The dictatorship stumbling and bumbling

13 10 2015

In a recent post, we noted how the military dictatorship seems enamored of its weird version of history. In that perspective, the 1976 October massacre is a victory for monarchists and the May 1992 massacre is seen as some kind of political mistake. As we noted, Marx put it this way: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Appointing Meechai Ruchupan, a villain of 1991-2, as the chief constitution writer appears to support Marx’s contention. Farce becomes an absurdity when the junta and Meechai appoint the aged academic Tinnapan Nakata as chairman of the National Reform Steering Assembly.

The Bangkok Post reports that not only is Tinnapan 81 years of age, but he was a “minister in the 1992 ‘Black May’ government has been named  over the protests of relatives of victims of the deadly street protests…”. He was a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office “during the brief, turbulent tenure of Suchinda Kraprayoon, who resigned after seven weeks in office following street protests in which 52 people officially were confirmed dead while hundreds went missing after soldiers opened fire on unarmed students and demonstrators.”

Naturally enough, relatives of Black May victims had protested Tinnapan’s appointment.

The junta is bumbling. Deliberately insulting the middle class who are associated with the protests against the Suchinda government is a political error. It isn’t a single fumble.

The Nation reports that the regime is after a middle-class NGO. The Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) has been around for a considerable time, funded by so-called sin taxes. The Bangkok Post states that The Dictator “Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered authorities to look into … ThaiHealth … to ensure its funds are being spent to improve people’s health and promote the well-being of the general public.”

A junta audit panel reportedly “found ThaiHealth’s budget this year may not have been spent properly. The report found that more than half of the foundation’s funds went on financing political reform projects, election procedures and assessing the Thai political landscape, which were not related to health promotion.”

ThaiHealth has denied the allegations.

Whatever the situation with ThaiHealth’s funding, this represents another attack on the middle class that has emerged from the 1990s. If they junta continues down this path, its tenure is likely to face broader protest.

Go back, way back I

11 10 2015

A few days ago, PPT posted on the appointment of Meechai Ruchupan as chair of the Constitution Drafting Committee. We noted that Meechai has worked on several military and military-backed constitutions in the past. Meechai’s career is as a conservative, royalist servant of various military regimes.

Meechai was involved with the 1991 that allowed General Suchinda Kraprayoon to become premier, leading to the May 1992 massacre.

The only lesson Meechai has drawn from that unfortunate experience is that there is still room for a non-elected premier. Tragically, Meechai reportedly joked about the events of the time joking that he “would first have to study astrology before he could foretell the future” but refusing to rule out an outsider prime minister.

On his own participation in the events of 1992, he says: “I’m not sure whether it was the principle of non-MP premier or the person that was opposed by the people at that time…”.

The conservative elite is fine with refashioning their own roles and history for their own benefit and care nothing for those murdered by the military along the way. By demanding votes and elections, they apparently deserve to be gunned down, time and time again.

The rollback is also reported at the Bangkok Post.  Here, the grinding of gears into reverse is only to the period when the last CDC was at work.

It is reported that the CDC is again “considering introducing a charter clause that requires political parties to present their election campaign platforms for examination to ensure they are fiscally responsible and transparent.”

Of course, as it was a few months ago, this is about so-called populist policies.

CDC spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni babbles that the “idea behind examining policy platforms is to make sure campaign promises made by political parties will not compromise fiscal discipline later on…. The party platforms will also be used as evidence if irregularities surface later…”.

A new and, yes, as usual, unelected body “might be established to do the job…” or existing unelected bodies would be used. Either way, the anti-politician, anti-election paternalism of the anti-democrats is clear.

Norachit “explained” that the “CDC is not trying to block so-called populist policies…”. After all, the Democrat Party tried them and so is the current military dictatorship. He says that it is to “prevent the abuse of populism to win votes.”

If any reader can make sense of this, let us know. It sounds like anti-democrat nonsense to us.

And, just to clear away any doubts about Thailand’s backward trajectory, The Dictator has made it clear: “Don’t rely on the principles of democracy…”.

