The democratically elected Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, gave a career-defining speech yesterday at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
In this speech she highlighted the forces in Thailand that oppose democracy and the brutal and bloody lengths they will go to in order to secure their illegitimate and continued dominance over the Thai people. We have posted PM Yingluck’s speech below and suggest all read it in its entirety.
Already the former and unelected Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has condemned PM Yingluck’s call for greater democracy in Thailand. This comes as no surprise – Abhisit’s main legacy is of a man committed to the destruction of accountability, the continuation of impunity and the subjugation of the Thai people. As Abhisit has done on several occasions in the past he reveals, once again, his complete lack of understanding of the most basic principles of democracy and rule of law. It is no great surprise he leads a broken party that remains unelectable and unable to carry out its basic democratic duties as the official party of opposition and, instead, is reduced to the worst kind of demagoguery.
Statement of Her Excellency Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 29 April 2013.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Delegates to the Conference, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to begin by expressing my appreciation to His Excellency the President of Mongolia for inviting me to speak at this Conference of the Community of Democracies.
I accepted this invitation not only because I wanted to visit a country that has made many achievements regarding democracy, or to exchange ideas and views on democracy. But I am here also because democracy is so important to me, and more importantly, to the people of my beloved home, Thailand.
Democracy is not a new concept. Over the years, It has brought progress and hope to a lot of people. At the same time, many people have sacrificed their blood and lives in order to protect and build a democracy.
A government of the people, by the people and for the people does not come without a price. Rights, liberties and the belief that all men and women are created equal have to be fought, and sadly, died for.
Why? This is because there are people in this world who do not believe in democracy. They are ready to grab power and wealth through suppression of freedom. This means that they are willing to take advantage of other people without respecting human rights and liberties. They use force to gain submission and abuse the power. This happened in the past and still posed challenges for all of us in the present.
In many countries, democracy has taken a firm root. And it is definitely refreshing to see another wave of democracy in modern times, from Arab Spring to the successful transition in Myanmar through the efforts of President Thein Sein, and also the changes in my own country where the people power in Thailand has brought me here today.
At the regional level, the key principles in the ASEAN Charter are the commitment to rule of law, democracy and constitutional government. However, we must always beware that anti-democratic forces never subside. Let me share my story.
In 1997, Thailand had a new constitution that was created through the participation from the people. Because of this, we all thought a new era of democracy has finally arrived, an era without the cycle of coups d’état.
It was not to be. An elected government which won two elections with a majority was overthrown in 2006. Thailand lost track and the people spent almost a decade to regain their democratic freedom.
Many of you here know that the government I am talking about was the one with my brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as the rightfully elected Prime Minister.
Many who don’t know me say that why complain? It is a normal process that governments come and go. And if I and my family were the only ones suffering, I might just let it be.
But it was not. Thailand suffered a setback and lost international credibility. Rule of law in the country was destroyed. Projects and programmes started by my brother’s government that came from the people’s wishes were removed. The people felt their rights and liberties were wrongly taken away.
Thai means free, and the people of Thailand fought back for their freedom. In May 2010, a crackdown on the protestors, the Red Shirts Movement, led to 91 deaths in the heart of the commercial district of Bangkok.
Many innocent people were shot dead by snipers, and the movement crushed with the leaders jailed or fled abroad. Even today, many political victims remain in jail.
However, the people pushed on, and finally the government then had to call for an election, which they thought could be manipulated. In the end, the will of people cannot be denied. I was elected with an absolute majority.
But the story is not over. It is clear that elements of anti-democratic regime still exist. The new constitution, drafted under the coup leaders led government, put in mechanisms to restrict democracy.
A good example of this is that half of the Thai Senate is elected, but the other half is appointed by a small group of people. In addition, the so called independent agencies have abused the power that should belong to the people, for the benefit of the few rather than to the Thai society at large.
This is the challenge of Thai democracy. I would like to see reconciliation and democracy gaining strength. This can only be achieved through strengthening of the rule of law and due process. Only then will every person from all walks of life can feel confident that they will be treated fairly. I announced this as part of the government policy at Parliament before I fully assumed my duties as Prime Minister.
