Petition day (with several updates)

19 08 2009

See several Updates below, including for 20 August 2009.

Reports of the red shirt/United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) presentation of the “royal pardon” petition for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are becoming available. PPT summarizes some of them here.

Early reports in several newspapers said that thousands of red shirt supporters gathered at Sanam Lunag overnight and in the very early morning.

The Nation (17 August 2009: “Fears of clashes loom”) began by referring to the continuing fear of red shirt-blue shirt clashes (recall that justa few days ago the same newspaper reported that the two groups were allies) as the red shirts lodged their petition while the Supreme Court’s verdict in the rubber-sapling case against Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Newin Chidchob.

In the end, that latter case fizzled as the court postponed its verdict until 21 September (see the hour-by-hour details of the two events in The Nation).

The Nation reports People’s Alliance for Democracy co-ordinator Suriyasai Katasila, who seemed to warn of a “dark hand” that might benefit, pointing to the supposedly “impassive stance by military leaders” and claiming that “they will be the key factor wielding influence over the situation.”

Meanwhile, red shirt leaders are quoted as saying that blus shirts were being paid to disrupt the red shirt rally.

The Bangkok Post (17 August 2009: “Boonjong: No obstruction to UDD”) reports that Deputy Interior Minister Boonjong Wongtrairat denied that he had hired people to disrupt the red shirt rally. This refers to “third hand” rumors. He said: “The government is not trying to block the red-shirt supporters from different provinces from joining the mass rally in Bangkok…”. This followed claims that such disruption – a tactic used on several occasions since the 2006 coup – were taking place as police prevented rural people getting to Bangkok.

Boonjong did not think there would be clashes between petition supporters and opponents. He added that “More than 10 million people have signed their names to oppose the royal pardon petition for the fugitive politician…”, a claim which would be impossible to verify, but he added that “provincial governors, district chief officers and village headmen continued to explain the process to the locals in their areas…”.

Meanwhile, as thousands rallied, Thaksin phoned in (Bangkok Post, 17 August 2009: “Thaksin speaks to supporters”). He reportedly told his supporters “that he was a political victim, and has not been fairly treated as authorities adopt double standards in the justice system against him.” This is why he had turned to the king (see more below). Nothing new in either of these claims by Thaksin.

At about the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban denied coup rumors (Bangkok Post, 17 August 2009: “Suthep: Silent coup just a rumour”). There would be no “silent coup” he said, adding, “The army officials I know follow the democratic system and they are not looking for more power…”. On the petition, flying in the face of the government’s numerous efforts to stop it, Suthep claimed: “We should not underestimate the situation but we should not be too apprehensive either…”. Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon supported Suthep.

The Bangkok Post and AFP have a background story on the delivery of the petition (17 August 2009: “Thaksin petition handed”), claiming more than 30,000 red shirts at Sanam Luang, with a picture of the petition (or part of it) being carried.

Bangkok Post photo

Bangkok Post photo

The red shirts claimed “they had collected at least five million signatures,” which the government has said they will check and scrutinize. The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary was to transfer the petition boxes “to the government for inspection before deciding if the petition should be submitted to His Majesty.” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has already said that the petition would be rejected by the government as unlawful.

This report has more on Thaksin’s phone-in, where he again appealed to the king: “We are here today to inform our father, the King of every Thai, that we want to see unity and reconciliation…”. Thaksin then went royalist, as he has often done, turning “to a portrait of Thailand’s widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the royal family and sang a traditional royal song.”

The petition was presented to the Royal Household offices at 1 p.m., with 10 boxes wrapped in  red cloth, led by 10 UDD leaders, including Veera Musigapong, and 5  monks. The Nation (17 August 2009: “Red shirts move to submit petition”) reports “dozens of monks” involved in the march to present the petition.


Nation photo

The report says, “After the petition was handed, the group dissolved peacefully and many had returned to Sanam Luang.”

In explaining the petition, this report notes: “Twice-elected Thaksin still enjoys huge support among Thailand’s poor, particularly in rural northern parts of the country, but is hated by the Bangkok-based elite in the palace, military and establishment.”

UPDATE: The Nation (18 August 2009: “Ex-PM pleads with HM, teary over devoted red shirts”) writes of Thaksin’s phone-in  and his royalist pleadings.

The report bgins: “Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with tears in his eyes, pleaded with His Majesty the King to grant him royal amnesty and thanked his red-shirted supporters for submitting the petition on his behalf.” He is said to have proclaimed: “I, Thaksin Shinawatra, and my family will be loyal to the King and the monarchy forever.”

The Nation claims more than 20,000 red shirts marched to the Grand Palace and it is reported that thousands more assembled at Sanam Luang.

