Bad Week for City Continues; How Thaksin Will Fight Extradition
Interesting commentaries continue to pour out on the dramatic events of this weeks; Thaksin’s flight from Thailand is worldwide news, as evidenced by this analysis from The Economist and an editorial chiding Thaksin published in the International Herald Tribune after first appearing in the Boston Globe.
A key point made in the IHT piece is that Thaksin’s own actions in defending himself and also using the Thai courts undercut his claim that the Thai courts are illegitimate. That is an important point, because it speaks to the likely tenor of Thaksin’s arguments to British authorities in defending himself against extradition efforts and possibly in seeking political asylum.
The argument (as laid out by my friend and sometime sparring partner Cheburashka from the City message boards) is that the cases against Thaksin were set in a motion by a coup government, a coup government which inserted clauses into the new Constitution that exempted themselves from prosecution for the 2006 coup, and hence are politically motivated to the core. Further, political influences are at work driving the judiciary’s decisions.
There is a lot to unpack here, but what’s at stake is whether we should regard Thailand’s basic institutions, however flawed and imperfect from a rigorous democratic point of view, as essentially legitimate. It is true that the current cases against Thaksin were set in motion by the investigations of the Assets Examination Committee, a body set up by coup leaders to investigate corruption during the Thaksin era. The AEC did not have authority to prosecute charges, only to investigate them; cases themselves are to be decided by the Thai Supreme Court. The Supreme Court could and may decide to refuse to hear any or all of the cases, depending on the strength of the evidence, and has the power to render verdicts. This is an important distinction because it is simply not the case that the people who orchestrated the coup are now also the people who have the capacity to evaluate the assembled evidence and cast judgment on Thaksin. I have seen no compelling evidence that the cases against Thaksin have not been carried out according to the letter of Thai law.
It is certainly true that the provisions of the current Constitution providing amnesty for coup leaders are problematic from a democratic point of view; but they were also probably a precondition for any hopes of achieving political stability in post-coup Thailand. That clause prevented the spectacle of the newly elected PPP attempting to raise charges against coup leaders, a spectacle that the Thai political system would likely have been too fragile to bear.
The crux of the issue is whether the Thai Supreme Court is truly independent and is making a good faith evidence to weigh these cases on their merits. The Supreme Court is appointed by the king, and it is open to impartial observers of Thailand to argue that the conflicts around Thaksin have much to do with the perceived threat to royal power he represented, and that there may be tacit royal approval for action against Thaksin. On that note, it is open to the impartial democratic theorist to argue that system of constitutional monarchy (and its attendant legal system) is badly flawed and too constricting on democracy.
But it’s not clear that Thaksin Shinawatra can make that point. The imperfections of the Thai legal system and political order are ones he has lived with and indeed thrived under. His use of the legal system for his own purposes suggests that he considered the courts legitimate when it suited him. For him to claim now that the courts are stacked against him can only be considered a self-serving argument that flies in the face of the fundamental principle that no man can be the judge of his own case. Moreover, he cannot consistently argue that Thai’s legal institutions are fundamentally unjust and also continue to profess loyalty to the king.
The British judges who likely will soon be assessing these matters will be focused with the question of how to evaluate the institutions of less-than-perfect democracies. Thailand’s version of constitutional monarchy has numerous features that make it problematic from the standpoint of liberal democracy. But does that mean that the institutional framework itself, and hence the charges against Thaksin, is illegitimate and not worthy of international respect? I doubt authorities in the UK would go that far (though it’s not impossible they might). To win, Thaksin will likely have to show that the cases against him somehow violated Thailand’s own legal framework. That may be hard to do, especially considering that most leading analysts and academics in Thailand appear to regard the pursuit of the cases against Thaksin as legitimate and reasonable (if not long overdue), and as the IHT argued an important step in showing that no one however powerful and rich is above the law.
Thaksin’s case would be strengthened, however, if the judiciary fails to pursue other cases of corruption against figures from other parties, or if it takes other steps which hint at unfair, politicized treatment of Thaksin. It also would be strengthened if it reaches one or more guilty verdicts that are not well-supported by the available evidence. That’s why the news Wednesday that the courts will not start trial in the other cases pending against Thaksin in his absence, which might initially seem like good news for the exile, may actually work against Thaksin in the long run. The stated reason for not starting those trials is that trials of that seriousness cannot be started without the defendant present to acknowledge the charges at an initial hearing. The judiciary’s respect for the letter of its own law actually strengthens the case that it is following its rules to the best of its ability, contrary to Thaksin’s charges.
A great irony of all this is that one of the central criticisms of Thaksin’s rule in Thailand was the way it undermined due process in the 2003 War on Drugs and contributed to a culture of state-sponsored violence in the country. An Amnesty International blogger this week thus sardonically discusses Thaksin’s new found love of individual procedural rights.
Apart from all this–or perhaps not so far apart–Manchester City did little to dispel worries that off-the-pitch turmoil might affect performances on the pitch by losing 1-0 at home in the first leg of their UEFA Cup qualifier against Danish outfit FC Midtjylland in a performance City fans are describing as dire. Just 17,000 fans (reportedly) attended the match in the 48,000 seat City of Manchester Stadium. Perhaps the highlight of the night for City was the post-match remark by Midtjylland manager Thomas Thomasberg that City played like a “stupid” side, a remark that might provide some motivation for the second leg.
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