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.