General Prayuth and the Thai Army’s furious response to my recent oped, Life Under A Coup, is typical of a mindset that refuses any notion of democratic accountability or civilian control. That he missed the glaring irony of denying involvement in Thailand’s civil governance whilst unilaterally threatening to bar a critic from the country adds to Prayuth’s image of operating beyond the reach of ordinary, legally sanctioned jurisdiction. It seems as though just speaking the truth to Thailand’s military elicits only threats and venom from them. By such methods – backed up with the constant menace of implied and actual violence – the Thai Army have sustained an atmosphere of fear and loathing in Thailand.
This careful cultivation of fear – built, most recently, upon the corpses of unarmed Thai civilians who died during the 2010 Bangkok Massacre – has now reached such a level of intimidation that only a few voices remain who will confront the Thai Army’s malfeasance openly and directly.
The international and diplomatic community have remained almost silent as the Thai Army have racked up the tension in Bangkok – this taciturn approach is made even more remarkable given the Thai Army’s unparalleled appetite for coup. Well-known and widely respected human rights NGOs, many of whom have regional HQs in Bangkok, seem almost willfully silent as Prayuth rolls his tanks into Bangkok, and verbally admonishes Thailand’s popular and democratically-elected leaders. Much of the international press and media corps in Bangkok may privately express views considered adverse to the Thai Army but almost none would dare make any public comment against them and instead choose targets that are unable to project similar power and force.
One only has to look back over the last 80years of Thai history to see the role the Thai Army has played in destabilizing democracy. As stated in Life Under A Coup, Prayuth’s charges have never defended a democratically elected government and always sided with those who view ordinary Thais as less than equal.
For the entire range of international voices – from NGOs and the press through to Bangkok’s diplomatic community – to remain silent in the face of the Thai Army’s recent conduct offers a case study in genuflection. Where are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others? Where are the truth-seekers of the international press, determined to hold power to account? The simple fact they are not singled out by Prayuth for attack – despite the mountains of evidence that implicate the Thai Army – reveals their failings. It is time for them to step up to the plate.
The Thai Army have a long and ignoble tradition of stymying democracy, attacking Thai civilians and meddling in politics. When it has suited their interests – as it did during the Bangkok Massacre in 2010 when they acted without hesitation to support the Abhist Vejjajiva-led regime, despite that regime having no meaningful democratic mandate – they have proved willing and able actors, sending their snipers to kill unarmed civilians and creating “live fire zones” to project their power. That the projection of this power is always used to attack democracy is an undeniable historical fact. The numerous coups that have enforced the suspension of Thai citizens’ political and democratic rights have become such a natural occurrence that the constant threat of coup now seems to be an accepted part of Thailand’s political life.
Conversely, when called upon by democratically-elected Thai governments to help defend the political rights of the country’s citizens the Thai Army routinely go missing. Their sordid cast of generals (there are literally 100s of “generals” of different rank supposedly serving in the Thai Army) and Army chiefs then appear at press conferences, making veiled threats to Thailand’s elected lawmakers and rather pathetic mealy-mouthed excuses about why they cannot be under accountable, democratic civilian control and why they must maintain “neutrality”. Of course “neutral”, in the Thai context, means that you tacitly and explicitly accept anti-democratic forces as a given, natural part of the political discourse. Neutrality, in this instance, is a non-existent opportunistic chimera created purely to divert a proper analysis of the real conditions within which the Thai Army operate.
The result of this military-inspired process of coups, massacres and inaction is that Thai democracy remains on thin, ill-formed ice, ready to crack and unable to sustain the struggles and debates associated with a healthy body politic. Therefore Abhisit’s undemocratic regime was able to impose itself on an unwilling Thai public through the use of Army-organised violence whilst in recent weeks a democratically-elected and popular government has to dissolve itself in an attempt to stall possible Army intervention to overthrow it. With every cycle of this process Thai democracy weakens. How much longer will it be before an even more severe crisis requires the immediate attention of an international community that has armed and supported Thailand’s Army for decades?
What is clear is that until the Thai Army is brought under lawful, accountable, democratic and civilian control it will act as a force hindering Thailand’s struggling – yet burgeoning – democracy.
