It was too late coming, but the government’s decision to bare all about the controversial and highly secretive royal pardon has eased political tensions and averted unnecessary political confrontation.
It took five days of political high tension, plus a letter from fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra saying that he does not want special treatment from the royal pardon, before Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Pracha Promnok finally felt the heat and decided to come clean publicly about the controversial decree.
Pol Gen Pracha had kept a tip lip since the cabinet last Tuesday endorsed the draft royal decree despite the fact that, as the justice minister, he is in charge of the annual request for royal clemency for prisoners which is traditional feature of the King’s Birthday celebrations.
He finally told a press conference on Sunday that there had been widespread misunderstanding about the decree.
He declared that the government’s draft pardon was a copy of the one crafted by the previous Democrat administration and retains all the long-standing conditions that prisoners have to meet in order to be eligible for a royal pardon.
These include prisoners must be between and 60-69 years old; prisoners aged 70 or more should be freed unless they are serving life imprisonment; prisoners convicted of drug trafficking charges or corruption are excluded from a royal pardon.
In other words, the deputy prime minister wanted all the government’s critics and doubters as well as anti-Thaksin groups to believe that the government had not deviated from the traditional norm in the drafting of the clemency decree, and that all the talk about the decree being especially written to help Thaksin to evade a jail term was just a “misunderstanding”. The people were “confused”, as all governments are so fond of saying.
He also insisted that every previous government had treated the royal clemency as a confidential issue.
Given the widely recognised legal principle of giving the benefit doubt to the defendants, we should give Pol Gen Pracha the benefit of doubt and believe his words, especially those about the content of the decree and that Thaksin’s letter had nothing to do with his decision to tell all about the decree.
After all, none of all the government’s critics or the protesters have ever seen the wording of the decree. Even the media which first exposed the issue did not see it. They based on their reports on leaks from some cabinet ministers who attended the secretive meeting last Tuesday and were told to keep their collective mouths shut.
But if Deputy Prime Minister Pracha is being honest about the content of the decree as he implied, then he must be very politically insensitive, as it would then appear that he had not felt the political heat.
Had he been more transparent and reacted more quickly, the building political uproar could have been allayed much sooner. Moreover, he should have spared the skin of his colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who was being blamed and accused of being instrumental in pushing for a royal pardon for Thaksin.
Now, with Thaksin himself declaring his position on a royal pardon issue and the government’s clear back-tracking on the decree, the royal pardon will most likely go through in time for the celebration of His Majesty the King’s 64th birthday anniversary on Dec 5 and some 26,000 prisoners will benefit from it.
Back to Thaksin’s letter in which he, again, enjoined people – in three words of English this time – to “forgive and forget” so that the country can be reconciled and move forward. I agree only with the first “F” – that is to forgive. As for second “F”, which is to forget, I think that it is essential we do not forget our major mistakes and national tragedies, so that they serve as a valuable lesson not to repeat them. But we should not take revenge.
As for Thaksin himself. We should ask ourselves whether it makes any sense at all that we have to fight one another and put the country as risk for just a single individual? Can the country not move forward without us bickering about him? Can this country overcome the Thaksin issue?
This is a critical moment. There is still a lot that needs to be done to deal with the great flood and its aftermath. This country needs unity and the cooperation of all parties, regardless of their political affiliations and loyalties.
It is more fitting that the highly divisive Thaksin issue, which has provoked political division every time it rears its ugly head, be set aside for now — until we are ready to discuss it in a peaceful and nonconfrontational manner.