Further updated: Horta and Ji Ungpakorn on Abhisit’s “road map”

4 05 2010

PPT has commented on Jose Ramos Horta and his Democrat Party connections previously. He has now issued a press relase in which he says this of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s condictional offer to the red shirt leadership:

“I am very pleased with this very well thought-out and constructive proposal from Prime Minister Abhisit. Following my meeting with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Bangkok last week I was certain that the Prime Minister was determined to find a negotiated solution to the crisis. I praised him then for his serenity and conciliatory approach. The main elements contained in the Prime Minister’s road-map make sense, are very reasonable. I hope that the other side seizes on this olive branch, endorses the plan offered by the PM, and begin to roll-back from the streets. The next step is for them to sit down and hammer out the details of this road map. It might be too soon to offer congratulations but the Prime Minister should be commended for the way he has handled the crisis, with serenity and firmness, but also with much pragmatism. The opposition ‘Red Shirts’ should also be commended for their bravery and restraint.”

Ji Ungpakorn has this perspective on the same offer:

“Thai Prime Minister Abhisit trumpeted that he was making an important initiative today to ‘solve’ the political crisis. He offered to dissolve parliament in September and hold elections on 14th November 2010. Previously he had said that he would not dissolve parliament until December. Yet even this offer was conditional on there being ‘peace in society’. That means that he and his military-backed government could just go back on this proposal and claim that conditions were ‘not yet right’ for elections nearer the time. While Abhisit was making his proposal, the Military Security Command and Deputy Prime Minister Sutep were threatening to send tanks and armed soldiers in to disperse the pro-democracy Red Shirt protesters in the centre of Bangkok. They still called them ‘terrorists’. This is not the kind of behaviour which will help lead to a peaceful settlement.

Abhisit’s statement was full of lies and excuses. On the Monarchy, Abhisit continued to accuse Red Shirts of undermining the institution, when it is the undemocratic actions of the Military, the Yellow Shirt mobs and the Government, all carried out in the name of the King, which have turned people against the Monarchy. Abhisit also lied that he upheld the freedom of the press and the media. His government has instigated the most draconian censorship of the media in living memory and it continues to do so. He conveniently ignored the issue of the military coup in 2006 and all the undemocratic measures taken by him and his allies since, claiming that the root cause of the crisis was economic inequality. Such inequality is indeed important, but it cannot be divorced from the attack on democratic rights. It is this attack on freedom which is designed to maintain the economic inequalities in Thai society for the benefit of the elites.

Abhisit offered to set up an ‘independent’ committee to look into the 10th April bloodshed when he and his government sent tanks and armed soldiers against unarmed prodemocracy demonstrators. From past experience he cannot be trusted. The political crisis since 2006 makes it almost impossible to find anyone who could be neutral or independent. The National Human Rights Commission is staffed by royalist Yellow Shirts and the judiciary has been highly compromised. The only solution would be to appoint a committee made up of equal representatives from both sides of the divide and to find someone from outside Thailand, perhaps from ASEAN, to chair such a committee.

The Red Shirts have been very determined in their struggle for Democracy. They have held a prolonged protest since mid March. They have faced the armed might of the Military and a whole host of lies from the mainstream media. They will be ready for negotiations, but they should not settle for a poor compromise. All charges against Red Shirts should be dropped and all those in prison, resulting from the protest, should be immediately released. The censorship must end. Abhisit should apologi[se] for all the lies he said about the Red Shirts and he should step down so that someone else can take his place as a caretaker Prime Minister. The emergency decree must be immediately lifted and troops returned to barracks and the head of the army and the major political actors must promise to respect the democratic wishes of the people.

Fresh elections will only be the start of a solution to the deep crisis. Thailand needs drastic changes; political, social and economic. The lese majeste law must be scrapped and political prisoners released. Inequality must be tackled by introducing a welfare state funded by taxing the rich. The military Constitution should also be scrapped and the army should be cut down to a bare minimum. To push forward with these necessary changes, the Red Shirts need to expand their organisation into the trade unions and the lower ranks of the army.”

For PPT, Abhisit’s offer has the hallmarks of a response to negative international responses to the deepening crisis and the need for flexibility to be seen by the  international media and “friendly” governments. The sincerity of the offer will be measured by the flexibility Abhisit shows to his opponents. Frankly, we feel that Abhisit has been an obstacle to a solution to date. Can he turn that around?

A file photo from the Bangkok Post

While there seems plenty of support for the initiative, as Ji Ungpakorn points out, there are potential ways to deny the road map to the red shirts and it comes on a day when armored vehicles were put on the street.

Update 1: The Irrawaddy (4 May 2010) has a story that says the red shirt leadership has welcomed Abhisit’s plan noting its acknowledgement of the protesters’ concerns and desires and observing that this is the first time Abhisit has shown any sign of compromise for a considerable period.

His plan “Abhisit’s five-point plan covers respect for the monarchy, reforms to solve economic injustices, free but responsible media to be overseen by an independent watchdog agency, independent investigations of violence connected with the protests that caused 27 deaths and almost 1,000 injuries, and amendment of the constitution to make it more fair to all political parties.” These are big promises to be achieved in a short period. At the same time, Abhisit “unveiled his plan just a day after warning that security forces were preparing to clear out the Red Shirt protesters — an action that would risk more bloodshed.”

Update 2: Worth looking at Bangkok Pundit’s commentary, where he notes red shirts have been in discussion behind the scenes with the government. It suggests that the Abhisit offer may have been face-saving for him, allowing him to appear as compromising.


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