Old men renewed

7 10 2015

What is that statement by a dead philosopher? George Santayana, reflecting his times and his political conservatism, stated:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Marx put it this way when referring respectively to Napoleon I and to his nephew Louis Napoleon in The Eighteenth Brumaire:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

In Bangkok, it is arguably a little different as we see a sorry repeat of past farces as tragedy, as if The Dictator and his flunkies have no memory of their own past.

The appointment of Meechai Ruchupan to chair the new 21-member Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) is not a surprise for anyone. This appointment of a loyal servant of the military was predicted as soon as The Dictator got rid of Bowornsak Uwanno and his lot when the military dictatorship became fearful of a referendum and elections.

Meechai has worked on several constitutions, for the military, in the past. The Nation has quite a matter-of-fact account of Meechai’s career as a conservative, royalist servant of various military regimes.

Meechai, who is a member of the junta (NCPO), has faithfully served royalist and military regimes, being a in various legal and political positionsto prime ministers Sanya Dharmasakti, Kukrit Pramoj, Seni Pramoj, Thanin Kraivichien, General Kriangsak Chamanan, General Prem Tinsulanonda, Chatichai Choonhavan and Anand Panyarachun.

Chatichai was ousted by a coup led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon and his National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC) in 1991 and Meechai slithered into the acting premier’s position before Anand was hoisted into the top job by the military, arguably on royal advice.

In 1991, the military had Meechai appointed the leader of a charter-drafting committee, leading to the 1991 Constitution, which eventually lead to the May 1992 massacre. In drafting that constitution, Meechai simply plagiarized bits of a charter that had been used earlier by a military regime.

This, when the Bangkok Post reports that “[g]ood elements from past constitutions will be collected to include in the new constitution,” it is quite possible that “good” simply means the reproduction of military desires for control. That it is claimed that “a first draft is expected in January which would then be presented to the public for feedback” is no cause for celebration. Meechai has yet to accept the idea of public consultation, With it or not, we expect Meechai to produce royalist rules that suit the current junta; that’s his track record.

The Dictator, General Prayuth has already told Meechai what he wants. Meechai denies this, but the general has stated it as a fact.

Chaturon Chaisaeng is right to point out that “the new CDC is made up of several legal experts, its weakness is that none of its members have had experience in drawing up constitutions that uphold the principles of democracy.”

Prachatai reports that “[p]ro-democracy activists” have already “rallied in front of the parliament to protest against the new batch of constitutional drafters hand-picked by the junta.”

If the king can’t say it, Suthep can

1 09 2015

The Bangkok Post reports that anti-democrat leader Suthep Thaugsuban is campaigning for the military dictatorship’s constitution. Yes, there were warnings against this, but a little pushing from Suthep is probably welcomed by the junta (even if they chastise him later).

The Post reports him as saying:

He said that although the document may have some shortcomings, they could be amended in the future as deemed necessary.

“What is more important is that there must be a guarantee for Thailand’s future, for the people to see the light and have a better life,” he said.

According to Mr Suthep, the final draft of the constitution is good enough for the people to support it in the referendum.

Compare this with the king’s 1992 support for the then military-backed government’s constitution:

