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December 7, 2012

PPT Rips the Economist for its Myopic Coverage of Thailand

I very much enjoyed this post over at Political Prisoners in Thailand.  I was similarly befuddled by how completely out of touch the Economist has become with the reality of politics on the ground in Thailand.

While acknowledging the birthday bash, the newspaper seems to want to portray Thailand as revolving around the aged king and Thaksin Shinawatra and views recent politics as being about Thaksin’s failed attempts to return home, noting that his exile has gone from “a temporary inconvenience has taken on an air of semi-permanency.” Its essential argument is that:

Since his younger sister, Yingluck, led their Pheu Thai party to a thumping win in the general election in July 2011, the government has explored just about every avenue to get Mr Thaksin back without having to serve the two-year jail term for corruption to which he was sentenced four years ago. Legislative attempts to revoke the charges, which he maintains were politically motivated, have got nowhere, as have attempts to win a royal pardon. Proposals for a general amnesty for all those involved in the political confrontations after 2006 have run into a constitutional brick wall.

Not only has the ceaseless plotting on Mr Thaksin’s behalf proved fruitless, it has also been damaging to the government of his sister. During her election campaign, Ms Yingluck promised “unity and reconciliation”, a sensible attempt to woo voters who were tired of continuous clashes between Mr Thaksin’s “red shirt” supporters and his “yellow shirt” opponents. But the blatant efforts to rewrite the law and tamper with the constitution chiefly for Mr Thaksin’s benefit have undermined that promise and inflamed his old adversaries.

This account fudges recent history and politics. Puea Thai didn’t particularly need to woo voters with talk of reconciliation as the party was always going to win the election and had plenty of other policies that were attractive for voters. In addition, Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat Party, which campaigned on a kind of anti-reconciliation platform, were tainted by the manner in which they came to power and by the violent crackdowns on red shirts in 2009 and 2010.  For many red shirts, reconciliation was also about justice and accountability (and they are looking carefully at how the prosecution of Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban is handled).

Importantly, far from the Democrat Party-royalist view that everything is about absolving Thaksin, the Yingluck-Thaksin team has backed away from bringing Thaksin home, from legal changes and from constitutional change (although the latter is now back on the agenda). The strategy has been, according to Duncan McCargo, to cool political tensions. Kevin Hewison has recently made similar claims in a recent article at Political Insight. He says that:

royalist and yellow shirt opponents have been sniping at the government for alleged corruption, disloyalty to the monarchy, supporting red shirt ‘terrorists’ and for being at Thaksin’s beck and call, but none of this has destabilised the government. This rapid political cooling has been possible because Yingluck and her brother Thaksin have recognised that, in government, their political aims are more likely to be achieved through compromise, cooling radical demands and reducing opposition from the military, judiciary and monarchy.

McCargo says: “Once seen a stopgap tasked only with preparing the ground for her brother’s imminent return, an extended term of office for Yingluck Shinawatra now looks increasingly probable.” Indeed, compared with the period of the Abhisit regime, politics has cooled (perhaps temporarily).

Until the Pitak Siam “brief war,” the current government while trying to promote elements of its electoral platform, had done its best to avoid confrontations with the aim of staying in power and getting re-elected. Even the Pitak Siam kerfuffle was handled in a way that reduced the possibility of mass mobilization of opponents. The Economist seems to miss this essential point and suggest quite the opposite.

The article continues on PPT.

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