The state of politics

18 10 2019

There are a couple of assessments worth reading together. We have been able to access both, so we figure others can too and that there’s no need to reproduce in full.

The first is “Why the Thai King’s Power Grab Could Backfire,” by Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations. Referring to the fake emergency decree, the author states:

The decree claims the change was made necessary by an emergency, but there is no obvious emergency that justifies such a decision.

In reality, taking personal control of the military units is just the latest move by King Maha Vajiralongkorn to expand his influence over Thailand’s politics, military affairs and economy since ascending to the throne in late 2016…. Vajiralongkorn seems intent on pushing the country further away from a constitutional monarchy as well, but in another direction altogether: closer to an absolute monarchy.

From Ugly Thailand

Some of the rest of the article we do not agree with, including its wishful thinking. Frankly, we do not see this relationship between a cocky, dominant and obsessive king and the seemingly supine military coming undone any time soon. Hopefully we are wrong. This is the conclusion to the article:

Ultimately, the king’s power grab might hurt the long-term viability of the monarchy. Although lese majeste laws outlaw public criticism, Thais are generally well aware of Vajiralongkorn’s past and present conduct. There is little evidence he has boosted his popularity as king. His maneuvering is making enemies among business, military and political elites, in addition to quiet republicans who already distrusted the monarchy. Meanwhile, disempowering advisers, like the Privy Council, and assuming more control over both politics and the economy removes any plausible deniability for the king in the event of failure.

By operating in the shadows, the king’s father wielded significant power but allowed the blame for Thailand’s problems to fall on others. Vajiralongkorn may have squandered that option.

The second story is The Economist’s Banyan writing on Gen Apirat Kongsompong demonstrating his loyalty to the king. Again, the relationship between supine military bosses and the powerful king is a feature.

Read them and weep for Thailand.

Outsiders looking in I

3 08 2016

Several international newspapers have run backgrounders on the military’s referendum.

The Guardian has and article that promises “all your questions answered.” The Council on Foreign Relations provides “some background.”

Clipped from The Guardian

Clipped from The Guardian

One question The Guardian asked is: Why has the draft constitution proven so controversial?

The answer:

Having taken power after a 2014 coup, Thailand’s interim, military-backed National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has presented a constitutional referendum as a major step on their roadmap to “fully-functioning democracy”.

It claims the new constitution will enhance the ability of the next Government to fight against corruption while ensuring the NCPO’s current program of reforms will not be cut short. However, rights groups say the constitution extends too much power to the unelected NCPO, meaning their influence would remain well past their interim tenure.”

The CFR agrees, stating:

The charter is designed, in many ways, to undermine Thailand’s democratic institutions, preserve the power of the armed forces and other unelected institutions, and ensure that either the military or pro-military parties are in power whenever Thailand goes through a royal succession.

The point is that the military intends to run Thailand for years to come, either directly or through puppets.

Another question is: “How has campaigning been going?”

The answer: “Officially, campaigning for the referendum has been banned. The reality, however, has been a targeted suppression of ‘No’ campaigners.”

That is accurate. The junta has ensured that, through its intense repression, the referendum has no legitimacy.

The CFR article agrees, stating: “To make it as likely as possible that the charter passes, the junta has essentially banned all critical public discussion of the proposed constitution.” It adds: “The junta also has dispatched squads of army cadets across the country to encourage Thais to vote yes on the constitution.”

On succession, the CFR states:

Thailand now exists in a state of fear, with many royalists worried that the period after Bhumibhol’s passing will usher in civil conflict, since Thais will reject the next king, or the next king will prove so unstable that he will destabilize the entire country.

The CFR comments on potential referendum fraud:

Though there may be some fraud, the actual voting will likely be relatively free and fair; there is little evidence to suggest that the coup government plans to blatantly rig the polls on August 7.

We are not convinced. This junta has done much that no sane person would have expected. Fixing the result is not beyond the military dictatorship.


Monarchies in comparison

27 08 2012

Personal or public?

Readers may recall that back in April this year, PPT posted regarding the scandal facing the Spanish king at that time and some of the historical coincidences that haunted the Spanish and Thai kings. At the Council on Foreign Relations blog, Joshua Kurlantzick has a post with a contemporary comparison.

