing the rich and by cutting the military and Palace budgets.
Of course the middle-classes, extremist neo-liberals, the military and the royalists would have been up in arms if this had happened. Already the Democrat Party and neo-liberal institutions like the TDRI were dead against using state funds to benefit the poor through the rice price support scheme.
But none of this really explains the sanction taken against Yingluk.
After the military coup last year, I wrote that the illegal junta and its various creatures were busy crafting a non-democratic system with sham elections. I wrote that the so-called National Anti-Corruption Commission was desperately trying to find a dubious corruption charge to stick on former Prime Minister Yingluk. This would be the “legalistic” way to bar her from politics and maybe there would be chance of dissolving the Pua Thai Party too.
Yingluk’s impeachment and prosecution are a fraudulent and sham “legal” means used by an illegal junta to destroy democracy and decapitate the political party which has consistently enjoyed mass popular support.
Meanwhile, the previous chairman of parliament, Somsak Kiatsuranon, and Nikom Rachpanit, former senate chairman, faced similar but unsuccessful bans for trying to allow a democratic parliamentary vote to change the constitution last year. Prayut and his military gang, however, face no sanctions for staging a coup last May and tearing up the constitution. Prayut and former Prime Minister Abhisit do not face any charges for murdering unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators either. The message is clear. Whatever crimes the junta commit are “legal” and in future it will not be “legal” to change the military-sponsored constitution.
Dictatorship is due to be set in stone. But nothing remains forever when social movements get organised to fight for democracy.