Confirmation of Deputy Minister Thammanat, despite drug conviction, draws derision

FILE PHOTO: The decision to reaffirm Thammanat Prompow has drawn frustrated criticism.

Though not unexpected, the decision on Tuesday to allow Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompow to keep his status in spite of an Australian drug conviction in the 1990s still drew plenty of outrage and backlash. In what some called Thailand’s lowest point, allowing the minister to keep his post may set a damning precedent regarding Thailand’s international obligations such as extradition and recognising the laws of other countries.

(Mr. Thammanat was deported from Australia after serving 4 years for a 6 year heroin trafficking conviction.)

Many argue that allowing a convicted drug criminal abroad to hold public office in Thailand may damage Thailand’s international reputation. Political scientists point to the verdict of the Constitutional Court on Tuesday as undermining Thailand’s legal system and validating loopholes available to the rich and powerful, especially in government.

The controversial deputy minister has been under scrutiny before his conviction, with a no-confidence motion failing last year in Parliament, but his infamy has not seemed to hamper his popularity. He has managed to maintain popularity amongst voters, even being put to work campaigning in the north of Thailand for the Palang Pracharat Party of whom he is a member (after defecting from the Pheu Thai Party in 2016). With success in that region, he was put to work by Palang Pracharat (the political party representing the conservative and ‘military’ views in Thailand) in the south, helping to secure a victory in March in Nakorn Sri Thammarat.

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Still, controversy persists, and online Thai people raged and mocked the lack of justice. The deputy minister had defended the heroin smuggling conviction by claiming “it was flour” and the online community turned that phrase into a viral hashtag. Online commentators posited that his confirmation opens the floodgates for all sorts of convicted criminals abroad to run for public office in Thailand as if what is done outside of the country doesn’t count domestically.

Foreigners, coming to Thailand, are expected to hold to a different standard – a foreign drug conviction would prevent you from being able to enter the Kingdom.

One commenter even mentioned this corruption as a reason that a new Facebook group for Thai people interested in moving abroad saw over 850,000 members join when it was launched.

The ridicule of the decision to allow confirmation of the MP, despite his conviction and served 4 year sentence, comes with melancholy, however, as the Thai population employ dark humour to cope with the feeling that nothing can be done about the corruption of those in power.

Changing anti-drug campaign slogan “let’s fight against drugs” to say “let’s sell drugs”, making references to the “say my name” phrase on TV’s Breaking Bad, and political cartoons paraphrasing the tourism slogan of Las Vegas to “what happens in Australia, stays in Australia” have been popularly shared online.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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