Street demonstrations clogging once again the streets of Bangkok in response to the Peur Thai coalition’s “Amnesty” bills as pushed through parliament in the dead of night a week earlier, have not only forced a humiliating government back down, but spurred political commentary. Included are comments from Ji Giles Ungpakorn, former politics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University and now living in exile as fugitive from the Less Majesty law*.

Today we posted a suggestion for an amnesty over the non deadly election irregularities last weekend in Chiang Mai and now we present a response to Ji’s commentary:

Ji, describes recent events and the struggles for power of Red Shirts vs Peur Thai and others as a soap opera and states : “who believe in democracy and human rights should not be diverted by this ridiculous soap opera”.

However that is precisely what is happening. Take for example the case of Voranai Vanijaka political columnist from the Bangkok Post. One might well agree with what he writes about the sad state of affairs in Thailand as he points out the mind numbing “education” system and the entrenched corruption that plagues the country. But this time he comes to the conclusion that the best way to end the soap opera is to exile Thaksin for good full stop.

But just as Voranai is completely off the mark, Ji in his conclusion which emphasizes the need to repeal the Less Majesty law, has failed to come to grips with other issues central to the country’s woes, viz the utter failure to build a system of justice to replace the cruel and violent system of retribution and murder of the police, courts, judges and the “Corrections Department”.

As Ji has pointed out in earlier writings prison over crowding is obscene and capital punishment is still on the law books, with Abhisit taking advantage of his term in office to have prisoners executed. This should surely have been taken as a warning by the Red Shirts of Ratchaprasong. To its credit the Peur Thai government has recognised the prisons are failing and announced an early  release scheme to ease over crowding, and the building of more prisons. But as with its clumsy amnesty bill, Peur Thai has failed to develop a solution which resolves the issues at hand. Our crowded jails result from a number of factors including a corrupt police force and  cruel judges, neither of which can be cured overnight.

However a further factor is the unimaginative sentencing regime, which relies on long terms of imprisonment for offenders who represent no threat to society.  Present day offenses such as less majesty or criminal libel, should  certainly be wiped off the books and a bill of rights be enacted in their place.  Many would argue the same for the offense of having possession of small amounts of “illicit” drugs for personal use, or for growing opium poppies, or for seeking an abortion for unwanted pregnancy. But while reactionary forces such as the palace and Buddhist clergy remain so strong, and the malign influence of the USA with its insistence using  war, rather than peaceful means of addressing what it sees as problems remain strong, resolution of these issues is likely to involve a long, slow process. On the other hand the parliament could change the sentencing laws to remove custodial sentences for most offenses and replace them with a combination of fines and terms of community service. This reform would free thousands to return to contribute to society and to family life and should be retrospective.

So for example if Ji were to return to Thailand and be given bail, as there would be no risk of flight, and then found guilty of insulting any of the gang of three, he would be neither jailed, flogged nor hung. Nor would he be made a pauper, but instead he might be deprived the right of holidays to Majorca for three years. Further he may be required to restrict his travel to his home province and there do ten hours community labor every week, such as cleaning litter and drains, or more pleasant activities such as planting and tending trees and caring for a local national park with community volunteers. And this suggestion is not so very radical as only last year young men from a juvenile detention center in Chiang Mai came and helped community spirited monks just as suggested.

In conclusion to return to the issue of Khun Thaksin raised by Khun Voranai above. Applying this correction regime in Thaksin’s case would keep him well away from the hateful crowds of Bangkok, but have him both contributing to the life of the province whence he came, and undergoing an experience much more beneficial to his character than the high life of an international citizen, that being reform through labor.

* Note: Here we use English spelling Less Majesty to render a term usually spelt in French ,  complete with grave and accute accents , describing Clause 112 of the Thai criminal code. Sounds almost like correct French, and captures the meaning of the term.