Moreover, democracy will also promote political stability, providing an environment for investments, creating more jobs and income. And most importantly, I believe political freedom addresses long term social disparities by opening economic opportunities that would lead to reducing the income gap between the rich and the poor.
That is why it is so important to strengthen the grassroots. We can achieve this through education reforms. Education creates opportunities through knowledge, and democratic culture built into the ways of life of the people.
Only then will the people have the knowledge to be able to make informed choices and defend their beliefs from those wishing to suppress them. That is why Thailand supported Mongolia’s timely UNGA resolution on education for democracy.
Also important is closing gaps between rich and poor. Everyone should be given opportunities and no one should be left behind. This will allow the people to become an active stakeholder in building the country’s economy and democracy.
That is why my Government initiated policies to provide the people with the opportunities to make their own living and contribute to the development of our society. Some of these include creating the Women Development Fund, supporting local products and SMEs as well as help raising income for the farmers.
And I believe you need effective and innovative leadership. Effective in implementing rule of law fairly. Innovative in finding creative peaceful solutions to address the problems of the people.
You need leadership not only on the part of governments but also on the part of the opposition and all stakeholders. All must respect the rule of law and contribute to democracy.
Another important lesson we have learnt was that international friends matter. Pressure from countries who value democracy kept democratic forces in Thailand alive. Sanctions and non-recognition are essential mechanisms to stop anti-democratic regimes.
An international forum like Community of Democracies helps sustain democracy, seeking to promote and protect democracy through dialogue and cooperation. More importantly, if any country took the wrong turn against the principle of democracy, all of us here need to unite to pressure for change and return freedom o the people.
I will always support the Community of Democracies and the work of the Governing Council. I also welcome the President’s Asian Partnership Initiative for Democracy and will explore how to extend our cooperation with it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to end my statement by declaring that, I hope that the sufferings of my family, the families of the political victims, and the families of the 91people, who lost their lives in defending democracy during the bloodshed in May2010, will be the last.
Let us continue to support democracy so that the rights and liberties of all human beings will be protected for future generations to come!
It’s been another terrible week for Thai democracy with the kingdom’s judicial system adding one more political prisoner to its jails – democratically-elected Pheu Thai MP and Red Shirt leader, Korkaew Pikulthong.
This time the act of imprisonment didn’t even have the cover of a criminal conviction nor has anyone been found guilty of any offence. Korkaew’s imprisonment came about as his bail – on charges relating to what many consider to be entirely politicised matters – was removed by the Criminal Court after he dared to publicly express an opinion about Thailand’s infamous Constitutional Court.
Korkaew’s original charge came from the illegitimate Abhisit-regime making a politicised decision to use legal threats to intimidate the leadership of the pro-democracy Red Shirt movement. In 2010, after 100 Red Shirts had been shot and killed on the streets of Bangkok, Abhisit’s Democrat Party government conjured up bogus terrorism charges against Korkaew and 23 other Red Shirt leaders. Of course only Abhisit would have such an abject misunderstanding of the rule of law as to create claims of terrorism against an entirely legitimate and largely peaceful pro-democracy protest. Yet the long-term aim of these charges wasn’t to necessarily secure convictions. On the contrary it was to create an atmosphere of intimidation wherein the Red Shirt leadership could be returned to prison at any time deemed necessary.
In addition, it is now abundantly clear that Korkaew’s imprisonment and withdrawal of bail is meant to work on two other levels. The first is to silence any criticism of the Constitutional Court and its attempts to waylay perfectly legal changes to the Thai Constitution as proposed by the Thai people’s democratically elected representatives. Secondly, the imprisonment of Korkaew is a further signal that Thailand’s unelected “Deep State” is willing and able to use the judiciary in order to curtail the democratic process.
