TIME on Abhisit

27 09 2009

[Update: Some readers have suggested that we should have been harder on TIME’s coverage. PPT felt that there were far worse examples of premier posterior polishing (PPP), so didn’t highlight the “tone” as much as a couple of issues we thought underdone or ignored. For a classic piece of PPP, see the usually sensible Kavi Chongkittavorn in The Nation. Fortunately Bangkok Pundit has a riposte.]

Also available as ไทม์กับอภิสิทธิ์

TIME magazine’s 5 October 2009 issue has an article by Bangkok-based  Hannah Beech on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva entitled “Man in the Middle”. While the article is not entirely uncritical of the Democrat Party leader, PPT notes a certain pussyfooting around on tough issues and a failure to “push” the premier when interviewed.

This could have more to do with restrictions by the prime minister’s media minders than with the journalist or her magazine. We can also see a point about “balance” in reporting. However, in this report, there is a tone of “liking the man” while failing to deal with his policies and actions in a critical way. Some examples follow.

The article states that the “international community” is welcoming the “fresh-faced Prime Minister…”. PPT hasn’t seen it. So far the visit has been low-key and there has been little substantive reporting of Abhisit in the U.S. or even in Thailand. He’s young and a light-weight with little to say that is of international significance. The Thai embassy at the U.N. and in Washington has largely arranged tame and friendly audiences for him.

Beech does suggest that “Abhisit is being accused back home of an increasing disconnect with Thais living outside the air-conditioned comfort of Bangkok. Despite a brightening economic outlook that his technocrat-filled administration is quick to take credit for, there’s no doubt Thailand is fraying at the edges.”  She also notes Abhisit’s alliance with “nationalist yellow-clad protesters” in getting the Democrats into power. But then she says: “Abhisit is not to blame for the deep national divides he inherited when he took office nine months ago.”

We feel this overlooks too much, including Abhisit’s long and mutually supportive relationship with PAD, his party’s decision to boycott the April 2006 elections, his failure as opposition leader to come up with any meaningful policies (he waited for PAD and the military to do the work), his reluctance to go to an election, and his deals with PAD, the palace and the military to get into power and to stay there. Some readers will argue that PPT is being to harsh, but all politicians deserve some blame for the deep divide, most especially those – like Abhisit – who led parties as the divide developed and deepened.

Beech also states that “During his short tenure, he has diligently applied himself to the slow rebuilding of democratic institutions that have been eroded by nearly four years of political turbulence. But so far good intentions have not yielded many concrete results.” PPT doesn’t know which institutions are being considered here. Certainly not elections. The judiciary? Hardly. The constitution remains  mired in conflict, although Abhisit claims to be moving on change. More darkly, Abhisit has presided over the repeated use of draconian laws such as lese majeste (see below), computer crimes and the Internal Security Act. The ISA is mentioned later in the report but Abhisit’s reliance on the Act is not seen as being for political advantage.

Beech notes that Abhisit met TIME recently in Government House, “the country’s seat of power that twice over the past year was besieged by yellow- and red-shirted protesters, forcing three successive administrations to abandon their offices.” She fails to note Abhisit’s support for PAD occupation of Government House.

Beech says that the “PM freely admits the difficulties the nation and his administration are facing” and quotes him:  “We have to make sure that what to me are very fundamental pillars of democracy can be put into place without being seen as contravening the idea that democracy is about the rule of majority. We have to strike the right balance.” No questions raised here. What are the fundamentals (perhaps the ideas mentioned in Abhisit’s Columbia speech)? The fact is that Abhisit has worked with others to ensure that the rule of majority has been contravened.

Beech is a little less soft in dealing with lese majeste and “unity building” nonsense. Abhisit apparently told TIME that on lese majeste “there has been an improvement [although] there may have been one or two cases which somehow went off the radar…” just days before Darunee Charnchoensilpakul was sentenced to 18 years’ jail. This is not the first time Abhisit has been less than truthful on such cases.

PPT does acknowledge that Beech’s report finishes on a solid and important note when she makes says that “royalists are among his greatest supporters, and publicly criticizing such punishments [for lese majeste, etc.] might be political suicide for Abhisit.” She adds: “A chap named Mark would have had a hard time explaining to his friends back in Oxford how all this fits into the modern Thai democracy he says he’s trying to build.” Indeed.


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28 09 2009
New: Kasit, U.S. aid and truth « Political Prisoners in Thailand

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