ความจริงวิธีนี้ถ้าจำได้ เมื่อวันที่ ๔ ธันวาคม ๒๕๓๔ ก็ได้พูดต่อสมาคม ที่มาพบจำนวนหลายพันคน แล้วก็ดูเหมือนว่าพอฟังกัน ฟังกันโดยดี เพราะเหตุผลที่มีอยู่ในนั้น ดูจะแก้ปัญหาได้พอควร ตอนนี้ก็พอย้ำว่าทำไมพูดอย่างนั้น ว่าถ้าจะแก้ก่อนออกก็ได้ หรือออกก่อนแก้ก็ได้ อันนั้นทุกคนก็ทราบดีว่าเรื่องอะไร ก็เป็นเรื่องรัฐธรรมนูญ ซึ่งครั้งนั้น การแก้รัฐธรรมนูญก็ได้ทำมาตลอด มากกว่าฉบับเดิมที่ตั้งเอาไว้ได้แก้ไข แล้วก็ก่อนที่ไปพูดที่ศาลาดุสิดาลัย ก็ได้พบพลเอกสุจินดา ก็ขออนุญาตเล่าให้ฟังว่า พลเอกสุจินดาแล้ว พลเอกสุจินดาก็เห็นด้วยว่า ควรจะประกาศใช้รัฐธรรมนูญนี้ และแก้ไขต่อไปได้ อันนี้ก็เป็นสิ่งที่ทำได้ และตอนหลังนี้ พลเอกสุจินดาก็ได้ยืนยันว่า แก้ไขได้ก็ค่อยๆ แก้เข้าระเบียบให้เป็นที่เรียกว่า ประชาธิปไตย อันนี้ก็ได้พูดมาตั้งหลายเดือนแล้ว ในวิธีการที่จะแก้ไข แล้วข้อสำคัญ ที่ทำไมอยากให้ประกาศใช้รัฐธรรมนูญ แม้จะถือว่ารัฐธรรมนูญนั้นยังไม่ครบถ้วน ก็เพราะเหตุว่ารัฐธรรมนูญนั้น มีคุณภาพพอใช้ได้ ดีกว่าธรรมนูญการปกครองชั่วคราว ที่ใช้มาเกือบปี เพราะเหตุว่ามีบางข้อบางมาตรา ซึ่งเป็นอันตรายแล้ว ก็ไม่ครบถ้วนในการที่จะปกครองประเทศ ฉะนั้นก็นึกว่า ถ้าหากว่าสามารถที่จะปฏิบัติตามที่ได้พูดในวันที่ ๔ ธันวาคมนั้นก็นึกว่า เป็นการกลับไปดูปัญหาเดิม ไม่ใช่ปัญหาของวันนี้

Academic Kevin Hewison commented on this several years ago (downloads a PDF), stating:

Following the 1991 coup, the draft constitution was faxed to the King in Chiangmai, and was returned in the same manner, reportedly with some minor alterations (FEER 14 March 1991). This nonchalant attitude was also reflected in the King’s reaction when the constitution was challenged. He pointed out that while the draft was ‘not … fully adequate’, it should be promulgated because it was ‘reasonable’ (มีคุณภาพพอใช้ได้) and could be ‘gradually amended … in a “democratic” way…’. In other words, the principles embodied in the constitution were not particularly important, but its promulgation was necessary so that instability could be avoided….

Such support for the military’s control of politics is not unusual for the monarch, but this constitution was rejected, led to protests and to the massacre (again) of the military’s opponents.

On May 1992, part III

18 05 2015

PPT’s third and final post today is also on the commemoration of the events of the civilian rising against military-dominated politics in May 1992. In both the earlier posts, here and here, we were concerned at the attempt by various individuals and groups attempting to rewrite history by making this event one that is bizarrely congruent with the May 2014 coup and anti-democracy.

As if to prove how disingenuous this tripe is, a revealing report at Prachatai indicates the nature of the current military dictatorship.

Simply and nastily, the dictatorship “ordered  a cancellation of public speeches of anti-military figures at an event to commemorate democratic uprising in May 1992.”

At “the Heroes of Democracy Foundation, a group of military officers on Saturday came into the office of the foundation in Pak Kret District of Nonthaburi Province, north of Bangkok, at around 1 pm and ordered the foundation staffs to cut out a planned speech session by pro-democracy speakers.”

One of the speakers was to be Prateep Ungsongtham Hata, who is a well-recognized anti-coup protester, and “slum angel.” Others due to speak included Weng Tojirakarn, a red shirt leader, and Chalard Worachat, an activist known for his hunger strike against the 1992 military intervention and which was a principled protest leading to the civilian uprising.

The military dictatorship prefers a version of history sanitized of its murders. As the brief Wikipedia account explains, an “investigation”  by the “Defense Ministry’s Fact Finding Committee led by General Pichitr Kullavanijaya,” identified military culprits, “but it is still kept from the Thai public.”

Pichitr has been rewarded by being made one of the king’s privy councilors and is a royalist political activist.