To further understand the politicised nature of the revocation of Korkaew’s bail it needs to be set against the court’s treatment of Democrat Party MP Kanchit Tabsuwan. Kanchit has been charged in connection with a brutal murder after a man was caught on CCTV at a gas station firing several bullets into the head of his victim, killing him instantly. The police are not seeking any other individual in regards to this case and there has not been any question of Kanchit being denied bail. It is therefore not unreasonable to question the basis whereby legitimate protest is deemed “terrorism” and murder is considered a lesser, bailable, offence. Of course, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Kanchit is a Democrat Party MP and therefore not subject to the same rule of law that has been consistently and ruthless invoked against anyone who dares to be a Red Shirt.
Those analysing the present political situation in Thailand should be under no illusion that the connection between acts like the imprisonment of Korkaew and the use of the kingdom’s notorious 112 lese majeste laws are explicit. In a democracy decisions affecting basic constitutional rights should be fully open to scrutiny, discussion and objection. The Constitutional Court’s decisions and their validity must become part of the everyday public discourse of Thai democracy if that democracy is to flourish. Korkaew’s imprisonment is clearly a breach of his political and freedom of expression rights. He must be immediately released without condition and no further intimidation carried out by the Constitutional Court against its critics must be enacted.
Terdsak Phungkinchan was only 29 when the sniper’s bullet took his life. Three years ago today, on April 10th 2010, he fell, mortally wounded, onto the hard tarmac of a Bangkok street. The force used against Terdsak – despite it being very clear to the person pulling the trigger that his victim was completely unarmed and posing no threat to anyone – was deadly and meant to be so. The only word that can be used to describe this act is murder and my law firm are still doing all we can to bring the people responsible for this to justice.
There can also be no equivocation regarding an analysis of the force used against the Red Shirts at Kok Wua that dreadful night in April 2010 – it was designed, purely, to kill. And kill it did, with 21 Red Shirts falling in a hail of bullets fired from the guns former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had ordered onto Bangkok’s streets. In addition five Thai Army soldiers died, their lives ending in what can only be described as mysterious circumstances, whilst an investigation into the death of the Japanese cameraman, Hiro Muromoto, is still ongoing. All these acts left behind even more grief-stricken widows and mothers.
Without justice for all victims the tragedy of April 2010 is still being played out. Thailand is not yet at peace with itself and, since that night, the families of the dead have been left with more questions than answers.
To get a sense of the depth of feeling the April 10th Kok Wua Massacre arouses you need look no further than the remarkable Thai language book published by the Democracy Martyr Foundation whose title loosely translates as “The Dead Have a Face and Those Who Were Killed Had a Life.” This book gives voice to the victims of April 2010, a cry that must be heard if Thailand wishes to move towards true reconciliation.
Take Terdsak’s mother, Suwimon, who told the authors of this exceptional book that
Deep down, I still want to fight for my son because he was innocent – he didn’t deserve to die, he shouldn’t have been treated like that. I feel as if I couldn’t do much as we are just ordinary people… I will never forget this.
It is Suwimon’s words that we should meditate on as we commemorate the fallen of April 2010 – “I still want to fight for my son.” The mothers of the fallen Red Shirts, unlike the commentators, politicians and, dare I say it, lawyers, can’t just “forget” when it comes to the destruction wrought against their offspring. We can only continue to offer the likes of Suwimon support and solidarity in her struggle for justice.
Another victim of the Kok Wua Massacre was tailor Wasan Puthong (39). His young sister, Numthip, is also quoted in “The Dead Have a Face and Those Who Were Killed Had a Life” saying
Nowadays, I am still missing him as we had been working together for such a long time – whenever I turned, I saw him there because we were together all day all night…. It is hard for me to accept this.
Numthip’s comment are an apt reflection on the death of a brother who was taken down in such abhorrent circumstance. The lack of definable justice will continue to make it hard for victims of Kok Wua to just “accept this”.
Today my office had the honour of speaking to Wasan’s brother-in-law, Klin, and it his words we end on here. These words must be our banner as we mark another year where loved ones were taken from us.
There is still not justice as the perpetrators have not yet been held to account. We will continue fighting for this justice.
Nearly three years after more than 90 pro-democracy protesters were killed by government forces on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand’s Red Shirt movement has scored a substantial victory before an important multilateral institution, shedding light on the pervasive injustices in the country’s political system.