Referring to a Washington Post article of a few days ago, Kurlantzick writes of how European austerity programs are impacting the monarchies there. Kurlantzick reminds readers of the criticism of the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, for his 19th Century and colonial-like penchant for shooting wild animals in Africa (see PPT’s earlier post). That criticism “led to a major backlash against the monarch.” The blog article states that that event has seen calls for “Juan Carlos to drastically cut his annual spending and to be much more transparent about how he is spending money on royal activities.”

While the well-funded and seemingly well-fueled escapes of the youngest British prince/playboy in Las Vegas may suggest that the austerities are not cutting too deep for some, the calls for greater transparency for the more controversial and big spending and well-connected royals has been growing, while establishment figures and self-serving royalists seek to protect the extravagant royals.

Kurlantzick then turns to Thailand:

Though it may be able to hold off such inquiries for now, via harsh lèse-majesté laws and the genuine reverence the monarchy enjoys, the Thai monarchy could learn some lessons from Juan Carlos. Like the Spanish king, the current Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has truly earned a high degree of respect from many Thais over the course of his lengthy reign. But that respect, and the fact that the king’s reign is strongly supported by a core of arch-royalists in Bangkok, does not mean that questions are not increasingly being raised, in private, about the royal family’s finances.

Kurlantzick’s view of “respect” is couched in terms that don’t obliterate history in the way that several news agencies have long done, and the point he makes about transparency for royal finances is an important one. While he believes that “royals seem to understand this [need] in Thailand,”we are not so sure the royals are in any way keen on opening up about health, wealth or much else.

His evidence for feeling that the Thai royals have been given a message is the “recent, royally-approved biography of the king’s life” that he says “contained significantly more information on the Crown Property Bureau “than any royally-approved book had in the past.” That’s true, but it is a bit of closing the gate after the horse has bolted given the high profile of an academic account (get it here) and the related Forbes story of the CPB. Essentially, the book is a royalist and palace attempt to steer the public account of the monarchy, post-Handley (and his The King Never Smiles).

Kurlantzick believes that as the average Thai knows something about the monarchy’s wealth, that knowledge “only fuels a hunger for more —though Thais will not say so in public. On social media sites, and in private conversations, discussion of the Crown Property Bureau now is far more common than in the past.”

Juan Carlos has apparently “announced he would be taking a pay cut voluntarily, according to the Washington Post story, in tune with the austere times.” Kurlantzick asks if that isn’t a “model for other monarchs?” Probably not, for as the palace and those responsible for the recent biography points out, this king is unlike any other…. and other such concoctions that serve “protect” and conceal.

Much that contributes to the wealth and power of the Thai monarchy remains missing from public view. See sets of PPT posts on this here and here.

As a most basic of examples, it remains unclear – make that opaque – how much taxpayer money goes to support the royal family, its activities, projects and personal spending. Efforts have been made to cull information from Budget Bureau papers, but there is no clarity and a myriad of government agencies pour funds into the support of the royals, with no accounting or public accountability (as one small example, think of royal cars). No minister or politician dares  raise questions about royal funding in parliament, which is meant to be one site of scrutiny over the expenditure of public monies; many of these people assist in what amount to cover ups. Senior bureaucrats regularly come out with dopey letters denying royal wealth.

Transparency remains pretty much off the agenda and accountability is a term that is unlikely to be used in the same breathe as monarchy.

Kurlantzick on failed reconciliation

14 08 2012

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Joshua Kurlantzick has a take on the failure of reconciliation.

He begins by claiming that “Thai politics, which almost couldn’t get worse, actually has.” We at PPT don’t agree. Since the 2011 election, while those who lost the election have been vocal and demonstrative, and while the conditions in the south seem more dangerous, in terms of the ongoing political crisis, we have to admit that Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has seen an easing of political violence and repression.

Even in terms of lese majeste, while calls for changes to the law and for the release of those currently incarcerated, and despite some regressive statements on lese majeste, we can think of only one case that has been wholly processed under this government. Others, begun under the royalist Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, have continued to be processed. That scores of people aren’t being accused and jailed is a step forward, if a much smaller one than PPT wanted.