On May 1992, part II

18 05 2015

In part I, we posted on a speech by the notorious royalist poseur Bowornsak Uwanno, who misused the occasion of a remembrance of the military’s murder of democracy and murder of civilian in May 1992.

In another report at The Nation on a memorial event, it is stated that “politicians and political groups yesterday attended a memorial service to remember those who lost their lives in the Black May 1992 political uprising.” It seems to us that the military dictatorship tried to manage this event as it was attended by “representatives of the junta-appointed agencies known as the ‘Five Rivers’. They included Prime Minister’s Office Minister Panadda Diskul, National Legislative Assembly (NLA) vice president Surachai Liengboonlertchai, Ekachai Sriwilat[,] Prasarn Marukpitak and Rosana Tositrakul members of the [puppet] National Reform Council (NRC).”

Even if any of this lot had any reason to be there, it seems they have forgotten the meaning of 1992. All are rabid monarchists and pro-military flunkies. Rosana is a strident yellow shirt who has supported all anti-democrats since 2004. Surachai is one of Rosana’s allies in the anti-democratic Group of 40 Senators, mostly unelected after 2007, who are ultra-royalists and deeply yellow. So is Prasarn. Panadda is a devoted royalist, specialized in self-promotion and a dedicated restorationist, committed to dictatorship and absolutism. They insult the memory of the dead.

Amongst attendees, there were some with a real connection to the events in 1992, including “red-shirt co-leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) Jatuporn Promphan and yellow-shirt co-leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee Pipop Thongchai.”

That the Democrat Party sent representatives is also insulting of those who died in 1992 for the Party was prepared to deal with the military then, if it got them close to power. Nothing much has changed.

The egregious Panadda said that the “incident” in May 1992 – he means the massacre of civilians – “showed the public’s will to achieve democracy.” It did, but to disgrace that resolve by linking it to The Dictator and self-appointed Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, and to claim that this vandal of democracy “had recognised the people of Thailand’s wish to see real democracy in the country…” is disgusting.

Rosana is as bad, saying that May 1992 “occurred because all the heroic people wanted to see reform of the political system without any influence. They hoped that the election would lead to the development of a strong democracy and that it would not result in a coup.” She’s lost in a make-believe history and she manages to link an anti-military uprising to the 2006 and 2014 military putsches, which she enthusiastically supported.

For those wanting a useful summary of the events of the time, not least as an antidote for the tripe served up by military flunkies, this PDF, available for free download, is not a bad place to begin.

On May 1992, part I

18 05 2015

PPT is seldom dismayed by the manner in which history is constructed and reconstructed by Thailand’s political elite for its own purposes.

May 1992 – Black May – was a significant event in Thailand’s recent political history. Several dozen people were killed, a similar number “disappeared,” and hundreds were injured and arrested. These were almost all civilians who demonstrated against a military-backed attempt to monopolize electoral politics.

At The Nation it is reported that incorrigible puppet Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Borwornsak Uwanno “took the two major political camps to task for their portrayal of ‘distrust’, saying their action was a bad sign that political division and disparity would not be resolved easily.”

Well, who thought it was going to be easily resolved? Perhaps just political hirees like Bowornsak. The drafter of constitutions for military dictatorships says “Political leaders must project optimistic views…”.

Not uncommon to hear such nonsense from a political body for hire, but the truly galling thing is that he somehow thought that such comments were appropriate for “an event marking the 23rd anniversary of the May 1992 bloodshed on Rajdamnoen Road.” Bowornsak is aiding and abetting the military in embedding its political influence in his draft 2015 constitution! That is what happened when the military thugs took over in 1991, drafted a constitution the king urged on the country, and eventually led to the May 1992 uprising.

Borwornsak is a disgrace.

We were pleased to learn that Bowornsak’s poisonous speech was interrupted by “a group of four women calling themselves ‘maled prik’, or chili, held placards with the message ‘No to 2015 charter’; ‘No reconciliation with murder’; and ‘Leading legal expert hired to destroy democracy’.” They went on to read a “statement saying society before the May bloodshed in 1992 protested to amend the charter to block the military from rising to power and pushed for elected governments. They were cracked down on by the military, resulting in heavy casualties.”