On December 3rd 2013, just hours after the streets around the Rajamangala Stadium had been cleared of a violent mob sent by Suthep’s PDRC to attack a peaceful Red Shirt rally, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was interviewed by CNN. Apart from the usual half-truths and obfuscations, Abhisit was unequivocal when asked by CNN if he would “happily welcome an election”. Abhisit replied “I think it is the first step towards trying to solve the country’s problems.”
It didn’t take long for Abhisit’s Democrat Party to turn another one of their statements of clear “principled” intention into the kind of cheap talk we’ve all become accustomed to from Thailand’s very own “Old Etonian”. Making another u-turn, it took only two weeks before Abhisit and his Democrat Party decided to boycott the same election they had, until very recently, been calling for.
By doing so Abhisit’s Democrat Party – who have now boycotted 50% of Thai general elections held under his leadership – revealed their contempt not only for the wider Thai electorate but for their supporters too. It should now be clear to even the most impartial observer that the aims of Abhisit, Suthep, and the protesters are fundamentally anti-democratic and authoritarian – they know their party is certain to receive a smaller vote share than in 2011 so Abhisit’s reaction, along with his close allies in Suthep’s PDRC, has been to attempt to heighten tension to breaking point.
Over the last 48 hours, Bangkok has had to endure organised chaos and violence – and not just on the streets. Early on the 26th December Abhisit and Suthep’s most violent thugs unleashed an attack on Thai police who were guarding the site where the Feb 2014 election candidates were due to register. One police officer died, seemingly as a result of gunfire directed at him by Abhisit’s mob, whilst innocent Thai citizens attempting to go about their lawful business were beaten unconsciousness by the frenzied thugs and, in another appalling development, a PDRC protester succumbed to his injuries (even as this piece is readied for publication news is coming in of a gun attack on the PDRC protest site, resulting in yet another death).
Abhisit and Suthep themselves were nowhere to be seen as the violence ensued – they’ve always preferred that others “unfortunately” sacrifice their lives on their behalf.
With rioting still taking place, it didn’t take long for Thailand’s supposedly neutral Election Commission (EC) to join the fray. In what seemed like a choreographed step to assist the Democrat Party and the PDRC, members of the commission issued a joint statement threatening to withdraw their support for the election and called for an “indefinite” delay. In the South of Thailand, where Democrat and PDRC support is at its strongest it has now been reported that election commissioners in 8 constituencies ended candidate registration and “resigned” after PDRC protesters stormed buildings where registration was due to take place. All of this buys time for the Strategy of Electoral Tension to do its work and sow instability.
The fact that the protesters have consistently changed their demands indicates that the goal is not a civil resolution or accommodation, but rather the continuation of maximum tension and violence in order to provoke the Army into an intervention. Most recently, they have claimed to be fighting for “reform” – which is not very credible given Abhisit’s Democrats had continuously blocked reforms during the last parliament (some of the party’s own more progressive members have publicly expressed their exasperation with the leadership).
There should also be no equivocation about it – the party has been an architect of the recent violence for political gain. Suthep’s violent PDRC is the de facto street arm of Abhisit’s Democrats. The PDRC leadership is stuffed full of former Democrat Party MPs, most of whom resigned only a few weeks ago, the PDRC rallies are continually broadcast on the Democrat Party-affiliated Blue Sky TV and Suthep himself is a former Democrat Party Deputy Prime Minister and MP. Many prominent Democrat Party MPs and members including former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and former Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya have all either taken part in the PDRC street protests or offered continued support via other means.
As we’ve witnessed in the last few days, the boycott of the February 2nd 2014 Thai general election by Abhisit’s Democrats fits hand in glove with the PDRC’s street-based programme to prevent the election by staging direct violent action. Their message is clear – they wish to intimidate those who would seek to exercise their legitimate franchise. The PDRC and Democrat’s strategy is to create, through violence and through support from key politicised elements in the Thai Establishment like the Electoral Commission, a situation of violent civil conflict that would compel the Thai Army into the conflict.