We don’t disagree with the cited quote from Thitinan Pongsudhirak who states that “Thailand’s problem is that those who keep winning elections are not allowed to rule, whereas others who ultimately call the shots cannot win elections.” At the same time, we think that those “who call the shots” are not going unchallenged. The recent red shirt challenges to the politicized and corrupt Constitutional Court are a case in point. The Court’s actions were reprehensible but were opposed and continue to be opposed, and the Puea Thai Party hasn’t (yet) been dissolved.

That progress, however, is not robust, and Yingluck’s government faces constant threat. We remain bemused by the claim that there was a “deal” done between Thaksin Shinawatra, the palace and the military. There’s scant evidence for a deal yet the claim continues to be made. Kurlantzick cites Asia Times Online columnist Shawn Crispin on this, but as far as we can tell, no deal has been respected by anyone. Rather, an arm-wrestle continues for control of the state.

If there is one aspect of the so-called deal that has played out it relates to the military.  Essentially, Yingluck has been very reluctant to challenge the military. Indeed, we believe that her government is pushing money to the military, with the idea being that new toys keep them quiet and funds flowing to military bosses from “commissions.” That said, deal or no deal, we think the government would have attempted to avoid confrontation with the coup makers. That would also apply to the coup makers in the palace. Yingluck’s prostrating and pandering to them is a bit like throwing money at the men with guns. Conflict with both groups continues but is not as overt as in the past.

A tiny lese majeste crack?

18 12 2011

As readers know, the recent past has been especially bleak for those who harbored some hope that there might be some reform of the draconian Article 112. Sentences have been tough and the media has been filled by royalist chants on lese majeste as a political weapon, while the Yingluck Shinawatra government has taken the royalist bait and repeatedly tried to show it is “loyal” and tough on lese majeste.

But has a minute crack appeared in the edifice that is lese majeste repression? Probably not, but PPT thinks that a statement by Prime Minister Yingluck on lese majeste deserves some attention.

In the Bangkok Post, Yingluck is quoted as stating that “any proposed changes to the lese majeste law would need to pass through the parliamentary process…”. PPT can’t recall any recent premier even suggesting that changes to Article 112 might be considered by parliament. So maybe this is a breakthrough of sorts. But Yingluck quickly added that “her government would concentrate on tackling economic problems.”

So that doesn’t sound like Yingluck is going to take the law to parliament for amendment, but it does at least suggest that the idea of reform is not totally lost. On lese majeste, even infinitesimal movement is something.

Of course, changes to the law will be bitterly opposed by royalists. The current leader on all things royalist is the very yellow Tul Sitthisomwong of the Siam Samakkhi group who, on hearing Yingluck’s words, like one of Pavlov’s drooling dogs, immediately said his “group will rally at Lumpini Park on Friday to oppose moves to amend the lese majeste law.”

Meanwhile, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is quoted as saying that “the government had to promote understanding about Section 112 to avoid international criticisms such as the remark by the United States that the law might have been used to limit freedom of expression.”

Recall that Abhisit, who considers himself a master communicator with gullible foreigners, tried to “promote understanding” on the law in 2009. Essentially, this involved lying about the law and about lese majeste victims. An early example was Abhisit’s speech at Oxford University, Abhisit was shown to be making patently false claims about lese majeste victims. Other falsehoods to foreigners were at New York’s Columbia University, in speeches in Europe and at the Council on Foreign Relations. At the latter he claimed all of his government’s repression and censorship did not impact “ordinary people.”

In other words, Abhisit is not in favour of reform on Article 112. How could he be? His government used the law more than any post-1932 government. But he is in favour of more PR on lese majeste. Based on his track record, this would seem to mean lying about the law and its use.

We hope that Yingluck’s words will come to mean something more than the lies and deceit of the Abhisit regime, but we won’t be holding our collective breath.

Council on Foreign Relations on lese majeste regression

12 09 2011

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Joshua Kurlantzick has posted an article where he considers the unique trajectory of lese majeste repression in Thailand. He begins:

Over the past five years Thailand’s Lèse-Majesté law, by far the strictest in the world, went from being scarcely used to being used an extraordinary number of times annually.