The report notes that “No military officials stood trial following these incidents.”

They went on to call “on the current military-installed government to scrap the amnesty bills that pardoned those who seized control of the state on February 23, 1991 and put military officials linked to the May bloodshed on trial…. They called for an elected PM and Senate and for public participation in drafting the new charter.”

The report states that “None of the group was arrested after their demonstration but their placards were destroyed.”


Missing the point

20 10 2014

One of the problems that faces “academics,” in Thailand and elsewhere, is that when they become media pundits they over-reach and write about things that aren’t based on their “comparative advantage,” which is writing about things they have actually researched. This problem becomes especially acute when some of these “academic” pundits don’t actually do any research in what is meant to be their day job and they blather on about things they don’t know much about.

PPT recently read yet another op-ed by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies in the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University. It was a view of the military and its politics which while summarizing some well-established information, also left out a pivotal piece of information. We’ll come to this a bit further down. First we’ll summarize some of Thitinan’s summary.

Thitinan remembers the late 1990s as “a promising period of de-politicisation” for the military. He blames Thaksin Shinawatra for “a manipulative re-politicisation in the early 2000s…”. Our view is quite different and we think that Thitinan should actually do some research on this to enable an inevitably more complex picture.

The logical conclusion of this view is to essentially blame Thaksin for the 2006 and 2014 putsches. That the rise of Thaksin prompted the two interventions is not in doubt, but the story is, as ever, more complex than Thitinan allows. He says:

The cradle of political power in the current phase of military rule is a fraternal cohort of senior army officers, known as the “tiger soldiers”, who hail from the 2nd Infantry Division (Queen’s Guard). Never have the former commanders of this division held so much power in Thai politics. Understanding Thailand’s new rulers and the sources of their power requires knowledge of the regimental cradle that bred them.

… Chuan [Leekpai] gambled and appointed Gen Surayud Chulanont from an obscure advisory position to the army commander-in-chief position in 1998. For a few years, it looked like Mr Chuan and Gen Surayud were going to remake the army into a professional fighting force, trying to do away with conscription, reducing the top-heavy number of generals, and scaling down the size of the rank-and-file.

That’s only partly true. His claim that it was when Chuan Leekpai doubled as defence minister that saw “wide-ranging reforms to make the military more accountable and professional” is an exaggeration and missing three critical points.

First, the move to “reform” the military was a defensive reaction by the military to a civilian uprising in 1992 that saw the military (briefly) disgraced for grabbing power in 1991 (which initially saw Chuan’s Democrat Party very quiet, even supportive) and engaging in a massacre of protesting citizens in May 1992. Chuan was dragged along by the public that literally spat on the military, jeered troops in uniform and demanded fundamental change. Chuan, as an indecisive and weak minister, was simply not up to the task of reforming the military.

Second, when Thitinan claims that “Chuan gambled and appointed Gen Surayud Chulanont from an obscure advisory position to the army commander-in-chief position in 1998,” this too is an exaggeration. The most important thing about Surayud was that he was close to powerful figures in the palace. In this sense, nothing had changed, and it was Prem Tinsulanonda and the queen who were managing appointments, not Chuan.

Third, Thitinan’s aim at Thaksin for politicizing the military by promoting his cousin, Gen Chaisit Shinawatra in 2003, to army chief fails to take account of the army brass’s moves against Thaksin, which were often involving the palace and sought to undermine the elected premier and his government, as had happened to Chatichai Choonhavan in 1988-91.

There’s much else that is debatable in this flimsy article, not least Thitinan’s claims that Thailand was about to be invaded by the Vietnamese in 1979.

Most importantly, though, for some reason, Thitinan has decided to muddy the role of Prem, the queen and the palace in manipulating the military for their own political purposes. After all that has happened over the past 15 years, that’s a political choice and an academic failure.

Updated: On impunity

22 10 2013

In an op-ed at the Bangkok Post, Atiya Achakulwisut makes some quite useful points regarding the impunity enjoyed by state officials, and especially those in the military who have repeatedly murdered citizens over several decades. She relates this to the misguided and politically-suicidal amnesty amendments made by some Puea Thai MPs a few days ago.

