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!
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.
On June 1, 2012, Thailand’s Constitutional Court took the extraordinary step of issuing an injunction, quickly shown to have violated the law and exceeded the bounds of the Court’s constitutional authority,1 ordering the National Assembly to cease all deliberations on a proposed amendment to the 2007 Constitution, pending a review of the amendment’s constitutionality. The injunction was issued on the same day when a few hundred activists from the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), in cooperation with members of the opposition Democrat Party, blockaded all roads to Thailand’s parliament, preventing the House of Representatives from meeting to debate a controversial “Reconciliation Act.” The previous two meetings of the House had been disrupted by the PAD’s threat to storm the halls of the National Assembly, and by the intemperate outbursts of Democrat Party members of parliament, some of whom physically assaulted the House Speaker and other parliamentarians. Once again, the PAD, the Democrat Party, and the Constitutional Court have teamed up to delegitimize the democratic process, prevent the representatives of the Thai people from fulfilling their legislative functions under the Constitution, and lay the groundwork for the removal of a duly elected and legally constituted government, whether by military force (as in 2006) or by judicial intervention (as in 2008).
Almost two years after ordering a massacre of his own citizens, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva remains the leader of the Democrat Party. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, whose troops carried out the killings, is still the Commander in Chief of the Thai army, while many of the officers who assisted in the crackdown’s planning and execution were rewarded with promotions. Even the retired General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who staged a military coup in 2006 against a government elected three times, is now a member of parliament; improbably, he was given the chairmanship of a parliamentary committee on “national reconciliation.”
These men did not just escape legal accountability for their actions, which is the historical norm in Thailand, but got to keep their positions and titles. Few in the domestic and international press have seriously questioned their fitness to serve.
Letter published in the Financial Times.
From Mr Robert R. Amsterdam.
Sir, Your newspaper’s editorial “Thai trouble” (December 18) argues that Thailand’s government “would be ill advised” to engineer the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The editorial surmises: “If Mr Thaksin were to return, there is a serious risk that the bitter ideological divisions that have scarred Thai politics since his ousting in a 2006 coup would be reactivated.”
Those divisions have, in fact, never been deactivated. While the Thai people now have a government of their own choosing, the root cause of such divisions – the destruction of the rule of law – has yet to be addressed.
The generals who staged an illegal coup in 2006, interrupting 15 years of democratic rule, remain beyond the reach of the law, as do the civilian and military officials responsible for the deaths of more than 80 protesters in 2010. Dr Thaksin, however, remains in exile due to his refusal to serve an absurd sentence handed down by a court perceived as being in the pocket of his sworn enemies.
Contrary to the statement made in your editorial, Dr Thaksin was not convicted of “corruption”. Rather, his sentence was based on the court’s finding that he should not have allowed his wife to participate in an auction of public land while he served as prime minister. No foreign government has ever considered the sentence as anything other than politically motivated, hence Interpol’s decision never to issue a “Red Notice” for Dr Thaksin.
As stated in your paper’s editorial, Dr Thaksin is indeed “detested by the army and the conservative elite”. The editorial, however, did not explain why it should be up to “the army and the conservative elite” to decide on matters of policy and national reconciliation, considering that the Thai electorate overwhelmingly endorsed Dr Thaksin’s return in the July 2011 elections.
The international community’s willingness to accept the legitimacy of actions taken by the Thai establishment over the electorate’s wishes is a crucial reason why the country finds itself in the midst of a political crisis of this magnitude. Your paper’s exclusion of a democratically elected leader from his country demonstrates the utter failure to comprehend the fact that Thailand’s return to stability and peace is predicated on the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. “The army and the conservative elite” should no longer be permitted to treat a country of 70m people as their own fiefdom.
Robert R. Amsterdam, Counsel to Thaksin Shinawatra
They called it a “bloodless” coup at the time, as if an act of such violence could ever be without blood. Nobody was injured or killed on the night of 19 September 2006, when the army’s tanks rolled into Bangkok, and rolled over a democracy that had been built piece by piece over decades of tragedies and triumphs. “Blood” is not just violence, but rather represented in this case by the tearing down of a popularly elected government and the shredding of the 1997 People’s Constitution by a minority using thousands of soldiers and the weapons of war – one of the most violent, uncivil acts imaginable.