Noting the huge expansion of cases since the 2006 military coup, he notes that

Thailand has in recent years broadened the law in order to prosecute Thais who have allegedly insulted the monarchy on the Internet, in blogs, and using social media; one U.S. citizen recently was arrested in Thailand for just such a “crime.”

Kurlantzick is obviously correct to note that lese majeste “has become a political weapon”:

Royalists in the military, the bureaucracy, and the Democrat Party have used it to crush dissent.

On initial optimism that Yingluck Shinawatra’s government might do something about the horrid law, Kurlantzick  states:

Allies of Yingluck say that she is personally sympathetic to trying to reduce use of the law and reform it in the long run. After her election, for example, bloggers posted an interview she had given in which she said that she did not want the law to be misused.

But that hope is receding as nothing has been done and arrests have continued. Kurlantzick notes:

A group of concerned scholars have submitted to Yingluck a public letter calling on her to review Thailand’s laws on Lèse-Majesté and on cyber crimes. They also have called on her to push for the release on bail of people facing Lèse-Majesté charges, many of whom are being held without bail. So far, Yingluck and her cabinet have not given any signs that they are taking notice.

CFR on Thailand’s democratic failure

31 03 2011

Some choice quotes from Joshua Kurlantzick, a Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. The article is worth a read in full:

Thailand boasted a large, educated middle class, one of the best-performing economies in the world, and a relatively robust civil society. By the late 1990s, Thailand had held several free elections and passed a reformist constitution that enshrined greater protections for civil liberties and created a wealth of new institutions designed to root out graft and ensure civil rights. In its 1999 report on freedom in the world, monitoring organization Freedom House ranked Thailand a “free” nation.

Today, however, Thailand looks less like a success story and more like an example of how democracy can fail. Since a 2006 military coup, Thailand has reverted to a kind of soft authoritarianism: the military plays an enormous role in determining politics; the Thai middle class has become increasingly anti-democratic; and security forces have used threats, online filtering, arrests, and killings to intimidate opponents of a government sanctioned by the armed forces and Thailand’s monarchy. Freedom House recently ranked Thailand as only “partly free,” and the country has sunk near the bottom of all developing nations in rankings of press freedom.

Critical of Thaksin Shinawatra’s period in power and his authoritarian tendencies, the author adds:

By 2005, when Thaksin was re-elected, again with massive support from the poor, he dominated the country’s political landscape. And yet Thailand had not become Equatorial Guinea or Libya; the Thai middle classes, who had led the democratic revolution before, could have fought back against Thaksin at the ballot box, through the remaining independent news outlets or in the courts. But instead, like middle classes in many emerging democracies today, they had grown disillusioned with democracy, believing that it had delivered only elected autocracy and that it would empower the poor at their expense.

They supported the 2006 coup. Kurlantzick says: “The Thai coup, unfortunately, only triggered a total meltdown. Thaksin might have damaged the country’s weak democracy, but the military ruined it.” Indeed.

Thailand dives lower on press freedom index

21 10 2010

It should be no surprise to anyone to read in The Nation that “Thailand has slipped 23 places to the ranking of 153rd on the press freedom index…”. The 2010 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Thailand between Azerbaijan at 152 and Belarus at 154. RWB states: “Political violence has produced some very troubling tumbles in the rankings. Thailand (153rd) – where two journalists were killed and some fifteen wounded while covering the army crackdown on the “red shirts” movement in Bangkok – lost 23 places…”. Read more from RWB on Thailand here.

Despite claims to the contrary from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, there can be no sane denial of the facts. The control of the media in Thailand and the regime of censorship in place is reminiscent of that under military regimes.

Readers may recall Kasit’s laughable comment at the Asia Society recently: Thailand is open and freedom of the press “is second to none in the world!” He also pleaded for no more rankings of Thailand, perhaps knowing how badly the country is going to look on politics and freedom indicators.

Or perhaps Abhisit’s remarkable comments at the Council for Foreign Relations, as PPT reported them: Thailand, he said, has plenty of space for opposition opinion. Indeed, “much, much more space than we’ve seen for quite some time…”. He quickly added that this doesn’t apply to red shirt media, which he says is political propaganda for the red shirts…. Of course, Abhisit uses the “they incite violence” line, while ignoring yellow-shirt media…. He says nothing of the silencing and blocking of media that does not incite violence or hatred, such as Prachatai. Abhisit answers another question by saying that when there is censorship of all the red shirt media, “the situation is a lot calmer.” And that is the point. Abhisit and his supporters and backers want to silence the opposition.