She refers to her “most memorable press conference … right after Black May in 1992.” She was a reporter who saw “the casualties and bullets up close,” and recalls being “pushed out of the protest site by lines of soldiers shooting into the sky right behind us.” Atiya remembers:

a lot of anger as journalists and the public in general were questioning whether the “people’s killers” would be brought to justice, or would be exempted from their crimes the way the powers-that-be have always been, through a special amnesty law.Suchinda

Of course, the result of the end of the military in May 1992 was an amnesty. As General Suchinda Kraprayoon wandered off after the massacre, he signed the amnesty for himself and all others involved. In this clip from journalist Michael Richardson, we see ACM Kaset in 1992 sounding much like General Prayuth Chan-ocha after the 2010 events.

Reflecting on this, Atiya thinks that it “was different back then … [as] there was no polarisation among the general public,” as there is now. She believes the “line of division was clear: between the government _ seen as dictatorial _ and the public demanding democracy. It’s not like now…”.

While PPT has sympathy with her basic point on impunity, we think her recollection of 1992 is just a little too simplistic. The reason we say this relates to another clip from 1992, where it is seen that there were plenty of bigwigs willing to serve the dictatorial government. The point is that there have always been particular social forces lined up with the military, gaining benefit from their dictatorial rule, “protection” for their interests and the promotion of a conservative and hierarchical social order.Senate

The monarchy comes to mind as a particular beneficiary but many other members of the economic elite are mentioned in this clip (left, from the Bangkok Post Weekly Review, 3 April 1992) also benefited. Some may have changed their minds when they saw the military shooting down innocent citizens (again), but it is this elite that fared pretty darn nicely under military and military-backed regimes. It is their support that has engendered the culture of impunity that persists today.

Atiya recalls the press conference in 1992 when reporters told Dr Prawase Wasi: “The government and military killed us and there is nothing we could do about it…”. She says his response was that “things would always work out. I remember him saying there would always be a way, somewhere or somehow.”

Her response was:

“How unrealistic!” How could things work out when the government that ordered a crackdown on protesters and caused scores of deaths and many more injuries was getting away scot-free? How absurd it was. How could we move on politically when such a glaring exemption was given? What framework would we adhere to in the future, what rule of law?

She was right then, but she seems to have decided that Prawase was somehow right because “[m]ost, if not all, of the key partners in the political conflict took a break and let other people take over from them.” She is mistaken because she focuses only on leaders of the moment. The economic elite remains, the military remains and the monarchy remains. They continue to work their political “magic.”And don’t forget that the rich also manage to manage their own impunity for their crimes committed in the name of quick profits, a bit of power-, alcohol- or drug-induced “fun” or because of “connections.”

But she is absolutely right when she observes:

The truth of the matter is if we look back at the history of amnesty laws in Thailand, it does not matter how they were written or how they tried to keep certain people accountable. In the end, no state authorities have ever been prosecuted for this type of crackdown.

Never. That has to change. We are heartened by protests by many red shirts, including the rank-and-file, leaders and members of parliament. Hopefully they can assert some political sense and, in the process, and maintain the call for justice for the victims of the state’s 2010 violence.

Update: Khaosod has more on official red shirt responses to the proposed amnesty, including comments by Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn, Nattawut Saikua and Jatuporn Promphan, each appearing to reject it.

“Bizarre, slightly surreal, and somewhat Kafkaesque”

8 12 2012

Lennox Samuels at The Daily Beast has his take on the charging of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban. His essential position is the most common amongst the commentariat in Bangkok at present, yet there is much in the article that is worth considering.

