Archive for July 14th, 2008

Week 568 – Sunday,2008-07-13: Nobody Is Above the Law – Also in Politics

Posted on 14 July 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 568 |

The past week has been another challenge to observe and to compare: to observe and to compare how two different societies react to related – but different – affairs. Two affairs will be used for the comparison: the first again, like in the last three weeks, related to the Preah Vihear temple, and the second related to elections – or more precisely: to allegations of irregularities in elections.

While still many voices in Cambodia speak about the “victory” of Cambodia over Thai claims on the Preah Vihear temple, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Noppadon Pattama, who had conducted the negotiations with the Cambodian representatives, resigned on 10 July 2008 from his position. He did not resign because Thailand “lost” anything – he resigned after the Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled, with 8 to 1 votes, that the signature of Mr. Noppadon to the Joint Communique on 18 June 2008 was a violation of Article 190 of the Thai constitution. And this was actually a censure for the whole cabinet which had accepted on 17 June 2008 that the Joint Communique would be signed on 18 June 2008 – the cabinet should have sought parliamentary approval for the Joint Communique, as it is considered to be an international agreement.

This ruling, and many statements of the Thai government and of leaders of the opposition, did in no way deny the ruling of the International Court of Justice of 1962, that “the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” – neither did the new UNESCO World Heritage Site confirm anything about the border between the two countries. It is important to remember that the Cambodian representative, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and the Head of the Cambodian Border Committee, had signed “that the Temple of Preah Vihear be nominated… without at this stage a buffer zone on the northern and western area of the Temple.” And the map presented by the Cambodian side “shall supersede the maps concerning the ‘Schema Directeur…’ and as well as all graphic references… in Cambodia’s nomination file.”

And it continues: “Pending the results of the work of the Joint Commission on Land Boundary(JBC) concerning the northern and western areas surrounding the Temple… the management plan of these areas will be prepared in a concerted manner between the Cambodian and Thai authorities… to be submitted to the Word Heritage Committee… in 2010.”

“The inscription of the Temple of Preah Vihear on the World Heritage List shall be without prejudice to the rights of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Kingdom of Thailand on the demarcation works of the Joint Commission for Land Boundary (JBC) of the two countries.”

However often the claim may be made that now everything is decided and the future is clear is just disregarding the facts. Cambodia has achieved the listing – but the related area is extremely narrow (Section 1 of the new Cambodian map of 18 June 2008, which supersedes the former Cambodian plan). The Cambodian side has signed that the area to the north – along the entrance, where until now also many Cambodian vendors had their shops – is outside of the presently listed area. And the national border in the region is as undecided as it was left open in 1962.

The Thai authorities will, after the Constitutional Court ruling, be more careful in their future actions.

A similar discussion in Cambodia, on the details of what has been proposed and achieved by the Cambodian side will surely happen on the way preparing – “in a concerted manner between the Cambodian and Thai authorities” – a management plan by 2010, for the next meeting of the World Heritage Committee discussion on the Preah Vihear Temple.

Related to another issue, it may be interesting to observe some election related developments in Thailand.

In May 2007 the Thai Constitutional Tribunal found that the Thai Rak Thai party, which had won the majority of votes, had committed massive election fraud, and it was ordered to be dissolved. Its former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who had been ousted as prime minister in the meantime, and 110 party leaders were banned from politics for five years. New elections under an new constitution had led to the formation of the present Thai government.

But the present, new coalition government is facing another serious problem: deputy secretary-general Noppadol Polsue and Kittipong Promchaiyanand, another candidate from the Puea Pandin party, one of the five coalition partners in the government, will probably lose their right as elected member of parliament, after the Thai Election Commission informed the Thai Supreme Court that they should be removed, because they had committed election fraud in the last general elections in December 2007. If the court confirms this accusation, their party is also in danger of being dissolved.

Their crime: they were found guilty of arranging transport for people to attend their campaign rally and handing out cash to voters..

It will be interesting to see how the Cambodian National Election Committee will handle the various complaints already mentioned in the press: cars with government license plates used during party election campaigns, or high class cars with party stickers but without license plates participating in campaigns, apart from allegations of threats, and actual violent handlings, as well as accusations that party activists were violated by being run over by bigger vehicles of another party. One can only hope that the latest report: that a father and son were shot when returning form sports – the father, a politically active journalist died – will not signal the beginning of more violence. Much depends on how the public sees the political leadership reacting to this and other acts of violence.

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