The equipment that the soldiers rode and carried into the capital city told a different story. For it is only thanks to a stunned population’s lack of resistance that there was no blood on the pavement that night. As we saw some time later, the troops were ready to fire, should anybody dare to resist the act of unqualified brutality committed by their commanders.
The following letter was published in today’s Financial Times:
From Mr Robert Amsterdam.
Sir, Joshua Kurlantzick, in “Thaksin’s dreams can end Thai democracy” (Comment, July 6), expresses concerns for the future of Thailand’s “democracy” in the event that deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is ever allowed to return to the country he was twice elected to lead.
Since his removal in a military coup staged on September 19 2006, Dr Thaksin has been the target of a series of judicial proceedings launched in an attempt to criminalise him. The only “offence” for which he was ever convicted was signing a form that granted his wife permission to participate in an auction of public land, as required by Thai law. Although the land sale involved the payment of a price in excess of the property’s estimated market value, Dr Thaksin was convicted of “conflict of interest” and sentenced to two years in prison based on the finding that his wife should not have been allowed to bid while he was serving as prime minister. Because neither the prime minister’s office nor the Ministry of Finance has any authority over the state agency that offered the land up for sale – the Financial Institution Development Fund – it is hard to conclude that Dr Thaksin’s conviction is anything but politically motivated.
Mr Kurlantzick omitted to mention that the only obstacle to Dr Thaksin’s return to Thailand is his unavailability to serve an absurd sentence, decreed by a judicial panel selected at a time when the country was under military rule. Meanwhile, the generals who overthrew Thailand’s 1997 constitution, interrupting 15 years of democratic development, gave themselves legal immunity from prosecution. And the murder of 92 people, many of them protesters who demanded the restoration of democracy in April and May 2010, has been the subject of a cover-up designed to shield from prosecution the civilian and military leaders who planned and ordered the crackdown.
On July 3 2011, the Pheu Thai party, which is led by Dr Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra, won a comfortable majority of seats in Thailand’s legislative elections. This is the fifth election in a row won by parties led by, or affiliated with, Dr Thaksin. Commentators such as Mr Kurlantzick would have us believe that Thailand’s democracy can only be saved if those who have repeatedly earned a popular mandate to govern the country acknowledge the establishment’s right to choose the country’s leaders, manipulate the judicial process and overturn the choices made by the people in competitive elections. We believe in a more straightforward solution: to save Thailand’s democracy, the military must be brought under civilian control, the justice system must respect the principle of equality under the law, and unelected institutions must submit to the results of the democratic process.
Counsel to Thaksin Shinawatra
On July 3rd a large turnout of Thai voters elected Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party by a landslide margin, castigating the incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party with a sharply lower number of parliamentary seats. As they say, a week is a long time in politics, but nobody thought the Democrats would be so quick to try to disqualify the winning party – something they have done several times in the past.
The current situation in Thailand brings to mind Adam Przeworski’s famously elegant argument that “democracy is a system in which parties lose elections.” Just as important as how the winners of an election behave, what happens to the losers is rather telling, as it represents the cornerstone of successful democratic. According to Przeworski, a democracy is defined by the strength of its institutions, as even losing political parties provide a longer time horizon for its members to achieve political goals. This provides the basis for the acceptance by these groups of election results and allows for preparation for the next democratic opportunity as afforded to them under the rules of the system. Przeworski was keen to note that no democratic system, no matter how pure the observation of its rules may be, is capable of definitively resolving conflicts between parties, but rather achieving the temporary suspension of these disputes through elections.
In post-election Thailand, it seems that some people don’t understand these basic principles, as an alliance of actors from the Democrat Party, some traditional elites, and certain members of the military actively work to interrupt the democratic process, regarding themselves as above the law.