Following its most recent summit in Ecuador, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) – a body which has permanent observer status at the UN and which is considered by the UN to be the leading international organisation for parliaments – has issued an historic resolution condemning the unlawful disqualification of Thai Member of Parliament Jatuporn Prompran.
As a prominent Red Shirt leader in the Thai Parliament, Jatuporn was disqualified from his seat in parliament by a coup-appointed judge on Thailand’s Constitutional Court in May 2012 stemming from his participation in the April-May 2010 protests in Bangkok, which later led to periods of detention that made it impossible for him to vote as an MP.
The IPU Resolution maintains that the grounds under which Jatuporn was disqualified “appear directly to contravene Thailand’s international human rights obligations,” while also reiterating concerns that Jatuporn’s arrest occurred under the previous government’s unlawful use of emergency powers and politically motivated charges of terrorism.
According to the IPU Resolution TH/183, filed on 27 March 2013, Jatuporn’s parlimentary seat had been terminated at a time when “it had not been established that he had committed any wrongdoing” and on account of a speech that appeared to fall “within the exercise of his right to freedom of expression.” The resolution also finds that the practice of preventing those accused of crimes from voting represents an “unreasonable restriction,” particularly in the light of the Covenant’s provisions guaranteeing persons accused of a crime the right to be presumed innocent.
The IPU cites concerns over the legal basis and reasoning behind Jatuporn’s preventative detention, and issued a request for a copy of the charge sheet, while also setting issuing a request to the Secretary General “to visit Thailand with a view to raising this matter with the competent parliamentary, executive and judicial authorities and exploring the possibility of IPU assistance in this area.”
The IPU Resolution can be downloaded here. The full text is below:
CASE No. TH/183 CASE No. TH/183 — JATUPORN PROMPAN — THAILAND
Decides to recommend to the Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union that it adopt the following resolution:
The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Referring to the case of Mr. Jatuporn Prompan, a former member of the House of Representatives of Thailand, and to the resolution it adopted at its 191st session (October 2012),
Taking into account the information provided by the Secretary General of the House of Representatives in his letter of 15 February 2013 and by the source on 23 March 2013,
Recalling the following:
- Mr. Jatuporn, a leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and at the time a member of the House of Representatives, played a prominent role in the “Red Shirt” demonstrations that took place in central Bangkok between 12 March and 19 May 2010; in the weeks following the demonstrations, Mr. Jatuporn and his fellow UDD leaders were officially charged with participating in an illegal gathering that contravened the state of emergency declared by the government and with terrorism in relation to arson attacks on several buildings that took place on 19 May 2010, when the UDD leaders had already been taken into police custody; Mr. Jatuporn was quickly released on bail thereafter;
- On 10 April 2011, Mr. Jatuporn took the stage during the commemoration organized at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok to mark the first anniversary of the government’s response to the Red Shirt demonstrations; in his speech, he criticized the then government and the Royal Thai Army for using the pretext of “protecting the monarchy” to criminalize the Red Shirt movement and kill its members the year before; Mr. Jatuporn also criticized the Constitutional Court for sparing the Democrat Party from dissolution, making reference to leaked video recordings that showed some of the justices colluding with party officials; following this, representatives of the Royal Thai Army filed a complaint alleging that Mr. Jatuporn had committed lese-majesty in his speech; the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) asked the Criminal Court to
revoke his bail following the complaint, which it did on 12 May 2011; Mr. Jatuporn was subsequently held in Bangkok Remand Prison until 2 August 2011; the DSI subsequently dismissed the charge and the case was referred to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration on 17 January 2012;
- A week after the revocation of his bail, Mr. Jatuporn’s name was included on the party list submitted by Pheu Thai for the legislative elections to be held on 3 July 2011; the Election Commission endorsed the list after verifying that the candidates met the required legal conditions; in advance of the elections, Mr. Jatuporn’s lawyers repeatedly filed motions requesting that the Criminal Court grant bail or temporary release to allow him to vote; the requests were denied and Mr. Jatuporn was thereby prevented from exercising his right to vote; according to the source, his failure to cast a vote was immediately seized upon by the opposition as evidence that he was not qualified to sit in parliament; at first, the Election Commission certified the election results, allowing Mr. Jatuporn to be sworn in as a member of the new House of Representatives, which first met on the day of his release; in late November 2011, however, the Election Commission ruled by a 4-1 vote that Mr. Jatuporn should be disqualified as a member of parliament and asked the Speaker of the House of Representatives to refer the case to the Constitutional Court for a final ruling;
