6 June 2024

Yesterday’s Constitutional Court verdict, which allows controversial Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompow to retain his ministerial post and MP status, despite his drug trafficking conviction in Australia in the 1990’s, has sparked outrage and ridicule and has added to the feeling of hopelessness, even though it was somewhat expected.

Lowest point and legal precedent set

“This is arguably Thailand’s lowest point in its international life. This verdict will have far-reaching repercussions for Thailand’s role and standing in the world,” said Prof. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University.

“What about Thailand’s myriad international legal obligations in such agreements as extradition treaties and Interpol matters? It makes Thailand appear insular for not recognising a criminal conviction of a Thai by an Australian court,” he added.

The professor also pointed to the possibility that the case could set as a precedent in Thai courts for allowing Thai nationals, convicted of serious crimes abroad, to run for office, as this is the first such case in the country’s history. “The Thammanat logic would seem to allow this,” he said.

Loopholes for the powerful 

For Dr. Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University, the verdict appeared to “continue to undermine the legal system of the country” and “is not based on facts.” 

“There are always legal loopholes to exploit to protect powerful figures in government. There were also no repercussions for Gen Prawit for example,” he said, referring to the case of undeclared luxury watches worn by the Deputy Prime Minister, who still wields a lot of power in Government.

The verdict is far from the first time Capt. Thammanat has been spared by those in power. He survived no confidence motions in Parliament last year and earlier this year and is regarded as an influential figure within the Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) and its fellow government coalition parties.

The 53-year-old politician also proved to be popular with some of the electorate, despite the notoriety he has gained. With his success in rallying for votes for PPRP in elections in the North of Thailand, he has also been entrusted with the Southern region as well, the Democrat Party’s stronghold, with a victory, most recently, in Nakorn Si Thammarat province in March. 

Thai ex-convict Deputy Minister spared the axe by Charter Court

Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled today (Wednesday) that Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompow, who was found guilty of drug trafficking by an Australian court in 1993, can retain his ministerial post and MP status, despite the conviction.

Outrage and Ridicule

From the viral Thai hashtag “It was flour,” the notorious phrase the deputy minister said in his defence against his heroin smuggling conviction, to countless spinoffs of known phrases, Thais took to social media to express outrage and ridicule of their justice system.

“So now all sorts of criminals, murderers and rapists, convicted in foreign courts, could run for public office in Thailand. Crimes committed outside of the motherland are exempt, don’t count in the Thai realm of justice. #ThaiJustice par excellence!” tweeted @Thai_Talk, a Thai social and political commentator.

Making fun of the situation is, however, also a part of accepting the hopelessness in the country, where nothing can be done to the powerful, said Dr. Titipol.

A well-known slogan for a campaign against illegal narcotics has been changed from “let’s fight against drugs” to “let’s sell drugs”. References to pop culture, such as Breaking Bad’s “Say My Name” catchphrase, have been made. The popular show’s protagonist was known to produce crystal methamphetamine. 

A cartoon, in the well-known comic book Kai Hua Roh, depicts a man and a woman on separate islands, with the former yelling at the latter, “When I molested you on that island, it was not wrong on this island, okay?,” a jab at the verdict that says the politician was not found guilty by a Thai court. 

A similar jibe at separate jurisdictions is shared by English-language Thai media, “Thisrupt” which posted “What happens in Australia, stays in Australia.”

“Well, no wonder so many people are looking to move abroad now,” said Dr. Titipol, referring to the viral online interest in moving out of Thailand, which has seen over 850,000 people joining a newly created Facebook group. 

By Hathai Techakitteranun