Already this seems to be paying off. On the 27th December the chief of the Thai Army, General Prayuth, gave a press conference where he made a series of very troubling statements, attacked the government and gave a strong hint as to possible military intervention. General Prayuth said that the Army “Wouldn’t open or close the door to a coup. It depends on the situation.” Prayuth went on to condemn the police and to offer conciliatory words to the PDRC protesters claiming that they’ve been “harshly treated,” a comment which is darkly ironic for the survivors of the 2010 massacre of Red Shirt protesters.
There is little doubt that a crisis point is being reached. In the coming days we are likely to see a growing desperation in the ranks of Suthep’s and Abhisit’s mobs and, horrifically, more violence and fatalities. Yet, it will also become clearer to those opposed to Thai democracy that the Strategy of Electoral Tension will not have cowed ordinary Thai voters who have proven to be indefatigable in their desire to exercise their democratic rights. This then could prove the most dangerous moment – the PDRC/Democrats and their Establishment allies in the Thai Army and beyond, have many persons within their ranks, including Abhisit and Suthep themselves, who would prefer large-scale violence to a legitimate election.
Therefore caution must be urged on all those committed to a peaceful and democratic Thailand. There are likely to be more brazen PDRC/Democrat provocations in the days to come – it is at these points where the guiding principles of justice and democracy will be most tested yet it is at these exact points where such guiding principles must also prove to be at their strongest.
History is not on Abhisit and Suthep’s side – they represent Thailand’s fading feudal past, and fail to understand that a new civic consciousness has been awoken among Thai citizens, and shall not be reversed. If a commitment to democracy remains strong, then their Strategy of Electoral Tension is doomed to abject failure.
On the surface it seems as though the misnamed Thai anti-democracy and pro-military coup movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, has dissolved itself. On the surface, therefore, those committed to democracy should be rejoicing – the violent extremists in the PAD were certainly a block to a peaceful, stable Thailand. Yet we shouldn’t be fooled by the mass resignation of the PAD leadership last week. The extremists opposed to democracy once epitomised by the PAD are still looking for the ways and means to prevent the Thai people choosing their own popularly-elected leaders.
Step-forward, as if on cue, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. At every single turn of his leadership of the Democrat Party Abhisit has taken the path that leads his party further away from democracy. In 2006, knowing he would lose badly in the general election, he boycotted the vote. He then aligned himself with the PAD and shrank into silence when the military coup the PAD called for transpired in September 2006. Abhisit then led his party to electoral defeat in 2007 yet still managed to hold the Prime Minister’s role hostage for over two years, after more military machinations and another alliance with the violent extremists in the PAD. When Abhisit’s illicit role as PM was challenged he sent 1000s of Thai soldiers onto the streets of Bangkok, not once, but twice and such was his desperation to hang onto power he slaughtered dozens of his fellow Thai citizens to do so.
Given that track record it is therefore no surprise at all that Abhisit has now assumed the de facto leadership of the PAD. Abhisit’s speech to a few hundred hard-line followers a couple of days ago (24th August 2013) – a speech which came in the wake of the PAD leaderships’ resignation – made it clear that he would be now be taking forward the PAD’s ideas on “democracy”. Abhisit said he “saluted the PAD” and would “continue the PAD’s purpose of fighting against injustice and the Thaksin regime”.
Abhisit’s moves to place himself at the head of the relatively tiny remnants of Thailand’s extreme nationalist and anti-democratic forces are in keeping with his attempts to take his Democrat Party onto “the streets”. After his own personal failings to lead his party towards any kind of electoral success – he has effectively reduced the Democrat Party’s electoral support – the streets, and the kind of violent mob-politics associated with the PAD, could prove to be Abhisit’s final and desperate gamble.
However, no-one should assume the “ideas” and “purpose” of the PAD are finished. Abhisit, to his ever growing shame, has made it apparent that he wishes to carry on their work – which will ultimately fail – of destroying Thai democracy.
The news today from a Bangkok court that there were no armed Red Shirts or their affiliates in Wat Patum temple on May 19th 2010 and that the army, under orders from the then Abhist Vejjajiva-led Thai government, were solely responsible for the deaths of 6 civilians in the temple, should be welcomed by all those seeking a genuine process of truth, justice and reconciliation in Thailand. That it has taken three full years for the truth to begin to emerge reveals the mendacious hand Abhisit’s government played when it set up the flawed Truth For Reconciliation Committee of Thailand (TRCT), giving it almost no legal power to find that truth, refusing it the ability to subpoena witnesses.
