Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yes, Mr Thaksin, you were too stubborn

The fugitive ex-premier's post-verdict speech carries some truth
In his post-verdict address to his family and supporters, Thaksin Shinawatra attacked everyone and everything he thought had conspired against him. But he was right on one thing - rich businessmen should never play politics. Even though his warning to his fellow businessmen sounded sarcastic, the punch line was spot on.

"Let me be the last victim," he said via a video link, which brought more tears to many supporters' eyes. And how we wish the same. Let him be the last victim. Whether or not Thai politics was "mean" as claimed by the ousted leader, his entry into politics had made things too complicated for a nascent democracy. Thailand simply can't take anymore of the kind of troubles that followed Thaksin's bid to wear two hats at the same time.

The Supreme Court spelled out how Thaksin's actions as prime minister helped his corporate empire. It doesn't matter if he intended to abuse his power or not. His government's policies and actions and his telecom empire's frequent moves to seek state leniency or assistance were too intertwined to be ignored. It would have helped a lot had Thaksin chosen to stay purely on the business side, or really given up the empire instead of superficially transferring ownership to his children.

The ambiguous share transfers and Shin Corp's repeated adjustments of concession terms, either through its own initiatives or the government's, set Thaksin up for the misery that he bemoans. If Thaksin was right about Thailand's political "immaturity", he himself contributed immensely to the unhealthy atmosphere. The more undeveloped Thailand is politically, with the elite and military opportunists allegedly always lurking in the shadows, the more we need politicians to behave themselves, and business tycoons like Thaksin to provide "help" strictly from the sidelines.

There are other ways to "help" the nation. By paying taxes to begin with. Billions of baht in taxes can go a long way in improving many poor people's lives. Rich businessmen don't need to get too ambitious or too patriotic. Just paying all the taxes due will do.

Thaksin said sorry to his family, but he didn't say sorry to the nation, apparently because he didn't think he had done anything wrong except to be too stubborn in his "ambition" to serve the country. He must have known the law as well as the 1997 constitution, which sought to prevent company magnates like him from getting into politics, but he had chosen to sneak in - and the rest is history.

Thaksin, after the court ruling, complained that Thailand's justice system was picking on him. That has been the excuse he and his apologists have been using all along. Everyone cheats on taxes, they say. Everyone hides something illegally somewhere, more or less. Everyone tries to find legal loopholes and exploit them.
That's true. Many people have been doing what Thaksin and his family did, albeit on a different scale altogether. There is one big difference, though. "Everyone" is not the prime minister. Thaksin was. "Everyone" is cheating on taxes as a businessman or office worker and the law is probably discriminatory when it comes to dealing with them.

Of course, Thaksin was picked on, but he was "picked on" because he was prime minister. And he has been unable to give us a convincing reason why prime ministers should not be singled out when it comes to this kind of legal and moral maelstrom.

Why is zeroing in on prime ministers over matters like this bad for Thailand? One may say look around and see what has been happening to this country ever since Thaksin was picked on. Again, it's true that the past few years have been miserable, but the question to ask is whether it was miserable because Thaksin was picked on, or because he chose to be in the wrong place and so stubbornly refused to admit it. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

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