Trump impeachment gives Thais a lot to ponder
Two most difficult periods to bring a politician to justice are during the peak of his (or her) power and the time after he has just lost it. Thailand has been taught the lesson time and again and the pain is being experienced in America.
Countries have adopted their own ways of dealing with politicians deemed corrupt, or criminal, or being threats to national security. Thailand, under a much-lauded “People’s Charter” promulgated in 1997, introduced the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Constitutional Court as well as a special section in the Criminal Court to handle political office holders. America has impeachment, although the measure is reserved for the highest rulers.
Which system is better can be subjected to endless debate. The Thai one won praises initially but went downhill in many people’s eyes after Thaksin Shinawatra was let off the hook in the “Servants’ Shares” scandal. This is not to say, however, that the American system is the one to follow.
What transpires this week in Washington is strewn with ironies. The biggest one is that Donald Trump is accused of breaking the highest law of the land, but he is undergoing a trial in a process that is highly partisan and political, something few countries are immune to its nasty consequences.
Signs of trouble have been prevalent. Talks in America about his impeachment now has revolved not around evidence, but around whether there are enough votes in the American Senate to convict him. Analysts, commentators and other political watchers are looking less at evidence of alleged treason than how many Republicans can or will be “flipped” to secure a conviction or guarantee acquittal.
In other words, if the Democrats can gather enough votes, they can convict him. It’s a process that can be compared to allowing Manchester United fans to lead the way in judging whether Liverpool have committed a foul. And a football foul is easier to tell than what Trump did prior to and on January 6.
The Senate will not be presented with clear-cut, indisputable receipts or such damning Trump speeches as “Let’s storm the Capitol and lock them away.” Instead, the accusers, pro-Democrat of course, will try to portray him as inciting through rhetorically bemoaning being “robbed” of the second term. His defenders will just say a loser convinced that he had had an election stolen from him was entitled to a free speech decrying his loss.
Videos of rioting have been shown, but arguments will be vague and possibly very prejudiced in favour of either the Democrats or Republicans, and they will play out, as some Americans themselves put it, in a “Political Theater”. Proponents of the impeachment are pointing at “political maturity” of the American public, another irony considering what happened on January 6 that brought everyone to the Senate in the first place.
For another major irony, let’s take away the Democrat-Republican divisions and let’s assume that the US Parliament is extremely neutral and independent after a cutthroat and bitter election war. If what Trump did was a real crime and he must be made an example of, wouldn’t it better to try him in a normal court of law immediately? What privilege does he have to be tried like this and what guarantees that justice will be served regarding a man accused of a serious crime? Is Parliament equal courts, meaning an acquitted Trump was perfectly innocent?
Some of the questions are more disturbing than the others. Thailand, about to amend its own Constitution whose highlights include punishment of politicians, has to keep that in mind.
How the American process can be highly partisan is shown this week. The American politicians fought over an assertion that it is unconstitutional to have the Senate convict someone no longer in office. Most Republican senators have voted in favour of the “unconstitutional” claim and this brings to mind a “Thaksin scenario”, in which judges opposed to putting him on a trial were counted as those finding him “innocent.”
To sum it up, the US Senate this week has voted largely along party lines to constitutionalize the process. What is bothering the world is the fact that had the Republicans controlled a few more votes, the story could have become so different.
Parallel to “punishing Trump” are talks about “healing”. If “reconciliation” is taken seriously in America, putting Trump through a Democrat-dominated parliamentary trial is a very weird way, to say the least, to achieve it.
Therefore, legally speaking, impeachment can be questionable, and politically speaking, impeachment may not be a good idea.
What can Thais learn from the whole Trump impeachment spectacle? It’s that law and good politics can go hand in hand, but if bad politics tries to be law itself, bad people can walk scot-free and good people can end up being punished.
But how can someone with bitter experiences learn from somebody else’s bad experiences? This is tricky, but, for a start, both may have to admit that their systems have been found wanting, and tweaks are required to make something that largely depends on persuasive rhetoric (democracy as we know it) work well with something that demands solid evidence (justice).