It is at once bizarre, slightly surreal, and somewhat Kafkaesque: The most recent ex-prime minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and one of his former deputy premiers, Suthep Thaugsuban, charged with the killing of a taxi driver during the political unrest that rocked the country more than two years ago. The charges were announced the day after the 85th birthday of the nation’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Part of the bizarre is the response from Abhisit, Suthep and the Democrat Party. Samuels talked to academic-for-hire and former Abhisit spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn who sees the “charges as politically driven.” PPT wonders what he says about the “charges against 295 red shirts.” No, we don’t ponder this, for we know that Panitan deals in double standards and would dismiss these red shirts as “terrorists.” Panitan does make one good point: “It’s unprecedented to charge two top policymakers, including the former prime minister, like this.” That’s true and deserves to be applauded, not denigrated as when Panitan “likened the situation to charging President Obama with crimes in connection with his lawful execution of his role as commander-in-chief.” Of course, in Thailand, the king is commander-in-chief, so the comparison is flawed.* Other Democrat Party members, like The Economist, argue that the driving force behind the charges revolve around Thaksin: “Thaksin wants to come home and he’s getting desperate as his surrogates in government gain their own power and become more independent…”.

Samuels recalls Thailand’s “long-running political tug-of-war … marked by coups, deadly protests, and the ouster of prime ministers for absurdist reasons like hosting a cooking show on television. And inevitably, a bogeyman lurks in the background—or foreground, depending on who’s telling the story.” The bogeyman is not Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda, the king, queen, old military duffers or someone in the military brass. Of course, it is “Thaksin Shinawatra, the populist billionaire premier ejected in a 2006 coup who has lived in comfortable exile ever since.”

We agree with Samuel that:

In essence, Thailand is divided between reformist democracy activists who want a more open process, and traditionalists who are content with the centuries-long structure dominated by elites that regard the one-man-one-vote ideal as at best premature. The elites, personified for many by Abhisit and the Democrats, have resisted “reconciliation” efforts, loath to agree to anything that would dilute the status quo.

We also agree with a diplomat cited by Samuel who declares that: “The fact is, Thaksin has been convicted of a conflict of interest,” the Western diplomat said. “Barely a misdemeanor. There are several prime ministers in the past who have committed far more egregious offenses. Frankly, it is unsustainable in the long run that the de facto prime minister be barred from his country.”

Abhisit takes a different view and in announcing his impending martyrdom, declares (at The Nation):

I hereby affirm that I will not negotiate for anybody’s interest. I insist that wrongdoers must be brought to justice and will fight the case based on facts. I will not join the process to absolve people who cheated the country. I’ll accept my fate even if the judicial process lands me in jail or gets me executed, but I will not whitewash the wrongdoings of cheaters….

Frankly, the martyrs are those protesters murdered by the state in 2010, and in 1973, 1976, 1992, at Kru Se and Tak Bai and(to mention just a few instances) where no one has been held accountable.

The problem the autocrats have is that Thaksin is electorally popular but, as Samuels explains, “the former premier is anathema to establishment Thais, who regard his populist rhetoric and policies as threats to the societal order…”. They fear and hate Thaksin so the concoct conspiracies that see anyone who is not on their side as a mortal enemy and where proposed constitutional amendments amount to “a process they allege would result in the entire political system being jettisoned, including the monarchy.” That is bizarre.

The outcome is described in the article this way:

In the short term, the political gridlock is likely to continue, as neither side has the leverage to effect change—or the will to compromise. “A lot of people are in a prolonged conflict,” said one prominent political figure. “There’s more and more hatred and anger, and things get more complicated. So it is not possible for them to say, all of a sudden, we want to reconcile.” He added that both sides are “about even,” with Red Shirts having the government on their side while the Yellow Shirts can claim the military, judiciary, and “people in the palace.” … “Reconciliation basically has a better chance when one side dominates,” he said. If so, Thailand’s in for a long slog.

Interestingly, the government also has the majority of the people on its side, but then the autocrats simply can’t accept elections or their results (unless they were to somehow conjure a win). This is one reason why Abhisit always speaks of the rule of law and seldom about issues of democracy.


*While there are U.S. politicians who should be held responsible for atrocious acts internationally – think drones and Indochina bombing – we can’t think of a case of post-Civil War mass state killings in the U.S. that haven’t gone to the courts. The Kent State killings come to mind as a case that did go to courts, but maybe readers can remind us of others as we know little about U.S. history.