Yingluck in power

2 03 2013

Pongphisoot Busbarat, a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University and a former staff member of Thailand’s National Security Council has a 2-part piece at the World Politics Review that claims to assess Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government to date. PPT only read the first part, on domestic politics. While reading it, we were continually reminded of the logic of the People’s Front of Judea (PFJ) in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.People's Front of Judea - Salute

Pongphisoot begins thus:

Though often dismissed as the puppet of her exiled brother, Yingluck Shinawatra has survived several critical challenges since becoming Thailand’s first female prime minister in a landslide victory in July 2011 elections. Yet despite initial hopes for reform, the past year and a half have demonstrated that the Yingluck government’s ultimate goal is to maintain its grip on power…

We can probably accept that, and we have made the last point several times, but then this:

the successes of Yingluck and her Pheu Thai Party (PTP) do not necessarily mean progress on the democratic front…. Yingluck’s performance on justice and democracy, for example, has been disappointing on several levels.

PPT has also been critical of the government on lese majeste and on slow investigations on the 2010 violence, but does this amount to poor democratic performance? This is where Pongphisoot starts to get very Pythonesque. He says that one of the failures is that “of the 1,019 protesters that were arrested during the crackdown, 20 still remain in prison.” That’s a failure? Sure, there are still red shirts held in the political prison, but according to his figures, some 1,000 were released. That sound more like some success rather than failure. And, the current regime is not throwing people in prison at a great rate as the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime did. So, yes, the Yingluck government did have some success in getting red shirts out of jail.

Pongphisoot then states that “[n]o one from the military or the previous government has been prosecuted for the violent suppression of the protests,” but ignores the fact that investigations have made progress under this government. Abhisit and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban do face murder charges. Can anyone imagine any progress on this matter if Abhisit was still premier? In addition, the courts are making findings that military bullets killed people. Abhisit and his lot, including the military brass, have always denied that the Army killed anybody. So, yes, the Yingluck government do get some progress.

Sure, the Yingluck government has “reached an accommodation with the military,” and with “the monarchy, aimed at ensuring her government’s stability.”  While many red shirts and PPT might fume about this, Yingluck’s government has lasted longer than the previous People’s Power government. So, yes, the democratically-elected government has been able to maintain office and see off the royalist elites for the moment.

That the Yingluck administration has gone belly down to “demonstrate its loyalty to the monarchy” is troubling but Pongphisoot alleges that “[c]harges under Thailand’s so-called lèse majesté law, which forbids insulting the monarch, have increased by 15-fold since 2006.” Yet almost every one of those charges occurred prior to this government coming to power. So, yes, compared to the previous governments, the Yingluck administration has dramatically reduced the number of lese majeste charges.

We could go on but the PFJ-like arguments are simply piled up.  It is reasonable to criticize the Yingluck government for being tenaciously supine and for failures on lese majeste; we regularly do this. However, to moan about “democracy” being reduced is as silly as when tea-sipping elite scion and Democrat Party bigwig Korn Chatikavanij argued that Thailand was becoming a police state.

It is clear that politics now is far superior to the period of the Abhisit regime or the post-coup regime established by the junta. At the moment, Thailand has a democratically-elected government and more press freedom and fewer political prisoners than under Abhisit. That seems noteworthy.



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