If Abhisit and Kasit really do believe that Thailand’s media freedom “is second to none in the world!” then the country is in serious trouble , being run by people who do not understand freedom and democracy.

Updated: Abhisit at CFR II

28 09 2010

As promised, PPT provides further commentary on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva recently spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. This post is about the question and answer period that followed his speech, which PPT posted on earlier.

We have to admit that the Q & A was disappointing because so much wasn’t asked, and this allowed Abhisit to range free in a remarkable display of mendaciousness that was both audacious and arrogant in its delivery.

The first question related to double standards in the justice system, with Abhisit being asked about the Democrat Party dissolution case vis-a-vis the predecessor parties (PPT assumes the Thai Rak Thai Party). Abhisit claimed that his party will “certainly be held to the same standards” as the pro-Thaksin parties. But he fudges the truth. The TRT case was under a military-backed regime and used retrospectively-applied laws. That is not the case for the Democrat Party, which is in power and has the politicized Department of Special Investigation working for it on its dissolution cases.

When asked what the values were that clashed in the events of April and May, Abhisit says “I didn’t say clash of values as such…”. In fact, he did. But he goes on to say that the yellow and red shirts take “different perspectives … on the concept of democracy.” Abhisit states that when the PAD were demonstrating, they emphasized “accountability, transparency, respect for the law…”. Abhisit is suffering amnesia, forgetting the monarchy, nationalism and extra-legal demands.For the red shirts the “values” were not just about making votes count and having parliamentary democracy functioning but double standards, injustice, inequality, the coup and so on.

Abhisit wants to make the point that he spans both sets of “perspectives.” Interestingly, he points a finger at elected governments that use authoritarian means. Abhisit does not apply this same standard to his own government, which has never won at the ballot box, but still uses authoritarian means, backed by the military’s guns. The real violence and the balance of weapons is with the Abhisit government and they have used them several times.

Ignoring Abhisit’s blatant lie on why red shirts were not arrested on 19 September – he says they didn’t block roads, but anyone who is sighted knows that’s inaccurate – he then dissembles on censorship, arguing that Thailand has plenty of space for opposition opinion. Indeed, “much, much more space than we’ve seen for quite some time…”. He quickly adds that this doesn’t apply to red shirt media, which he says is political propaganda for the red shirts. Maybe Abhisit has never watched government television, but this is almost staggering in its application of double standards.

Of course, Abhisit uses the “they incite violence” line, while ignoring yellow-shirt media that does the same. He says nothing of the silencing and blocking of media that does not incite violence or hatred, such as Prachatai. Abhisit answers another question by saying that when there is censorship of all the red shirt media, “the situation is a lot calmer.” That’s the real point. Abhisit likes censorship; it is useful for him. Abhisit not only compares the red shirts to al Qaeda, but also to the IRA.

Finally, in the last couple of minutes he rambles about the computer crimes and lese majeste laws, suggesting that his government has wanted to moderate their use. Unfortunately, the facts are that this government has used political laws like these far more than predecessors, and they use them to censor and repress. He gets a dopey and uniformed question from someone claiming to be from Human Rights Watch that allows Abhisit to claim again that his appointed commissions are fully independent. Again he sounds like he thinks his audience is made up of a bunch of dolts when he claims: ” I haven’t seen or heard any complaints about these commissions not being able to work or can’t get the necessary information that they want.” That’s not what the media reports from Bangkok. Maybe Abhisit is like two of the three monkeys, not hearing and not seeing?

He also manages to attack HRW for its recent statement, saying that “now no one is detained…”. He means under the emergency decree. This is semantic gymnastics, for the red shirt leadership is now charged with vague crimes of terrorism and breaking the decree’s provisions. It remains unclear whether all detainees have been charged, but this is because Abhisit’s government prefers to be opaque on matters of repression. He denies this but all human rights observers disagree with him. More untruths from the premier.