- On 18 May 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that Mr. Jatuporn’s detention on election day, and consequent failure to vote in the election, disqualified him from serving as a member of parliament; it reasoned that Mr. Jatuporn was prohibited from voting under Article 100(3) of the 2007 Constitution, which specifies that “being detained by a warrant of the Court or by a lawful order” on election day was one of the prohibitions leading to disenfranchisement, and that this in turn meant that he had automatically lost his membership of his political party under the 2007 Organic Act on Political Parties; the loss of party membership was the basis (under Articles 101(3) and 106(4) of the Constitution) on which he was disqualified from sitting in the House of Representatives,
Recalling that the source affirms that the charges against Mr. Jatuporn are entirely inapposite, that the specific charge of participation in an illegal gathering stemmed from the previous government’s unlawful use of emergency powers, and that the terrorism charges on which Mr. Jatuporn and other Red Shirt leaders were indicted in August 2010 are politically motivated, but that, while the Red Shirts were accused by the government of committing various acts of violence, there exists no evidence that their leaders played a role in planning the attacks, or even knew about them; considering that hearings will be held twice a week in the criminal case between 19 April and July 2013,
Recalling further that Mr. Jatuporn was sentenced on 10 July and 27 September 2012 respectively in two criminal cases to two six-month prison sentences (with a two-year suspension) and fines of 50,000 baht on charges of defaming then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, but that an appeal is pending in both cases; bearing in mind that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression repeated in his report (A/HRC/17/27 of 16 May 2011) the call for all States to decriminalize defamation, Bearing in mind that Thailand is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore obliged to protect the rights enshrined therein,
Considering that, on 1 April 2013, the House of Representatives will start debating changes to the Constitution that are expected to affect inter alia the legal framework governing political parties and their dissolution; recalling that the source fears that Mr. Jatuporn’s disqualification may be used by his party’s opponents to argue that the governing Pheu Thai party “inappropriately endorsed” Mr. Jatuporn’s candidacy, and that Mr. Jatuporn’s inclusion on the party’s slate of candidates therefore caused the election to be conducted in a “dishonest and unfair manner” and that his party therefore should be dissolved,
1. Thanks the Secretary General of the House of Representatives for his letter and cooperation;
2. Reaffirms its view that the letter does not dispel its concerns that Mr. Jatuporn was disqualified on grounds that appear directly to contravene Thailand’s international human rights obligations;
3. Considers that, although the Thai Constitution specifically provides for the disenfranchisement of persons “detained by a lawful order” on election day, preventing those accused of a crime from exercising the right to vote is at odds with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25 of which guarantees the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs” and “to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections” without “unreasonable restrictions”;
4. Considers in this regard that denying an incumbent member of parliament temporary release from prison to exercise the right to vote is an “unreasonable restriction”, particularly in the light of the Covenant’s provisions guaranteeing persons accused of a crime the right to be presumed innocent (Article 14) and “separate treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons” (Article 10(2)(a)); points out that Mr. Prompan’s disqualification also appears to run counter to the spirit of Article 102(4) of the Thai Constitution, which stipulates that only those convicted, not those accused, of a crime lose their right to stand for election once a candidacy has been submitted;
5. Remains likewise concerned that Mr. Jatuporn’s political party membership was terminated at a time when it had not been established that he had committed any wrongdoing and on account of a speech that appeared to fall within the exercise of his right to freedom of expression; remains also concerned that the courts can rule on the question of party membership when this is first and foremost a private matter between Mr. Jatuporn and his party and there was no dispute between them on the question;