Thakin “said that he was turning to His Majesty as a last resort.” He is reported to have said: “We need to rely on His Majesty to bring back justice and peace to Thailand…”.  He said, “We are here to inform the father of every Thai that we want to see unity and harmony. We want to see the return of right, freedom and dignity to Thailand. We want happiness return to the country through reconciliation…”. He bowed to portraits of the king and queen before leading supporters in royal song and proclaiming “Long Live the King.”

Thaksin apparently phoned in again, after the petition was submitted, to thank his supporters. He “went on to thank the country’s citizens for being merciful and for their moves to restore peace, unity and prosperity in the country.” And he added: “If I am given a chance to return, the first thing I will do is pay obeisance to you all…”. He said that he would “wait for a miracle and hoped that peace would bring him victory.”

Finally, Thaksin is said to have proclaimed, “Although I’m being harassed, I will be patient and wait to return,” and then launched into a rendition of the royal anthem.

This report, while in the notoriously unreliable Nation newspaper, essentially sums up Thaksin’s problem.  As a member of the Sino-Thai elite, he owes allegiance to the (also Sino-Thai) monarch in order to demonstrate his “Thai-ness.” At the same time, his support comes from the people, who are more progressive than Thaksin. Whereas Thaksin sees the monarchy as a potential solution to his personal problems, many of his supporters already realize that the monarchy is one of the problems and an obstacle to a more thorough-going democratization.

If Thaksin is to return to Thailand with a political future, he will need to decide where his “salvation” really lies: with a reactionary and exploitative and fabulously wealthy monarchy or with the people.

If he chooses to align with the monarchy he will be betraying his supporters and will lose his political advantage and his potential historical role, becoming just another dominated capitalist in a system that remains essentially feudal.

New Update: New Mandala has an on-the-spot report on the presentation of the petition by photo-journalist Nick Nostitz, including many photos. Worth viewing.

Further Update: The Nation (20 August 2009: “Don’t stall petition: Juturon warns PM”) has a comment on the petition which is in line with other alarmist and irresponsible columns they have had recently. It asks: “Is the petition a bid to politicise the monarchy, and split the land?” And answers: “The country is going through a delicate phase as politics takes a dangerous twist – with the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra clamouring, even begging for a royal pardon. It could drive the country on the path to civil war” [emphasis added].

The Nation continues: “For many, the threat that Thailand will be ‘a nation lost’ is real. The division among Thais is clearly getting out of hand, taking into account actions from both the government and Thaksin’s side. The move to seek a royal pardon for Thaksin is clearly politically motivated and his possible motive may be to politicise the monarchy.”

It is simply disingenuous to keep claiming that the red shirts are politicizing the monarchy. The palace did this itself over a number of years and events, culminating in the planning and direction of the 2006 coup. Of course the “royal pardon” is political. The red shirts are using the palace’s politicization for their own ends and, judging by the frothing of the Nation’s editorialists and other conservatives, seem to have been successful.

Fears of clashes loom

Reds to present petition today; Newin supporters to meet outside court

Two gripping political dramas reach their climaxes today – the lodging of a petition to His Majesty the King seeking clemency for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and the reading of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the rubber-sapling case against Bhum Jai Thai Party core leader Newin Chidchob.

The red-shirted supporters of Thaksin will march to the Grand Palace, where at Wiset Chaisri Gate they will hand the appeal to a representative from the Office of His Majesty’s Private Secretary.

At the same time, the blue-shirted devotees of Newin will turn up at the Supreme Court’s Political Division for Political Office Holders, which is located near Sanam Luang.

Since the two activities will take place very close by, authorities are afraid there could be clashes between the red shirts and blue shirts if they do not get the political results they want.

The red shirts will converge at Sanam Luang in the morning and Thaksin will phone in to their rally at about 10am.

The verdict in the rubber case against 44 defendants, including Newin, will be read out at 2pm.

Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator for the People’s Alliance for Democracy, warned of a possible political twist if a third party took the opportunity to create a scene for its own benefit.

He questioned the impassive stance by military leaders, saying they will be the key factor wielding influence over the situation.



2 responses

24 08 2009
New: When in trouble, threaten a crack down « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] the UDD presented their petition last week. It is fair to say that some government supporters were disappointed that that event was entirely peaceful. Recall also that Abhisit personally visited PAD demonstrators during their long seige of […]

5 09 2011
Prem and royalist reaction | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] around issues of loyalty to the monarchy. The headline event at present is the resurrection of the Thaksin royal pardon issue. The Abhisit Vejjajiva government buried this petition and it was never likely to see the […]

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