By: Our Correspondent

The
prison sentence handed down to ex-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra is just one part of the present Thai political crisis.
Thaksin was found guilty of a "conflict of
interest" because he was Prime Minister at the time when his
wife bought a piece of land at a knock-down price from the Thai
state. The land originated from bankruptcies in the 1997 economic
crisis.

Earlier
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was found guilty of appearing on a TV
cooking program and forced to resign. Samak was head of the Peoples
Power Party (PPP), the descendant of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party
(TRT) which was dissolved by the courts during the time of the
military junta.

It
is interesting to note that Thaksin's wife was not found guilty of
any corruption by the courts, nor was the organization that held the
land auction. This means that there is no evidence that the price
paid for the land was below market rates or artificially depressed.

We
need to look at the context of the court rulings. We are in the
middle of a deep political crisis caused by an inter-elite conflict.
One side of this conflict is made up of politicians who believe in
parliamentary democracy, but do not respect human rights (Thaksin's
TRT and PPP).

On
the other side are politicians of the Democrat Party, bureaucrats,
army generals, the ultra-right wing PAD protestors and members of the
Royal Family, especially the Queen. This side wants to decrease the
democratic space in Thailand. Their excuse is that they believe that
the poor are too stupid to deserve the vote. The poor majority, both
urban and rural, have consistently voted for TRT's universal health
care scheme and the government's grass-roots Keynesian policies. They
reject the monetarism of the Democrat Party and the Sufficiency
Economy.

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The
Thai courts have never been independent. Today they serve the elite
faction which is against Thaksin. During Thaksin's time they served
him. It is easy to punish an ex-prime minister, exiled in the United
Kingdom. In the meantime, the widespread corruption among all
politicians of all parties and among the military top brass is
untouched. There are numerous land accusations against former
ministers, prime ministers and generals. The junta that overthrew an
elected government in 2006 and then appointed themselves to the
boards of lucrative state enterprises are not being brought to
account for abuse of power or corruption.

Today
in Thailand, every public institution is compromised by double
standards. This includes the Royal Family, the courts, the media and
most of academia. That is why the PAD protestors are allowed to
occupy Government House and organized armed protests, attacking
police with weapons.

This
is not about a strengthened civil society asserting its democratic
rights. The PAD have powerful backers which allow it to break the
law. Meanwhile the King has remained silent. Is this a sign of his
lonstanding weakness? Yes, I think it is. But others believe that he
supports the PAD. There is no concrete evidence to back this up,
however. One cannot just assume that because the Queen supports the
PAD, that the monarchy does too.

The
Thai public who are outside the minority supporters of the PA, are
angry and becoming more and more disenchanted with the elites. Many
royalists were shocked that the Queen supported the PAD. But this
public does not have a voice. They were passive voters for the
government. Nevertheless, some government politicians are trying to
mobilisz people. These are the Red Shirts, as opposed to the PAD
Yellow Shirts. Yellow is the color of the King. But the Red Shirts
are not socialists and only a fraction are republicans at the moment.

The
courts are helping to do what perhaps the military cannot. They are
pushing towards a civilian coup to topple the elected government.
They may dissolve the governing party. Then there will be
extra-constitutional moves to set up a special national government.
The constitution will be changed to decrease the voting rights of the
poor, if these elites get their way.

The
only hope for Thai democracy is if civil society groups and academics
refuse to take sides in this damaging conflict. We need to expand
democracy and build a third alternative, independent from the TRT-PPP
or the PAD-authoritarians. Unfortunately most Thai academics have
disgraced themselves by their double standards. The hope must lie
with some sections of the NGO movement, students, the Left and the
more advanced trade union activists.

Giles
Ji Ungpakorn is a political science professor at Chulalongkorn
University.