This is the fifth of our posts on Human Rights Watch and the events that unfolded following the 2006 coup. Wikileaks has 58 cables mentioning HRW in Thailand, the majority related to events in the South. Yes, we know the number is IV, but the first one had a different title, so it is five. In this post, as in the previous instances, we look at cables about political struggles.
Our earlier posts may be found here, here, here and here.
In this post we look at a cable from 29 August 2007. This cable is a discussion and reporting of growing dissension over the military junta’s 2007 Constitution and forthcoming elections. The cable is signed by U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce, reporting on a visit by senior State Department visitor Scot Marciel.
The cable summary is telling:
Two contacts warned that the biggest threat to the coming vote would likely be vote-buying by former PM Thaksin supporters. Both a leading economist and human rights officials said that the ousted-PM’s allies could very well win and form the next government. This same human rights official and a [Democrat Party] politician denied that the new constitution hands greater power to the military and expressed frustration with “inaccurate western” media reporting on this topic.
Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former banker Korn Chatikavanij is cited first. Readers interested in HRW will need to read through Korn’s account in order to contextualize HRW’s position.
Korn is reported to have “pushed back strongly on western media criticism of the new charter.” He is quoted: “I find it amusing when I hear foreign journalists say this one is less democratic.” This is because Korn reckons that in “some ways” the military-backed constitution is “much more democratic.”
Korn is reported to be adamant: “This is not a pro-military constitution.” He gets even more excited and inaccurate when he states, according to the cable: “The military got almost nothing that it wanted from the constitution.” In fact, as we will note below, it is Korn who is misrepresenting the constitution.
While excited in denying the obvious, Korn’s lack of enthusiasm for the election is then revealed, together with the legendary laziness and arrogance of the aristocrats in the Democrat Party:
Korn lamented the raft of inaccurate media characterizations of the Thai political situation. Asked if he and other Democrat Party politicians have tried to correct these reports, Korn said, “it’s too hard to explain the complexity of the situation here. We figure, let’s just have the election, which is what the world wants. The world doesn’t care about the details.”
Given that there had been widespread and accurate reports of the military intervening repeatedly in the referendum in order to ensure it passed, Korn is justifiably asked if he thinks the military will be even more determined in the election. He is reported to have responded by getting a little excited again, saying:
you’re concerned about the military, but I’m concerned about Thaksin [Shinawatra]‘s money. Washington should be equally concerned about Thaksin’s money. Thaksin has never played fair; there needs to be a counter-balance of power.
Korn wouldn’t be concerned about the military because it worked in the interests of the Democrat Party. In fact, it was the military that wasn’t playing fair, changing the rules and cashing up for the election. Korn is repeatedly disingenuous in his responses, but is also indicating his firm support for the military.
Interestingly, Korn seems to already know the winner of the election:
Korn said that Thaksin will attempt to destabilize the next government, cause chaos, and create a void that only the ousted PM can fill.
Of course, Korn and the military were stymied by the result and Plan B was put into action, with the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the Democrat Party, judiciary and the military destabilizing the elected government, causing chaos, and creating a void that the military and palace would only allow the Democrat Party to fill.
HRW’s Sunai Phasuk also met Marciel. Interestingly, Sunai begins by discounting the “details of the constitution, because it can only be changed by the next government.” Of course, the elite, PAD and military have not permitted this and use it as a reason for overthrowing elected governments.
It is revealing, though, that Sunai, like Korn, should be “critical of western media reporting that the new charter handed the military more power.” He is reported to have stated:
“This is incorrect.” Sunai … explained that the new charter shifts some power from the old, ostensibly non-partisan Senate, to the courts and bureaucracy, not the military. The new government will be weaker than those under the 1997 constitution and subject to more scrutiny by politicians and the people, “which is not a bad thing.”
Of course, this is disingenuously playing with semantics. The military moved power away from elected politicians and to appointees controlled by the military and the royalist elite. In addition, the constitution made the military and its huge and vastly increased budget less subject to scrutiny.
It is remarkable that the HRW person on the ground is unable to admit that the constitution was enacted in the interests of the military and the royalist elite.
At least Sunai acknowledges that “Human Rights Watch is concerned about inappropriate influence by both the military and Thaksin in the next election.” At the same time, it is astonishing that Thaksin and the military are equated as equal powers.
Sunai went on to (again) show his pro-military bias when he is reported to have pointed out that the military and its government did poorly on the constitutional referendum only because of their “ineffectiveness” in “pushing for public support of the charter in areas dominated by Thaksin supporters, even in areas under martial law.” It seems Sunai thinks the military-backed government should have used its huge advantages to push and win.
Sunai then goes on to expound his view that the former TRT engages in “vote-buying and other fraud.” He then describes Thaksin as “the mother of allvote-buyers.”
Several academic articles and innumerable media reports at the time pointed out that Thaksin-backed parties actually spent rather limited amounts. In fact, by 2011, relatively little spending was required of the Puea Thai Party. But Sunai’s claim was and is a lodestone of PAD and Democrat Party claims against pro-Thaksin parties. Such claims continue to be made today, even when the evidence is scant. The evidence that exists shows the Democrat Party, military and the pro-militiary Bhum Jai Thai Party being big spenders.
Sunai is then reported to have lamented that a pro-Thaksin party could win the upcoming election. He states:
If the RTG was capable and serious in its intention to rid the country of Thaksin, this would not even be possible, let alone likely.
Lamenting a claimed incapacity to fix an election result seems an odd and deeply yellow-shirted claim from someone in his position with HRW.