One hurdle down but more are to come for Yingluck

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 July, 2011, 12:00am
 

The electoral win of Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the Puea Thai party, was finally endorsed by the Election Commission on Tuesday. After a week of political manoeuvring and widespread rumours of a 'judicial coup', Yingluck is now on her way to become Thailand's first female prime minister.

She is able to cross this hurdle now, but more obstacles lie ahead. Clearly, she will have no time to enjoy her political honeymoon.

First is how Yingluck will tackle the reconciliation issue. If Yingluck wishes Thailand to move forward, then she must look back to the recent past and 'clean up' the wrongdoings at the hand of state authorities. The best reconciliation must take place alongside justice. In this process, according to Thai historian Thongchai Winichakul, there are certain steps which Yingluck must take.

As her priority, she needs to urgently modify the Independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, set up to investigate the deadly confrontations between anti-government protesters and the military that took place in April and May last year, in which scores of protesters were killed and many more injured.

The essential changes must start with empowering the commission to access evidence from all sides, including the army and police, to investigate military and police personnel, and to be able to summons them all to testify.

The investigations must be carried out in a transparent manner and attended by independent observers. New members should be appointed in the commission and some old members removed to ensure its impartiality. The commission must also set a fixed time frame for it to report preliminary findings to the public even if the investigation is continuing.

Yet, the most difficult part will be uncovering facts and setting criteria for punishment. Those officers who acted on orders might be considered for pardon if found guilty. Others should receive a fair trial. At the same time, those who were involved in misleading the public must also be punished. The targets here are those who made decisions and gave orders.

In reality, can this be done? Probably not. It is highly unlikely state authorities will come forward and admit their wrongdoings, since in so doing they would damage their own interests.

It is also unlikely for the Puea Thai to punish those who committed crimes because this would enrage the powerful elite, thus opening a door for them to intervene in politics. Why should Puea Thai make itself vulnerable when coexistence with the military and the traditional elite is the preferred option?

The other major obstacle is the issue of amnesty. Will Yingluck consider action to offer amnesty to her brother, former prime minister Thaksin? After all, he has been convicted on corruption charges and is still on the run from Thai authorities.

Bringing Thaksin back and granting him an amnesty would almost certainly provoke his enemies to retaliate against the Yingluck government. Thaksin has remained popular, but he has also been a divisive figure. Why would the Puea Thai want to jeopardise its position by going all out to protect the interest of one man?

How far an amnesty should extend is also a matter of debate. Thaksin might have supported the idea of amnesty for himself. But the pro-Thaksin 'red shirts' would definitely reject amnesty if this could mean also setting free those who were responsible for the deaths of the demonstrators. On the other hand, the security agencies might endorse the amnesty if it means letting themselves off the hook for their deadly crackdown against the red shirts.

Yingluck must find a way to deal with different groups representing different agendas and interests. She will be given very little time to prove her determination and leadership. Her adversaries are waiting to see her stumble.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

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