The Economist had an article in 2002
"A new orderAs of today, 7 years later, everything was just like every Thais expected. When Thai people says let the karma gets them, it proved that Thai justice system had fail people once more.
Feb 28th 2002
From The Economist print edition
Thailand's 16th constitution provides the perfect guide to stability and
prosperity, says Edward McBride. Now all the country has to do is live up to it.
AS MURDER investigations go, the killing of Suvichai Rodwimud seemed quite straightforward. The unfortunate police sergeant-major was shot dead in full view of dozens of revellers at Club Twenty, a Bangkok nightspot. Although the bar is normally dimly lit, the manager, according to most accounts, had turned up the lights just before the shooting. That gave patrons a chance to see Duangchalerm Yubamrung, an officer in the Thai military supreme command, having
a furious row with Mr Suvichai. Allegedly he then drew a gun and shot him in the head. The police say they have plenty of witnesses.
Many Thais find this easy enough to believe. Mr Duangchalerm and his two brothers are notorious rowdies who have been accused of involvement in nine previous violent incidents in the past four years. Yet most Thais also doubt that justice will be done. In a recent poll, only 13% thought the courts would handle the case fairly. A full 62% expected political interference. To this day, the rich and well-connected, Thais seem to believe, can literally get away with
Mr Duangchalerm's father, Chalerm Yubamrung, is the political boss of Thonburi, a suburb of Bangkok, and a former police officer. At the time of the shooting, he was deputy leader of one of the parties in the present coalition government. His three sons all landed plum jobs, despite their reputation: Mr Duangchalerm, for example, had worked in the defence minister's office. Several court cases against the trio have come to nothing. No wonder so many Thais fear that this case, too, will vanish into thin air. Mr Duangchalerm did, after all, manage to flee the scene, despite the presence of many policemen; indeed, one officer was charged with accompanying him off the premises. Immediately after the murder, the local press carried reports that
both the armed forces and Mr Chalerm knew where the suspect was, but a few days later everyone suddenly denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. Military officials loudly questioned the civilian authorities' right to arrest or try Mr Duangchalerm.
Mr Chalerm announced that a member of his son's entourage, who had also vanished, was the real killer, and produced witnesses to dispute the earlier claim that the lights at the murder scene had been turned up. He also says he has misplaced two guns he owns, of the same calibre as the murder weapon. Meanwhile, reports emerged that the accused had slipped across the border to Cambodia. His family, at any rate, suddenly took to visiting Cambodia at weekends. The crime took place at the end of October, yet four months later, as this survey went to press, Mr Duangchalerm remained at large. Ordinary Thais' anger at the handling of the case is spilling out in chat shows, letters pages and online discussion forums. Several senators have demanded an
inquiry. Angry citizens handed out stickers reading "Fight for Suvichai " in central Bangkok. A public appeal quickly netted 1.15m baht on behalf of the dead policeman's widow and child. One group of protesters even held a public ceremony to curse the Yubamrung family.
Here we go again. One reason people are so upset is that Thailand is supposed to have put this sort of thing behind it. From the 1950s until a few years ago, an unaccountable and unscrupulous elite of politicians, soldiers and bureaucrats had run the country for their own benefit. They got away with it because for the better part of 50 years the economy was growing at a blistering average of over 7% a year.
But with that economic growth came an expanding middle class that began to resent the rickety coalitions, the coups and the corruption. In 1992, a military strongman's attempt to suppress student demonstrations and install himself as prime minister prompted a vigorous campaign for political reform. A new constitution was drafted in 1997, just as Thailand's economy collapsed. The baht lost half its value, half the country's loans turned sour and output plummeted.
In the wake of this disaster, politicians did not dare resist the adoption of the new constitution, even though it was designed to curb their excesses. It incorporated a battery of checks and balances to prevent those in power from abusing it. It also gave ordinary people an arsenal of new provisions to defend their rights and enforce the rule of law.
At first glance, the Duangchalerm case raises doubts about how far Thailand has travelled along the road to fair and transparent governance. Admirable as the new constitution is on paper (in this instance, a special aspen-wood parchment), it seems to make little difference in practice. Yet optimists see progress of a sort. Even five or ten years ago, they think, this kind of incident would have been hushed up; now embarrassed politicians have sworn to see justice done. According to Phongthep Thepkanjana, the minister of justice, the case will be a test of the reforms instigated by the new constitution. Naturally, he wants the system to acquit itself well.
There are other heartening signs. The high command, anxious to distance itself from the furore, quickly sacked Mr Duangchalerm for absenteeism, and conceded that the rules granting soldiers special privileges on arrest needed updating. An earlier investigation into claims that the Yubamrung brothers had dodged the draft was reopened. Mr Chalerm's wife resigned from her job as a judge. Her
husband surrendered his party posts. He retains his seat in parliament, but the pundits agree that his political career is over. The policeman accused of helping Mr Duangchalerm escape was suspended, and the suspect's two brothers are being put on trial for impeding his arrest at the scene of the crime. Prosecutors have launched a case against Mr Duangchalerm in absentia, and are putting witnesses' testimony on the record before anybody has second thoughts.
However this particular case turns out, reform-minded Thais obviously have a clear idea of how such matters should be dealt with. They argue that without the firm, efficient and impartial application of the law, Thailand will struggle to regain its earlier prosperity. Politicians will find ways to evade the new constitution's strictures; crooked bankers and businessmen will cook the books and resist restructuring; pressing problems, such as the spread of AIDS and a surge in drug abuse, will be neglected; and the frustrated citizens, aware of
their rights but unable to enforce them, will take to the streets.
Such are the risks; but they are not unavoidable. In fact, Thailand's 16th constitution offers a minutely detailed blueprint to prevent such calamities.