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Thailand's PM Ready to Move on Reforms - 2001-08-04


Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says he is ready to move ahead with reforms, one day after the country's Constitutional Court cleared him of graft charges. But the court decision has raised concerns about the court ruling's implications for the country's constitution and the transparency of the political process.

The court's 15 judges, in a narrow 8-7 decision Friday, cleared Mr. Thaksin of charges he had deliberately sought to conceal millions of dollars in assets while serving in a previous government in 1997. Mr. Thaksin denied wrongdoing and said his failure to declare assets was the result of an honest mistake.

Mr. Thaksin said in a radio speech that the court case, which began in April, had caused Thailand "to waste time and be caught up in uncertainty." If Mr. Thaksin had been found guilty, the penalty would have been a five year ban from holding political office.

The case followed a National Counter Corruption Commission investigation, which accused the prime minister of concealing millions of dollars of his wealth by allocating large parcels of his companies' shares to personal staff, including maids and drivers. The Securities Exchange of Thailand - the country's stockmarket watchdog - is said to be investigating any violations of exchange trading laws, which could lead to civil charges against Mr. Thaksin.

While supporters of Mr. Thaksin celebrated the court decision, some observers and newspaper editorials struck a note of caution. The English language newspaper, the Nation, under a front page headline "Murky Verdict Clears Thaksin" said the court's decision appeared to be a political, rather than a judicial one. The newspaper also called for the judges to provide full details of the reasons for their decision.

The Bangkok Post said a back cloud still hangs over the rule of law under Thailand's 1997 constitution.

The current Thai constitution was written under political pressures from the 1992 street protests against a military-installed prime minister and after calls for a more transparent political process. The Bangkok Post said Thailand and its people had fought hard through decades for a more transparent political system where the rule of law is above that of individuals - no matter who that might be.

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