Following our recent post regarding Human Rights Watch, PPT decided to look at a Wikileaks cable that has, amongst other things, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce talking with “civil society” actors on the impact of the coup just a month after the event.
Our reasons for moving to this cable, a little out of our planned schedule, will be clear below.
Boyce begins by noting that the embassy’s “civil society contacts” are concerned the ” imposition of martial law and restrictions on civil liberties.” He then adds that these same contacts can be considered as providing “continued support for, or at least acceptance of, the Council on National Security and the interim government…”.
Yes, that is civil society organizations supporting a coup and a military junta. That is perhaps not surprising for those who have followed Thailand’s politics over that period but probably a shock for others.
What is more surprising for even PPT is that the first member of civil society cited is none other than Suriyasai Katasila, spokesman for the People’s Alliance for Democracy. We can only imagine that Boyce was laughing as he wrote this. After all, PAD was the military’s ally in the coup. Hence, Suriyasai’s comments can only appear supportive of the military.
Next in line is a “spokesman” for the Democrat Party, a party that was also in bed with the military. The party wanted a “faster transition back to democracy” but “recognized that the government is worried about the activities of Thai Rak Thai and diehard Thaksin supporters writ large.” The spokesman seemed to support the junta, feared Thaksin and “unrest in the countryside.”
Somchai Homla-or, the chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the anti-Thaksin Lawyers Council of Thailand, discounted this view as “overstated.” Gothom Arya, a member of the junta-appointed interim National Legislative Assembly, “agreed, and questioned how strong the popular support for TRT in the countryside really was.” Stronger than he knew, obviously.
Each of these “civil society activists” was, at that time, compromised by their position as middle-class supporters of the military and the coup.
The next person cited is “human rights activist Sunai Phasuk” who is the in-country researcher for HRW.
Sunai says that:
martial law and similar issues “puts people like me in a very difficult and uncomfortable position.” He said that as a staunch anti-Thaksin activist, he was initially relieved to see the Thaksin administration forced out, and he wants to be supportive of the interim government’s effort to restore democracy in Thailand.
But he adds that the
failure of the CNS in responding to repeated calls for lifting martial law and restrictions on civil liberties is making it impossible for him (and people like him) who want to be supportive.
Several of these yellow-shirted discussants apparently spoke of the “predominance of Prem’s men’: military and civilians associated with Privy Councillor Prem Tinsulanonda.” Gothom spoke of these appointments as “cronyism.”
HRW’s Sunai is again cited as being concerned that “the military appears to be creating a structure that will enable it to retain excessive influence throughout the coming year, and possibly beyond.”
What did he expect? Is he playing dumb? It is more likely that Sunai’s support for the coup and his hatred of Thaksin blinded him to the authoritarianism of the military that civil society organizations claimed to have been opposing for years. More convenient amnesia, this time political.
Sunai reveals that the “CNS sought the advice of members of civil society in drafting the interim constitution, they completely ignored the advice that was offered.” Of course they did.
Gothom seemed even more naive, adopting a “more wait-and-see attitude.” Perhaps he’s still waiting to see more clearly.
Boyce claims “[c]ivil society is split on whether the transition to new elections can or even should take place faster than the one year timetable the CNS promised.”
Somchai was cynical, apparently content that the military had thrown Thaksin out, but sure that the seemingly virginal military would be “approached by a lot of greedy business people, greedy politicians, and others.”
Sunai is quoted as expressing
his frustration with the military. He said that General Sonthi [Boonyaratglin] was “clueless” and the other military leaders around him are preparing “to sacrifice our freedoms for the sake of stability.” He found it increasingly evident that, while General Sonthi was in over his head and Surayud [Chulanont] struggled to set an agenda and “action plan” for his cabinet, Privy Councillor Prem is the one “pulling the strings.”
Sunai’s comments are contextualized in a deeply disturbing way. He is cited as stating:
how deeply disappointed he was in the military. He emphasized that he was close to many officers and, in fact, taught many of them in his capacity as a guest lecturer at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy and the Royal Thai Air Force Academy. He said that he had always held the military in high regard for their sense of honor and dedication to the country. As such, he expected that the coup makers would hold true to the promises made in the hours and days following the coup to restore civil liberties and democratic civilian rule as quickly as possible.
Sunai seemed to offer advice, suggesting “that Prem needs to be informed that the perceived intransigence of the CNS in restoring civil liberties is ‘making the military look very bad’.” For a “human rights activist” who held the military in such high regard after 1957, 1973, 1976, 1992 and much much more, making the military “look bad” can hardly have been a revelation! It is that human rights amnesia again.
For Boyce, this exceptionally mild and essentially supportive criticism was disturbing, not least because his CNS
buddies informants “seem genuinely and completely unaware of this undercurrent of opposition.”
Boyce then congratulated himself for pointing out the opposition to the CNS and its government. Boyce is happy enough that the “interim government still has time to dig itself out of this hole, since it seems to enjoy fairly broad support, or at least acceptance, for the time being.” Boyce is entirely supportive of the junta and its government.
For the so-called representatives of civil society, the cable is damning indictment of an apparent incapacity to understand the consequences of their support for the military’s political intervention.