23 07 2012

Readers may be interested in an op-ed by A. Lin Neumann, founding editor of the Jakarta Globe, who is the host of the “Insight Indonesia” talk show on BeritaSatu TV and the publisher of Strategic Review, which saw Thaksin Shinawatra sharing a stage with Jose Ramos Horta, Anwar Ibrahim and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

That Thaksin was invited has, of course, sent the anti-Thaksin lot in Thailand into a spin. The op-ed isn’t long and is worth a read.

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.

ICG on Thailand’s deteriorating situation

30 04 2010

Like many other international agencies, the International Crisis Group has been rather too quiet on the conflict in Thailand. Today, however, they have issued a Conflict Risk Alert. Its first paragraph is set to stun:

Bangkok/Brussels, 30 April 2010: The Thai political system has broken down and seems incapable of pulling the country back from the brink of widespread conflict. The stand-off in the streets of Bangkok between the government and Red Shirt protesters is worsening and could deteriorate into an undeclared civil war. The country’s polarisation demands immediate action in the form of assistance from neutral figures from outside. It is time for Thailand to consider help from international friends to avoid a slide into wider violence. Even the most advanced democracies have accepted this.

It adds this useful observation:

While some blame Thaksin for the stand-off, the protests have moved far beyond his control. Many Thais are deeply disillusioned by an elite that denied them the fruits of development for decades and then ousted a government elected mostly by the rural poor. Thailand is a country prone to violence, with a history of bloody insurgencies and authoritarianism – an uncomfortable reality for most Thais to accept.  Violence in Bangkok could spread if there is a crackdown.

While thinks the whole alert is worth reading and pondering, we see the recommendations as being oddly flawed. The ICG’s suggestion of Jose Ramos Horta as an independent figure will cut the mustard given hi strong allegiance to figures in the Democrat Party. The idea of a “national government” is essentially a conservative idea. The call for such a government “led by someone from parliament but should be made up mostly of neutral, respected individuals from across society” is potentially undemocratic. New elections and a new constitution makes more sense.

PPT wonders when the government and its backers will accuse the ICG of being in the pay of Thaksin and/or of ignorance.

Aung San Suu Kyi on the perils of having the military’s constitution

24 04 2010

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi has been reported as commenting that “Thailand’s political crisis shows that a constitution drawn up by the military can never deliver stability…”.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said that in a meeting he had with Suu Kyi, “she discussed the situation in Thailand, which has been wracked by crises since a 2006 coup ejected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” He cited her as commenting: “A new government coming to power under a constitution drawn up by the military will never be stable…. We do not need to see very far. We just see Thailand…. Thaksin was an elected person. The military seized the power from an elected person. The constitution was drawn up by the military…. After that, what happened with the first (government)? It was not stable…. This was a result of the constitution being written by the military.”

Readers may recall another Nobel laureate speaking a few days ago. Jose Ramos Horta essentially supported the government’s interpretation of things without considering any context. Suu Kyi’s comments will send some yellow shirts into a low orbit.

Updated: A “country of lies” headed for civil war?

17 04 2010

A report in The Nation (18 April 2010) indicates the continuing censorship of red shirt media. Because of this, red shirts have launched a new community radio station that went on air Saturday, attempting to “counter the continued shutting down of red-shirt media by the government under emergency rule.”

Chinawat Haboonpak, a red-shirt leader told the crowd: “They should allow us to criticise [the government], but instead they shut our ears and eyes…. We ask for just one television channel, but they have taken it away from us and shut our ears and eyes again.” Chinawat had had to “shut down Taxi Radio on Friday after the government had succeeded in jamming it to the point where its reception was so limited as to be inconsequential.” Red shirt community radio stations are being investigated and shut or blocked by the government under its state of emergency and websites and URLs by the thousands are being blocked or shut down by the government.

With considerable justification, the red shirts complain that this continued and intensified censorship “has turned the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva into a ‘tyrannical regime’.” A red-shirt radio host called Abhisit a “liar” and said “Thailand has become a country of lies. This government can order the media around and shut down media and infringe on people’s rights and liberty – truly a dictatorship. He’s shameless.”

It is this kind of government that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos Horta has come out to support. Readers might be shocked to hear Horta pronouncing a Democrat Party line. He said: “There must also be a cessation of disruptions to government functions and illegal occupation of public and private buildings, including commercial centres, as well as road blockades.” He seems unaware of Thailand’s constitutional rights and seems to believe that red shirts are occupying buildings. He calls for an election in 6-9 months, the Democrat Party’s timetable.

Horta owes members of the Democrat Party a huge debt, most notably Kraisak Choonhavan, and he also has close military connections, developed when Thailand had a peace-keeping force in East Timor. In addition, Horta has a family connection to hi-so Thais. Horta is engulfed by yellow-shirt friends and opinions.

Meanwhile, the army chief and former coup conspirator Anupong Paojinda has met with “Army, Navy and Air Force commanders-in-chief …[and they] agreed that emergency laws would be enforced strictly through security checkpoints in Bangkok and the provinces to deal with the protesters’ offensive.” Anupong is said to be “in the hot seat, as he is the chief of operations in charge of executing the government’s order to capture red-shirt leaders and men-in-black ‘terrorists’ as well as launching a possible crackdown on red shirts.”

Now here’s a really telling line from The Nation: “However, the government said Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban remained the head of the emergency situation centre and hence there was no rift between the government and armed forces as speculated.” Ah ha! So there is a rift. This is the country of lies, half-truths and hidden messages, and that seems to be the message.

It is added that “Anupong will have to prove that he can execute the order for the arrest of 24 red-shirt leaders or even crack down on the red-shirt protesters if needed.” Anupong had earlier stated that “dispersing the tens of thousands of red shirts at the Rajprasong intersection was not an option because of the inevitable risk of large-scale loss of life and property damage in the commercial area.” In addition, The Nation points out that a new crackdown could well “risk of igniting a full-scale civil war with pockets of resistance throughout the country.”

However, The Nation’s unnamed sources imply that the Democrat Party-led government of Prime Minister Abhisit wants to take that risk, for “if the Army chief failed to execute the order, he could be replaced by his deputy, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, a more hawkish general who is believed to be have been behind the operation on April 10 which lead to 24 deaths and more than 850 injured.” Another a ha! moment. Maybe the truths are slipping out. Prayuth is indeed hawkish and he failed on Saturday, but the government needs him because they can trust him as a killer of civilians.

The Nation reports that the “red shirts are trying their best to appeal to Anupong to think twice and not shed blood.”

Update: The Nation also reports the red shirts talking about civil war. Red shirt leader Jaran Ditthapichai said that he was sure that if the red shirts were attacked again, soldiers would fight each other: “Soldiers would deal with one another. Tanks would fire at one another. And even if [the government] won, it would be on the rubble of ruins for everyone…”. Jaran estimates that up to 60% of soldiers would support the red shirts.

Speaking of Abhisit’s stubbornness, Jaran said there could be hundreds more casualties, predicting, if the government “felt bloodthirsty enough, they would do it…”. He also claimed that “businesses in the area had been summoned by the government and informed that they would be compensated for any collateral damage – a sign that the use of force to disperse the opposition could be imminent.” For more on these businesses and their Democrat Party connections, see Siam Report.

He added: “But it wouldn’t end there. They may win the battle [at Rajprasong] but not the war. A huge loss of life and property would result and they couldn’t blame it all on us. Our strength is the hearts of many people who are fearless, as proven at Phan Fa Bridge [on April 10].”