The former chairperson of the Constitution Court, Prasert Nasakul, has died of heart disease, aged 78 (Bangkok Post, July 11). He belonged to the minority judges who found then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra guilty of asset concealment. Since the verdict was 8:7 in his favor, Thaksin was allowed to stay on in office (probably correctly, from a legal point of view)–with the known results that still haunt Thailand today. Thailand’s present situation is very different from what Thaksin had anticipated some time before his election. At an English-language seminar in April 2000, when asked what distinguished his Thai Rak Thai party from all the others, he chuckled somewhat and said, “I am the new hope of Thailand. I am the new hope of Thailand” (indeed, he was perceived as such by broad sectors of the Bangkok and up-country population).
After the verdict, Thaksin expressed his high degree of understanding of a democratic order, the rule of law, and the difference between a presidential and parliamentary system with the words:
It’s strange that the leader who was voted by 11 million people had to bow to the ruling of the National Counter Corruption Commission and the verdict of the Constitutional Court, two organizations composed only of appointed commissioners and judges, whom people did not have a chance to chose. This is a crucial point that we missed. In the USA, only a congressional process can impeach a president. (Bangkok Post, August 5, 2001).
In his words of thanks, Thaksin implicitly also accused the minority judges of having him done injustice. He said,
Today, I have to thank the majority judges, who have given me justice. Consequently, a non-corrupt person does not have to leave politics. (Krungthep Thurakit, August 4, 2001).
That not all had been squeaky clean with the verdict was clear from the beginning. The Bangkok Post (August 4, 2001) wrote,
A court source said two judges in the majority had made a last-minute change at the request of a person who has considerable clout, just one day before the court cast its formal vote. ‘I was forced to swallow my blood while writing this,’ the source quoted one of the judges as saying.
Obviously, in the morning deliberations of the verdict, two judges held the opinion that the constitution’s relevant article could indeed be applied to Thaksin. In the afternoon session, however, they suddenly changed their views, thereby providing a majority in favor of Thaksin, enabling him to stay on in office. After the verdict, Prasert Nasakul was quoted as having said,
Actually, I had certain things I wished I could tell you reporters without being asked. ‘But the truth could put you in danger…,’ said Mr Prasert without elaborating. (Bangkok Post, September 9, 2001).
One wonders whether Prasert has taken “the truth” into his grave (or urn). As the Bangkok Post (July 11, 2009) pointed out,
His integrity was tested when a certain highly-respected figure sounded him out about the outcome of the trial and asked him if his stand on some aspects of his deliberations should be reconsidered. Without the slightest hesitation, Prasert maintained that his opinions of the proceedings would conform to the law and nothing less.
So, were the “person who has considerable clout” and “a certain highly-respected figure” the same person? And who was it? Characteristically, PAD’s ASTV Phuchatkan (July 16, 2009) used its obituary to bash Thaksin. Although the paper mentions that Prasert acted daringly, but curiously it manages not to tell its readers what the nature of his daring behavior was, how it related to the actions of at least two fellow judges, and who the individual was that prompted Prasert to be brave.