Last week the two "pillars of democracy" averted a disastrous head-on collision. Had Parliament re-elected Samak Sundaravej as prime minister in spite of his disqualification by the Constitution Court, I might have had to write this on the run, and you could have been reading this in a bunker. The close call, however, led us to today's sparring match by the two branches, which we should be happy and thankful about. Thaksin out, Somchai Wongsawat in. Hello Square One.
My heartfelt sympathy, though, if you are the parent of a curious 12-year-old doing his/her political science homework. But then again, what could be a better example of democratic checks and balances? When we were kids, we were told about the three institutions - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - counter-balancing one another, only to witness first-hand how they always worked in cahoots. Today's children are luckier, and they will grow up to be far smarter adults.
No one is too old to learn, however, and the two forms of governance being advertised in Thailand are catching the eye of political students around the world. The first school should be called the "Ballot Box Is Our Holy Grail". It preaches that there is no political evil that cannot be dealt with as long as people are allowed a free vote and government is set up according to the results. The second school perceives voting as a little less constructive and sacred - more like the hype or buzz that creates a pop star who might as well be a child molester.
The "Ballot Box Is Where Crooks Hide" second school seeks to empower the judiciary. The competing doctrines have tried to use different approaches and logic to undermine each other. If you are a believer in the first school, Thaksin is among thousands of hit-and-run offenders caught by anti-celebrity law enforcers and judged by a court prejudiced against him because of his popularity. To advocates of the second school, hit-and-run violators are caught and put in jail every day, but Thaksin is attempting to use his superstar status to get off the hook.
It's funny, though, that both schools highlight claims that the rule of law has not been applied equally. It could be funnier if Thaksin the Superstar is convicted; it could be described as a triumph of "elites" in imposing their rule of law against the will of the underprivileged. And it could be funniest that, to many who insist that democracy and equality are the same thing, Thaksin's conviction will be a glaring injustice.
So much for irony. But sadistic political pundits say that to really put Thailand on the world map of political lunacy, nothing can beat the scenario in which the court acquits Thaksin today. Yes, an acquittal will leave everyone in stitches, except the man who fled to England claiming a "dictatorial" judiciary with "no credibility" whatsoever was out to get him. His answer to the question "Do you still think the Thai courts have no credibility?" will become the most sought-after, priceless political gem.
But acquitting him and his wife requires the best legal brains. With precedents having been laid down on the constitutional legitimacy of the Assets Examination Committee, an acquittal verdict needs to refute the prosecution's damning evidence that: 1) the Financial Institutions Development Fund was a state agency under Thaksin's supervision and influence; 2) Thaksin knowingly endorsed his wife's purchase of the Ratchadaphisek land put on auction by the FIDF; and 3) the transaction violated laws on conflicts of interests and put the state at a disadvantage.
Somchai's election as new prime minister will fly in the face of a Thaksin guilty verdict. The first school will hail his ascendancy as democracy's inspiring defiance, and the London fugitive will promote it as a parliamentary snub to the courts. The second school, on the other hand, will point to Somchai's rise as the main reason why every democracy needs a strong judiciary.
There's probably nothing we can do except toast the great divide and wish that long may it continue. After all, if you start to think that Thailand's political crisis sounds like the chicken and the egg question with each passing day, at least you can congratulate yourself for being a step closer to illumination, because there is little else you can do about it.