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.
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.
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.
Predicting that the number one priority in Pitak Siam’s November 24 demonstration was to spark violence did not require sophisticated forecasting skills. Given the strength of the government’s majority in parliament, an incident of some kind was needed, whether to provide the military with an excuse to stage a coup or to generate additional support to escalate Pitak Siam’s activities. What could not be so easily predicted is that the demonstration would fail so miserably. The day started off badly for Pitak Siam, which despite the great fanfare was only able to get 20,000 people at most to show up at its rally. The pathetic turnout forced desperate leaders to play the violence card early, in fact so early and so blatantly as to completely discredit themselves. Less predictable of all was that the often maligned Royal Thai Police would act with such professionalism and restraint, resisting to provocations while refusing to cede ground to the demonstrators.
The biggest loser from yesterday’s failed rally/coup was the former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat Party. The response of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government was proportional and reasonable. In other words, when a government has been elected and can be removed in the next vote, they tend to take greater care toward their citizens. Compared with the brutality of the last government in the 2010 massacres, this is a big step forward for the country. But of course, protecting electoral democracy in Thailand is far from over. Preventing the return of coups will require vigilance, patience, and active focus to keep the destructive, retroactive forces in the country at bay.
Below is some coverage from Bloomberg:
Thai anti-government forces called off a rally yesterday aimed at toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra because of a poor turnout after clashes left two police officers in critical condition.
“I quit,” Boonlert Kaewprasit, a retired general leading the demonstration, said in an interview after he called off the rally. “I told the truth. I needed a million people, but we were interrupted when police fired tear gas and blocked people from coming.”
Very interesting article by Pavin Chachavalpongpun in Asia Sentinel about how the United States has traditionally relied upon relations with a thin layer of royalist elites in Thailand rather than the burgeoning pro-democracy movement and working class among the Red Shirts. During his visit to Asia, it’s time for President Barack Obama to update his Thailand policy.
In the meantime, the US has been rather quiet even when the Thai domestic situation turned violent, particularly in the past few years. Why has the US failed to promote democratization in Thailand?
The answer is that the American perception of the current power struggle in Thailand is strictly constrained by an old, obsolete structure in which Thai-US relations have been shaped and dominated by the effective military-monarchy partnership and the various American interests in the maintenance of such a partnership. As a result, the US has appeared to adopt a stance of support for establishment forces at the expense of a serious advocacy of the pro-democracy agenda of the Red Shirt movement, known principally as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, or UDD.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul is on the verge of signing a document that might change the course of Thai history. Following a visit to Bangkok by officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the government is now considering whether to issue a declaration that would give the ICC jurisdiction over crimes against humanity committed in Thailand in April and May 2010 (see here for an explanation of the process). This could be a major turning point in Thailand’s eighty-year struggle for democracy.
As the Foreign Minister has stated, giving the ICC jurisdiction over the abuses committed in 2010 can help ensure that the victims, having already been deprived of their lives, their rights, their freedoms, or their family members, will not be denied justice, as the victims of state violence always have in the past. Unlike the massacres of 1973, 1976, and 1992, there is now a real possibility that the deadly government crackdowns of April and May 2010 will be properly investigated, and that those responsible for committing crimes will be held to account.
Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Surapong Tovichakchaikul is to meet with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, today to discuss the possibility of opening an investigation into the protests of April-May 2010.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the possibility of Thailand extending jurisdiction to the ICC.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Question: What is the ICC and why is the prosecutor in Thailand?
Answer: The ICC is located in The Hague. The ICC is established by a treaty known as the Rome Statute of the ICC. One hundred twenty-one countries have joined the treaty. Thailand has signed, but not ratified the Rome Statute. Thailand is therefore not a party to the treaty.
UDD lawyer Robert Amsterdam filed an application with the Prosecutor of the ICC on January 30 2011, requesting a preliminary investigation into the protests that occurred in Thailand between April-May 2010, where 98 civilians were killed and thousands injured.
The application alleges that crimes against humanity were committed against civilian protesters. Although the ICC has jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, only crimes against humanity are alleged in the application relating to Thailand. There is no basis to allege genocide or war crimes.