The House of Representatives yesterday narrowly averted doing what could have been irreparable damage to Thailand's already fragile democracy. Whether it was by intention or sheer luck, the lack of quorum for the urgent House session to name a new prime minister spared Thailand an explosive showdown between two fundamental pillars of our political system - the legislature and the judiciary. The two branches have been on a collision course, but if Samak Sundaravej had been re-elected yesterday, the result could have been catastrophic.
For all the turmoil we have been facing, nobody wants to see the ultimate clash between the justice system and Parliament. Such a war would doom both sides, and eventually our democracy. With the executive branch already in limbo, an internecine battle between judges and MPs would simply fulfil the pessimistic prediction that a democracy based on checks and balances has no place in our nation.
On Thursday night, Samak reportedly described himself as a victim of dark influences. Whereas we can sympathise with him for the "honest mistake" that led him to host the TV cooking shows, we cannot accept the typical "It's-a-conspiracy-against-me" attitude that Thai politicians affect every time they are caught doing something they shouldn't be doing. Samak slipped up and he should have simply admitted it to allow Thai democracy to go on.
Thailand's judiciary has been given the uphill task of restoring the rule of law and in the process it has been facing an avalanche of international scorn and contempt. The cases against Thaksin Shinawatra, his alleged accomplices in corruption, and Samak have not been scrutinised according to their legal merit, but rather Western critics have equated them to political persecution. The weakened credibility of the Thai courts will only benefit the man seeking exile in England, who has been telling the world that he is an innocent politician hounded out of the country simply because he was too popular.
The truth is Thaksin has been hiding behind the "election side" of democracy. His popularity with the poor, his two election victories and his argument that his party would "definitely win again" have been propagated to great effect to blur the facts that his wife definitely broke the tax law, that nominees were used in many unscrupulous deals by his family, and that he and his wife may have violated many laws in their purchase of state-auctioned land. There are other cases, like the scandalous decision to grant government loans from Thailand to the Burmese junta, which would in turn buy equipment from Thaksin's telecom empire, that should have made their way to the courts or impeachment committees while he was in power.
Thaksin spurned and even interfered with the justice system when he was prime minister. Samak, his self-confessed "nominee" when the coup-makers allowed a return to democracy, wanted to endorse Thaksin's "conspiracy" claims and tried to obstruct the coup-initiated justice process through constitutional amendments. The nominee himself then became a target and it was hardly a surprise when he was caught having a minor conflict of interest due to the TV deals.
The truth is that Thaksin, Samak and their publicists accuse the other side of being undemocratic while they themselves refuse to embrace democracy in its full package. And by trying to undermine the only pillar that could counterbalance the power of the ballot box, they could be seen as advocating a weird kind of democracy, one in which the judiciary plays no role and the chance of getting away with political crimes relies on how many hands you have in Parliament.
It's too early to tell if certain coalition allies and factions in the ruling People Power Party have come to their senses. There are several other possible reasons why they shied away from the urgent House session yesterday. They could have feared turmoil. They could have been afraid that a new Samak government would be short-lived. Or there could have been some blackmailing or horse-trading going on. We still don't know how many of those who boycotted yesterday's session did it out of the ultimate rationale that without a reliable and respectable judiciary, Thailand's democracy is nothing.
The matter will be clearer on Wednesday, when MPs are scheduled to meet again to decide the contentious questions surrounding Samak Sundaravej, the election mandate and the role of the judiciary. It will not be just about electing a new prime minister; the MPs will be voting to determine if our nation will ever be able to get out of phoney democracy and start dreaming for a more solid one.