Thaksin's return poses a test for Thailand

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 February, 2008, 12:00am

Ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is a politically polarising figure. As his return to Thailand yesterday after 17 months in self-imposed exile showed, he is either loved or loathed.

Supporters, including members of the ruling People Power Party (PPP), jubilantly gave him a red-carpet welcome at Bangkok's new airport. Detractors cringed at the thought that his return meant not just his setting foot again on Thai soil, but the beginning of a political comeback.

Thaksin has denied that politics is the motive for his return. He contends that he wants to clear his name of corruption charges, which have resulted in the freezing of his bank accounts.

The billionaire's kissing of the ground on arrival yesterday could be viewed in political terms. Given that he is the country's richest person, is closely allied to the PPP and was ousted in a coup, all that he does or says is analysed for clues as to his intentions.

However Thaksin's actions and words are interpreted, though, his return raises an important issue for the country: a test of the rule of law. How the charges against him are dealt with by the judicial system and the reaction to the rulings by supporters and detractors alike will determine the state of Thailand's post-coup democracy.

For the nation's sake, politics cannot be allowed to enter into the Supreme Court's decisions. The charges against Thaksin are of a criminal nature; they have to be dealt with accordingly.

Similarly, the violent anti-Thaksin street protests that brought the capital to a standstill and led, in part, to the military seizing power, cannot be tolerated.

Protests are a legitimate - and important - part of democracy, but those participating must respect the law. And the coup leaders have to live up to their pledge to stay out of politics.

Thailand's democracy is young. Tough work lies ahead for Thais in shaping it so that it best serves their country.

That Thaksin is treated fairly by the courts and that judgments are respected by his supporters and opponents is critical to Thailand's democratic evolution.



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