Learning authoritarianism

28 08 2009

Also available at ประชาธิปัตย์กำลังเรียนรู้ “การบ้าอำนาจ”.

It cannot be doubted that the oldest political party in Thailand is learning how to be authoritarian. The Democrat Party has never been full of political liberals, but it did, for a while, claim this political space as it developed from a narrowly royalist party to a party that was seen as an “inside” alternative to military authoritarianism.

The party is changing again. Having been moderately supportive of the palace-military coup in 2006, supportive of the military’s rigged constitution in 2008, having vociferously supported the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s street-based politics and having accepted government in a backroom deal brokered by the military and provincial godfather Newin Chidchob, the party has quickly become comfortable with authoritarian politics.

Over the time that the Democrat Party has led the current government, PPT has shown the descent into authoritarian patterns of political control. We won’t put in all the links here, and invite readers to use the search function. These include: the prime minister has been found to have bent the truth; the use of violent force against demonstrators; massive censorship of the media; the use of the monarchy for overt political gain (and the monarchy has been happy to go along), including the use of the draconian lese majeste law; the arrest of scores of political opponents; inciting fear; playing favorites in the bureaucracy (not something that is new, of course); corruption; ill-treatment of refugees; human rights violations in the south; and repeated failures to adequately deal with abuses by the police and military.

The list could be extended, and is beginning to look a little like the litany of complaints against a previous government. What is of concern now is that the Democrat Party seems to have found that massive security crackdowns against political opponents are useful, especially when they have the support of the tame and self-censoring media and the frightened middle class. Pattaya was a disaster for the Democrats, but cracking down on the Songkhran Uprising showed a way forward for the Democrats. The success they had with an astoundingly massive security operation in Phuket has now led to the massive crackdown in Bangkok that is currently in place.

The Bangkok Post (28 August 2009: “City goes into lockdown”) seems appropriate: lockdown thousands of troops and police deployed. This security lockdown is said to in anticipation of violence. But its use of the draconian internal security law means that it is much more than anticipation. It is actually to prevent what would have been legal demonstration. Dusit Palace, Government House and parliament are off limits and the streets there will be cleared of street protests and red shirts.

PPT believes that it is simply the government’s learned authoritarian response.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva chairs the Internal Security Operations Command and military committee that has approved this pre-emptive crackdown. Other areas were also likely to be declared off limits to protesters. The government and its supporters continue to use hackneyed allusions to a “third hand.” Such claims were often made when the military cracked down in previous decades. Abhisit hailed the ISA legislation’s effectiveness … at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Phuket last month.”

The police have been warning UDD leaders while proven illiberal minister Sathit Wongnongtoey told the broadcast media that “he would not ban the media from covering the rally but urged them to be careful with their reports and double-check the facts.” In other words, I am not banning you, but you are warned. The threat is clear.

Another report (Bangkok Post, 28 August 2009: “Suthep to command security operation”) tells of the formation of a so-called peace-keeping operation centre set up under the Internal Security Act and headed by Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban. All protestoers would be searched on arrival. In all of this, Suthep makes the remarkable claim that “the government force will strictly adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights.”

And, Abhisit doesn’t want to dissolve the parliament. He knows that his party is unlikely to win an election and hence he wants to avoid that option for as long as possible or until he and his backers can engineer a victory.

The path to authoritarian rule is short and slippery, and the Democrat Party is on it, and seems remarkably comfortable.



5 responses

28 08 2009
Regularly updated: Abhisit, violence and the Songkhran Uprising « Political Prisoners in Thailand

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29 08 2009
New: Continuing the repression « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Continuing the repression Just a few hours ago PPT posted about our deep concern that the Democrat Party and the government it leads were set on short and […]

29 08 2009
New: Red shirts cancel rally « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] making PPT’s case that the Democrat Party under Abhisit is learning to love authoritarianism, the Bangkok Post (29 […]

31 08 2009
ประชาธิปัตย์กำลังเรียนรู้ “การบ้าอำนาจ” « Liberal Thai

[…] 2009 — chapter 11 Learning authoritarianism August 28, 2009 ที่มา – Political Prisoners in Thailand แปลและเรียบเรียง – แชพเตอร์ […]

1 09 2009
New: Who can be believed when authoritarianism rules? « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Who can be believed when authoritarianism rules? PPT has been posting on the rising authoritarian tide in Thailand. We do this for a range of reasons. One is that we believe that when the Thaksin Shinawatra […]

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