He can be smug that he has gotten by. But he did it with a blatant display of dishonesty. Does Abhisit even believe what he is saying? More to the point, perhaps, has the Democrat Party leadership simply convinced itself that its own propaganda is real? In this sense, perhaps Abhisit doesn’t even understand what he is saying.

Abhisit at CFR I

26 09 2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva recently spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. PPT has some commentary on the talk, and we will provide further commentary on the Q&A in another post, when we can get to it:

He is introduced as speaking on the current situation in Thailand. The first thing that strikes a well-informed listener is that he says very little that is new, and sticks pretty closely to the furrow that the regime has plowed since it came to power and especially since the violent 19 May crackdown. As PPT has long pointed out, what Abhisit says and does are often diametrically opposed, so his statements require contextualization.

Regular readers will recall that PPT referred to Abhisit then as the Butcher of Bangkok because his government was responsible for the largest-ever official number of deaths in political protests in Thailand. Note we emphasize “official,” and readily acknowledge that earlier protests probably resulted in more deaths at the hands of authoritarian and military governments. Twice in the speech, Abhisit refers to “regrettable losses of life” but says nothing at all of his government’s role in the events, the fact that the military slaughtered and maimed protesters or anything else that would suggest true regret.

Likewise, he says absolutely nothing about people locked up. He says nothing about political prisoners, whether red shirts or victims of the lese majeste or computer crimes laws. It is as if they do not exist for this prime minister. He seems to wash his well-manicured and soft hands of the grime and blood of his struggle to remain in power.

Abhisit makes no mention of the monarchy, the judiciary, the elite, the military, double standards or any other issue that would be suggestive that he gives any credence to his opponents.

Abhisit does say the word “democracy” several times, perhaps anticipating that an American audience will lap up this rhetoric. Perhaps they do, but well-informed listeners will notice a hollow ring as democracy is defined in terms that the regime chooses and relies on rule of law language that would suit most authoritarian regimes. Thaksin Shinawatra is always accused of having a disdain for democracy, seeing it as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Abhisit, however, strips the term of much of its meaning. The result is his penchant for authoritarian politics and repression.

Abhisit claims he did not anticipate the events of April and May 2010, but now views them as part of a process that has Thailand building on the “foundations of our democracy.” Despite “challenges” he is confident that Thailand will win through a “long and difficult process.” Given that the Democrat Party and Abhisit himself were essentially supportive of the 2006 coup, are wrapped like Siamese twins with the major repressive forces in Thailand, and have implemented repression in all political arenas, the meaning of “democracy” for him and his supporters is no more than “Thai-style democracy,” which is no democracy at all.

One of the lessons of April and May, he says, is that when “trying to develop a democracy, there will be clashes of values, clashes of opinions, but the key thing … is to find a way to … avoid violence and and illegal means to …political ends…”. The government, Abhisit opines, is “determined to embark on a process of reform and reconciliation…”. He speaks of “reaching out” to “all parties” in this process. He says this is to “build the right values that support our future and stronger democracy…. respect the law, good governance, accountability and transparency.”

PPT is sure that there will be many who will read this and need to get their jaws off the floor. Yes, he says it all the time, but he does nothing meaningful.

Justifying the use of the emergency decree in Bangkok since April this year, the premier jauntily asserts that: “If you are in Bangkok you’d hardly notice the effect of the state of emergency…. Ordinary people are not affected…”. As many ordinary people have stated, along with intellectuals, journalists and human rights activists, this is fundamentally wrong. Abhisit knows it, so he is dissembling yet again. In fact, the emergency decree (and earlier uses of the internal security laws) is central top  political control for his government.

The prime minister then speaks in self-congratulatory terms of his efforts for reconciliation: “What I have done is set up a number of independent commissions…”. He repeats this word “independent.” He says Anand Panyarachun’s is the most important commission, to “look at some of the structural issues that give rise to inequalities,” admitting that “for some” that such inequalities gave rise to the violence of April and May. Abhisit has generally rejected this latter line, but sees the Anand commission as a PR exercise to change the views of others on this. As PPT posted recently, the Anand commission seems remarkably reluctant to do much at all.

