Kasit on the monarchy and succession

18 02 2013

Kasit Piromya, who was a loudmouthed Foreign Minister in Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government initially got his job as a Thaksin Shinawatra critic and for his several appearances on the People’s Alliance for Democracy stage. He’d been an ambassador before this.

Al Jazeera has recently interviewed him for Talk to Al Jazeera. Bizarrely, they claim the now nearly invisible Kasit is “key player in Thai politics.” While a written story was posted a couple of days ago, PPT decided to wait until the video was available before posting. We are pleased we waited as Kasit’s comments on the monarchy and politics are interesting and likely to be controversial amongst royalists in Thailand.

The video report begins rather provocatively, yet accurately,  stating that at the core of “[p]olitical tension in Thailand” are “differing opinions about the country’s existing power structure.” The report then juxtaposes yellow shirts and red shirts:

On one side is an alliance between the military and its political supporters – who on the street are known as the Yellow Shirts. They see themselves as the guardian of political continuity…. The most potent symbol of this is the king, and the Yellow Shirts guard his position with fervor. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving current head of state, is 85, and the question of succession is now lingering over the country.Kasit

On the other side are the so-called Red Shirts. Their most powerful leader has been Thaksin Shinawatra, who rose to power with particular strong support from people living in the countryside.

Also rather provocatively, the interviewer begins with a question about political conflict, asking: “… is there always a link to the monarchy?” Kasit responds with a denial and the usual royalist responses, mixing them all up in a kind of royalist nonsense broth: constitutional monarchy, just like other places, “the U.K. in particular,” [it clearly isn’t] the king is under the constitution and the law [he is, but as royalists usually say, “he has special privileges”], he’s a figurehead [he is, but so much more politically involved than this].

The interviewer then mistakenly states that “Kasit has spoken out against the monarchy.” He responds, appropriately startled. We assume this refers to Kasit’s comments in 2010 where he was quoted as saying:

… I think we should be brave enough to go through all of this and to talk about even the taboo subject of the institution of the monarchy…. I think we have to talk about the institution of the monarchy, how it would have to reform itself to the modern globalised world…. Everything is now becoming in the open…. Let’s have a discussion. What type of democratic society would we like to be?

He now speaks of the monarchy using palace treacle and tripe about the monarchy being responsible for almost everything good that has ever happened in Thailand “for the past 700 to 800 years.” He contradicts his 2010 statements by saying that the monarchy can change and adapt to the modern world, nay, it can:

lead Thailand … spiritually, intellectually and … the king has come out with a philosophy … called economic sufficiency that … advises the Thai people on how to face the challenges of globalization.

Kasit “praises” the monarchy. The interviewer asks about political challenges, most notably succession, and mentions the uneasiness within the elite regarding the crown prince taking over. Kasit looks a little worried and says that the rules of succession are clear and “we have no problem” with the rules. On “the personality of the prince, Kasit stumbles along:vajiralonkgkor_srirasami

A lot of people do not know him and there are a lot of rumors and so on…. [the interviewer interjects regarding these] and so we are not in a position to answer on his behalf…. He can reach out…. [the interviewer interjects that the prince is close to Thaksin]…. I don’t know about that one…. another rumor…. Does he fail in his [royal] functions? I don’t think so.

The interviewer asks if the prince has the support of the Thai people? Kasit’s response is likely to get negative reaction when he says: “It remains to be seen.” Remarkably, he links this to “undercurrents about republicanism.”He seems to say that the problems of lack of public support for the prince relate to these:

A lot of rumors, a lot of websites, a lot of Facebook and so on have all been directed at undermining the institution of the monarchy. And a lot of bad words and so on. It’s a campaign, and one cannot divorce oneself on the rumors and the fact that the rumors are being created in order to undermine and bring down the institution of the monarchy.

Kasit essentially says that all the rumors are to be put aside if one believes in the monarchy.

The interviewer then turns to lese majeste as a draconian impediment to free speech. Kasit responds with the standard line: the monarchy can’t defend itself, so the government must do this on its behalf. But people also abuse the law. The law is fine, but its enforcement is a problem. Suffering selective amnesia, Kasit says the police (he seems to claim they use the charge to “make money”) or politicians must not use the law for political purposes, when he was a member of the government that “enforced” lese majeste more than any other since the 1970s. He says that the law should not be used for political purposes when almost every case of lese majeste under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government was for suppressing political opponents.

The interview then moves to the 2008 airport closures by Kasit and his yellow-shirted comrades and the Abhisit regime’s clearing of red shirt protesters in 2010. He says: “every government has the legitimacy to use force when the protesters did use arms, any legitimate government would have done that.” He states that “the red shirts were armed.” He adds that Thaksin was “the main instigator of the street protests and the use of violence.”

The interviewer then asks of the relationships between Thaksin, the monarchy and the coup. Kasit says the coup was because of fears of a reshuffle amongst the top brass and a fear of street violence, of “civil war.” In essence, for Kasit, all of Thailand’s problems lie with Thaksin. Nothing changes much  for Kasit but the interview is worth watching, even if Kasit is yesterday’s man.



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