6. Sincerely hopes that, in the light of the above, the competent Thai authorities will do everything possible to reconsider Mr. Jatuporn’s disqualification and ensure that all current legal provisions are in line with the relevant international human rights standards; wishes to be kept informed of the consequences of the constitutional amendment process is in this regard;
7. Remains concerned about the alleged legal basis for and facts adduced to substantiate the charges pending against Mr. Jatuporn and about the possibility that the court may order his return to preventive detention; wishes to receive a copy of the charge sheet; considers that, in the light of the concerns in the case, it would be useful to send a trial observer to the proceedings, and requests the Secretary General to make the necessary arrangements;
8. Remains concerned that Mr. Jatuporn was prosecuted, sentenced and convicted on charges of defamation; concurs in this regard with the recommendation made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur that defamation should not be considered an offence under criminal law; wishes to ascertain, therefore, whether the Thai authorities are contemplating reviewing the existing legislation with this in mind; wishes to receive a copy of the first-instance rulings and to be kept informed of the appeal proceedings;
9. Considers that the present case has ramifications that go well beyond the situation of Mr. Jatuporn alone and concerns the constitutional and institutional relationship between the House of Representatives and the courts; requests the Secretary General to visit Thailand with a view to raising this matter with the competent parliamentary, executive and judicial authorities and exploring the possibility of IPU assistance in this
10. Requests the Secretary General to convey this resolution to the competent authorities and to the source;
11. Requests the Committee to continue examining this case and to report back to it in due course.
Political conflict inevitably produces political prisoners. In this respect Thailand is no different. Those incarcerated in Thailand’s prisons for acts connected to their political beliefs are as much victims of upheaval as the grieving relatives of the dead of April/May 2010.
Another inevitability for those seeking to settle political conflict is the release of such rank and file political prisoners. An amnesty granted to similar who are awaiting trial or who are on the run must also be established. Yet, at this stage in Thailand’s ongoing process of political settlement and stabilisation, the release of these prisoners hasn’t taken on the significance it should. For anyone committed to a full restoration of ordinary Thais’ democratic rights this is simply unacceptable. It is my firm belief that the release of the rank and file Red Shirts and the lese majeste prisoners must be a priority for the government. To ignore this pressing issue will only alienate a key element of the Pheu Thai leadership’s support.
Letter to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Concerning Abhisit’s Criminal Liability
Social media is abuzz with reactions to an interview that former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gave to the BBC. Looking flustered in answering the uncomfortable questions posed by interviewer Mishal Husain, Mr. Abhisit described the charges of pre-meditated murder recently filed against him as “far fetched.”
In light of the coverage generated by the BBC interview, we are releasing to the public the content of a letter my firm submitted to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 31 October 2012. The letter focuses exclusively on Mr. Abhisit’s criminal liability, providing a comprehensive treatment of Mr. Abhisit’s involvement and individual responsibility for the commission of crimes against humanity in April and May 2010.
The Wall Street Journal Asia edition has published my letter to the editor responding to their coverage of the murder charges filed against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The full text is below:
Your newspaper’s recent article gives ample space to the allegation that the charges of premeditated murder filed against Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsubhan are somehow “politically motivated” (“Former Thai Prime Minister May Face Murder Charges,” World News, December 7). The article, however, fails to point out that the charges are supported by a large body of evidence already in the public record.
Every once in a while an interview comes out that makes you stand up and applaud the quality and value of journalism, and with this interview below, I am reminded why I am so fond of the Beeb. In just a matter of minutes, BBC World Service host Mishal Husain asks more tough questions to former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that the entire foreign press corps of Bangkok have asked in two years since the bloody Bangkok massacres. And give due credit to Ms. Husain, she actually sticks to her questions and holds her subject to provide answers. How these kinds of tenacious interviews were not possible in the past two years among the many foreign correspondents stationed in Bangkok, I do not know, but it explains a lot about the collective mentality among Thailand’s media community that it would take the BBC World Service to show them how to do a proper job.
Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, with the assistance of media outlets eager to run with the Democrat Party’s official line, have rationalized the murder charges recently filed against them as part of a scheme to bring Thaksin Shinawatra back to Thailand. The charges, they claim, are designed to squeeze them into accepting an amnesty bill that would guarantee them immunity from prosecution in exchange for vacating Mr. Thaksin’s conviction on a dubious conflict of interests charge. They should be so lucky.
Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep better not delude themselves. Even in the unfortunate event that the current government would consider putting a deal of that kind on the table, Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep will not get off that easy. Whether or not it happens as a result of these charges, the millions of Thai people who are fighting for democracy will see to it that they are held accountable for what they have done. Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep continue to be blind to a basic reality their party has tried to deny at great cost to itself and its supporters: Thailand is not what it used to be.
I very much enjoyed this post over at Political Prisoners in Thailand. I was similarly befuddled by how completely out of touch the Economist has become with the reality of politics on the ground in Thailand.
While acknowledging the birthday bash, the newspaper seems to want to portray Thailand as revolving around the aged king and Thaksin Shinawatra and views recent politics as being about Thaksin’s failed attempts to return home, noting that his exile has gone from “a temporary inconvenience has taken on an air of semi-permanency.” Its essential argument is that:
Since his younger sister, Yingluck, led their Pheu Thai party to a thumping win in the general election in July 2011, the government has explored just about every avenue to get Mr Thaksin back without having to serve the two-year jail term for corruption to which he was sentenced four years ago. Legislative attempts to revoke the charges, which he maintains were politically motivated, have got nowhere, as have attempts to win a royal pardon. Proposals for a general amnesty for all those involved in the political confrontations after 2006 have run into a constitutional brick wall.
Not only has the ceaseless plotting on Mr Thaksin’s behalf proved fruitless, it has also been damaging to the government of his sister. During her election campaign, Ms Yingluck promised “unity and reconciliation”, a sensible attempt to woo voters who were tired of continuous clashes between Mr Thaksin’s “red shirt” supporters and his “yellow shirt” opponents. But the blatant efforts to rewrite the law and tamper with the constitution chiefly for Mr Thaksin’s benefit have undermined that promise and inflamed his old adversaries.
This account fudges recent history and politics. Puea Thai didn’t particularly need to woo voters with talk of reconciliation as the party was always going to win the election and had plenty of other policies that were attractive for voters. In addition, Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat Party, which campaigned on a kind of anti-reconciliation platform, were tainted by the manner in which they came to power and by the violent crackdowns on red shirts in 2009 and 2010. For many red shirts, reconciliation was also about justice and accountability (and they are looking carefully at how the prosecution of Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban is handled).
Importantly, far from the Democrat Party-royalist view that everything is about absolving Thaksin, the Yingluck-Thaksin team has backed away from bringing Thaksin home, from legal changes and from constitutional change (although the latter is now back on the agenda). The strategy has been, according to Duncan McCargo, to cool political tensions. Kevin Hewison has recently made similar claims in a recent article at Political Insight. He says that:
royalist and yellow shirt opponents have been sniping at the government for alleged corruption, disloyalty to the monarchy, supporting red shirt ‘terrorists’ and for being at Thaksin’s beck and call, but none of this has destabilised the government. This rapid political cooling has been possible because Yingluck and her brother Thaksin have recognised that, in government, their political aims are more likely to be achieved through compromise, cooling radical demands and reducing opposition from the military, judiciary and monarchy.
McCargo says: “Once seen a stopgap tasked only with preparing the ground for her brother’s imminent return, an extended term of office for Yingluck Shinawatra now looks increasingly probable.” Indeed, compared with the period of the Abhisit regime, politics has cooled (perhaps temporarily).
Until the Pitak Siam “brief war,” the current government while trying to promote elements of its electoral platform, had done its best to avoid confrontations with the aim of staying in power and getting re-elected. Even the Pitak Siam kerfuffle was handled in a way that reduced the possibility of mass mobilization of opponents. The Economist seems to miss this essential point and suggest quite the opposite.