Would it only be PPT that finds Abhisit’s statement on the media threatening?: “We are engaging the media so that they go through a process of reform as well.” It seems Abhisit wants them to “retain freedom of expression” while reporting news with responsibility and accountability. The mainstream media have been reluctant to participate. However, the most striking issue is that while Abhisit’s regime has closed almost all of the opposition media, it mollycoddles the yellow shirt media such as PAD’s

As might be expected from the leader of a political party that was manipulated into parliamentary leadership, Abhisit tries to normalize the backroom dealings and extra-parliamentary forces that catapulted an unelectable party to the head of government. He says the the parliamentary system is “fully functioning.” He complains that there are misconceptions that the political crisis arose from a “somehow undemocratic process.”

He states: “That is not true,” and goes through the usual explanation of how his coalition came to power without mentioning the role of a politicized judiciary or of the military, People’s Alliance for Democracy, Newin Chidchob or the palace. Oddly, Abhisit places some emphasis on the fact that the PPP did not get a majority when elected…. The Democrat Party have never had a majority, and the only party ever to have a majority in parliament was thrown out by the military….

Abhisit seems to welcome “the opposition” saying they want to be involved in the reconciliation process – although, in reality, he is the one who has been suspicious of these overtures. Abhisit rejects debate on “who did what, who’s right and who’s wrong” in favor of him, as a “true democrat,” being confident that the government is addressing the “real issues that matter to the people.”

Abhisit demonstrates his toughness when he says he will not “cave in” to “some demands” as he gets the country “through this crisis.” In fact, though, this is nothing more than his personal hatred and fear of Thaksin Shinawatracoming to the fore. He makes the claim that one unnamed person or small group has placed their interest above that of the nation – Thaksin , of course. One should “never allow the use of force, violence,  or intimidation to effect political changes.”

That might sound reasonable, but then the U.S. used violence to gain independence and fought a civil war on political rights. The French Revolution involved considerable violence, and we could go on and on. Members of the elite is always opposed to violence, except when they are perpetrating it.

On early elections, Abhisit is boringly repetitious: “Over the last two years, I have never rejected calls for early elections. But my conditions that I have set are set for the best, for the country’s interests…”. He has not moved on this for months. Back in March, we posted this:

What was striking, however, was Abhisit’s insistence on constitutional change before an election. He has a patchy track record on this. There have been statements from him on constitutional reform, but these have all fallen into the usual traps. He has made no personal commitment to meaningful constitutional reform and has not personally been engaged with the agenda. It’s the talk but … no action problem again.

The government’s other line is to say that “elections will solve nothing” while also saying that dissolving parliament is not off the agenda. Many in the middle class and elite will agree with the rejection of elections because they fear the outcome will bring politicians they view as pro-Thaksin back to power. Abhisit may have angered some in his right-wing support base by talking, but nothing he said is going to immediately cause concern for his yellow-shirted supporters in the Democrat Party or more broadly.

Nothing’s changed. Abhisit lists the reasons he has opposed early elections. First, the economy needed time to recover. Second, he says he doesn’t want to see an election resulting in a weak government and a process like 2007-08. Third, and most important “I have always said that elections should only take place under peaceful and stable conditions…”. He says “he does not believe in elections where there continues to be intimidation, threat of the use of force or violence against candidates or parties…”. Only if the red shirts can guarantee this, will he go for an early election. He believes he has a right to stay in power until the beginning of 2012. After all of this, he blames the red shirts for rejecting his conditionality.

The closest he gets to accepting red shirt “demands” is to say that average red shirts “have been exploited by some political leaders” and it is this that led to the “unfortunate and regrettable events of April and May.”This is the “villagers are ignorant” claim so often repeated by Democrat Party leaders and the yellow shirts. Even if the red shirts have legitimate gripes, they are “manipulated” by the evil Thaksin and other nasty politicians. Only yellow shirts and government supporters are not manipulated and remain clear-eyed…. This is elitist nonsense but also a necessary rationalization to de-legitimize political mobilization by the under-classes.

This is Abhisit unchanged, using his English-language skills to sell his authoritarian government to U.S. investors and government. Military dictators and the king have long done the same. Abhisit fits that model ever so neatly.

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