23 May 2024

The last time Thailand saw an outstanding parliamentary censure that was not ideologically motivated and hence turned out to serve genuine public interest was when the opposition exposed the Sor Por Kor scandal in early 1990s.

At the end of that censure, the then Democrat-led government was disgraced and forced to dissolve the House of Representatives after the opposition wielded damning evidence that many plots of land distributed under the Sor Por Kor 4-01 land reform scheme that had been meant to help poor farmers went to many rich recipients with political connections.

That censure was followed by the opposition’s economic and financial attacks on the Banharn and Chavalit administrations. Those post-Sor Por Kor censures were also good and led to significant changes, but political partisanship started to play bigger and bigger roles.

The Thaksin administration as well as governments related to the Shinawatra political empire taunted censures for fun. For example, targetted ministers were transferred before no-confidence moves could be launched against them. The Thai public began to be told that censure charges were made by those who did not agree with the Shinawatras ideologically.

Things went downhill during Prayut Chan-o-cha’s long reign. Most, if not all, censures, and the way they were carried out, dealt primarily with ideological matters. The Thai public themselves treated censures like an ideological showdown, not an opportunity to hear about hidden irregularities that rulers, no matter which side they were on, tried to cover up.

This week was also a letdown. The “no-vote” censure turned out to be a sparring match between Pheu Thai and Move Forward. One feels betrayed, and the other feels picked on due to recent past deeds that some still do not like. What Thais got was a censure that was too personal.

Move Forward failed to focus on the police crisis, which was the biggest man-on-the-street issue. This is despite the fact that the “no-vote” nature of the debate was an opportunity to do more highlighting and less exposing. The biggest party did not capitalize on that and only mentioned the issue peripherally.

It was also a missed opportunity to show the Thai public that Move Forward does not just aim high but it can shoot low as well. In its Facebook post urging the public to monitor its performance this week, Move Forward mentioned “political” prisoners while failing to address bigger problems facing law enforcement in Thailand.

Thaksin Shinawatra is a political issue. How he has been treated since his return from exile is an ideological matter that will take forever to debate. The blatant gunning down of a police officer in front of senior colleagues at a dinner party at one of the best-known residences in Nakhon Pathom, and accusations of bribe taking by topmost police officials are not.

Any opposition would come out all guns blazing if either of those two things happened, let alone them occurring back to back in a spate of six months. Instead, Move Forward’s Facebook listed censure priorities as follows: uncertainties and so-far no-show of the digital wallet programme, the “sporadic” increases of labour wages, the continuous rise of electricity fees, the continued military conscription of Thai youngsters, and the current imprisonment of “some” political prisoners.

Censure is about prioritizing issues. Those in the Move Forward list paled beside the tumultuous police affair, which affects the livelihood of ordinary citizens. To have an MP call it a “low point” and criticise the prime minister’s chairmanship of the Police Commission is nowhere near enough.

It’s not that what MP Sasinan Thamnitinan said was wrong. The point is that she should have been backed up by many party peers and 90 per cent of the opposition’s time should have been devoted to this topic. This would have done much more in helping redefine public perceptions of the party.

Another Move Forward MP, Jorayuth Jatupornprasit, backed her up and did what the rest of the party should have been doing. He wielded what was proclaimed to be a list of bribe-taking police stations in Bangkok and upcountry.

He also claimed to have names of transport businesses that have been paying the police and communicating with them through various online channels.

That was pretty much it. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who admitted publicly a couple of times that he didn’t know what to do with the on-going “smearing” campaign between police rivals, certainly would not be able to believe his luck. Instead of coming out of the censure bruised by police-related assaults, his “tough”job during the censure was try to defend his frequent overseas trips and act serious when demanding “evidence”to support alleged naval spending irregularities.

Well-known lawyer Sittra Biabungerd has reportedly sent a lot of what he knew about police corruption to the Move Forward Party, claiming his information could expose a bribe-taking network at the highest level of the police force.

According to Sittra, who has been involved in several high-profile cases, police bribery is deep-rooted, systematic, goes to the highest level, and involves an insanely-massive amount of money. It covers both generally-known “grey”businesses such as massage parlours, goods transport as well as some unexpected activities such as illegal Indian immigrants selling nuts or small-time employers hiring visa-less maids.

Srittra said he had to seek help from the opposition because the government was “too slow” in trying to tackle the police problem.

The Chuan government crumbled because of the Sor Por Kor 4-01 scandal exposed at a censure where opposition attackers were far from being popular. Imagine a highly-famous political party telling the Thai public in unison as well as loud and clear that this police infamy has to end and the one responsible for ending it is the Srettha government.

Tulsathit Taptim