Impunity for the rich and powerful undermines Thailand’s democracy

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Thailand is a country where the harmonious façade is deeply cherished yet the grim reality of unequal justice frequently breaks through. The saga of Vorayuth “Boss” Yoovidhya, the Red Bull heir accused in a fatal 2012 hit-and-run incident, paints a vivid portrait of an entrenched system that seems to favor the wealthy elite at the expense of everyday citizens. The National Anti-Corruption Commission’s recent accusation of 15 officials for alleged misconduct in dropping charges against Vorayuth adds another layer to an already complex tapestry of injustice and corruption.

The charges against Vorayuth, initially dropped in July 2020 but later reinstated following public outrage, exemplify a pattern of authority figures turning a blind eye to the crimes committed by the privileged. High-ranking officers such as former national police chief Pol Gen Somyot Poompanmoung and former deputy attorney-general Nate Naksuk, among others, stand accused of bending the rules to favor the scion of one of Thailand’s wealthiest families. Although not all were accused of grave offenses, the message is clear: if you have the right connections, the law may not apply to you in the same way it does to others.

Such actions tarnish not just the reputation of law enforcement agencies but corrode the very fabric of democracy. This isn’t a solitary case. Remember the infamous “Hi-So” crimes—cases involving high-society individuals who seem virtually untouchable? One glaring example is the case of Orachorn “Praewa” Devahastin Na Ayudhya, who at the age of 16 caused a fatal car crash that killed nine people. Despite the gravity of the accident, Praewa faced minimal consequences, leaving the victims’ families haunted by a haunting question: Is justice in Thailand only for those who can’t afford to evade it?

When such gross injustices occur, it perpetuates the belief that Thailand’s society is neither free nor fair. It feeds into the disillusionment that prompts the younger generation to take to the streets, demanding reforms that seem ever more distant. The insidiousness of this inequality goes beyond the immediate victims; it erodes trust in the institutions meant to uphold fairness and protect the rights of all citizens. When the law bends for the wealthy, it breaks for everyone else.

Nowhere is this impunity more glaring than in the lack of justice for those who have overturned Thailand’s democratic institutions. Over the years, Thailand has witnessed multiple coups, with the military taking power and overthrowing elected governments. Figures, like General Prayuth Chan-o-cha who led the 2014 coup and later became the Prime Minister, have not only escaped repercussions but have been rewarded. When coup-makers walk free, it sends a message that the ultimate crime against a democratic society goes unpunished. This devalues the very concept of democracy and makes a mockery of the rule of law.

It is tragic to see the ideals of democracy undermined by a dual system of justice—one for the elite and another for the common man. As long as impunity for the wealthy and powerful continues, the dream of a truly democratic Thailand remains a distant mirage.

The greatest impunity of all lies not just in evading justice for traffic offenses or financial crimes but in the brazen overthrow of a nation’s democratic institutions without facing any legal consequences.

Until Thailand confronts this systemic failure, the scales of justice will remain woefully imbalanced, and the promise of a free and fair society will linger as an unfulfilled dream.


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