Without truth there is no justice. And without justice there can be no real workable amnesty. Some might argue a de facto legal amnesty already exists for the extremist anti-democratic People’s Alliance for Democracy and the groups aligned with them, including Abhisit’s Democrat Party. Abhisit and his former deputy PM, Suthep Thaugsuban, have both been charged with the murder of civilian protesters in 2010, yet arrogantly strut around, even dismissing the court’s bail conditions, assured of their own impunity.
The Thai Army officers and soldiers involved with the deaths of protesters in 2010 have refused point blank to answer almost any questions from investigators regarding the deaths of their fellow Thai citizens. This mask of impunity is very different to any kind of just and workable amnesty as is the venality with which Abhisit has dismissed the charges against him.
The flipside of this de facto amnesty and continued impunity for the PAD, Army and Democrat Party are the ordinary Red Shirts still languishing in prison, many on cooked-up charges, sanctioned by flawed procedures and crooked evidence. There has been no impunity for them, no bail, and sometimes mistreatment and what could amount to torture. Many are still grieving their lost and fallen comrades from the 2010 massacre. Many still bear the physical and mental scars of that slaughter.
Yet those who enacted that massacre, and who have enjoyed impunity since, are now attacking the very amnesty that would free their victims. They do so using bogus and ambiguous logic, claiming that mysterious armed elements – which have never been proven to be connected to the Red Shirts – gave them the moral and legal authority to shoot, incarcerate and murder. There has also never been any obligation on them to offer any kind of “truth” – despite Abhisit’s efforts to concoct a process via his spurious TRCT – something that must be legally enforceable before any bonafide amnesty could take place.
An amnesty of some kind is one way for conflicts to be resolved. However, without truth, without justice and with an impunity still enforced for one side only, any sustainable resolution won’t be achieved.
The democratically elected Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, gave a career-defining speech yesterday at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
In this speech she highlighted the forces in Thailand that oppose democracy and the brutal and bloody lengths they will go to in order to secure their illegitimate and continued dominance over the Thai people. We have posted PM Yingluck’s speech below and suggest all read it in its entirety.
Already the former and unelected Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has condemned PM Yingluck’s call for greater democracy in Thailand. This comes as no surprise – Abhisit’s main legacy is of a man committed to the destruction of accountability, the continuation of impunity and the subjugation of the Thai people. As Abhisit has done on several occasions in the past he reveals, once again, his complete lack of understanding of the most basic principles of democracy and rule of law. It is no great surprise he leads a broken party that remains unelectable and unable to carry out its basic democratic duties as the official party of opposition and, instead, is reduced to the worst kind of demagoguery.
Statement of Her Excellency Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 29 April 2013.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Delegates to the Conference, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to begin by expressing my appreciation to His Excellency the President of Mongolia for inviting me to speak at this Conference of the Community of Democracies.
I accepted this invitation not only because I wanted to visit a country that has made many achievements regarding democracy, or to exchange ideas and views on democracy. But I am here also because democracy is so important to me, and more importantly, to the people of my beloved home, Thailand.
Democracy is not a new concept. Over the years, It has brought progress and hope to a lot of people. At the same time, many people have sacrificed their blood and lives in order to protect and build a democracy.
A government of the people, by the people and for the people does not come without a price. Rights, liberties and the belief that all men and women are created equal have to be fought, and sadly, died for.
Why? This is because there are people in this world who do not believe in democracy. They are ready to grab power and wealth through suppression of freedom. This means that they are willing to take advantage of other people without respecting human rights and liberties. They use force to gain submission and abuse the power. This happened in the past and still posed challenges for all of us in the present.
In many countries, democracy has taken a firm root. And it is definitely refreshing to see another wave of democracy in modern times, from Arab Spring to the successful transition in Myanmar through the efforts of President Thein Sein, and also the changes in my own country where the people power in Thailand has brought me here today.
At the regional level, the key principles in the ASEAN Charter are the commitment to rule of law, democracy and constitutional government. However, we must always beware that anti-democratic forces never subside. Let me share my story.
In 1997, Thailand had a new constitution that was created through the participation from the people. Because of this, we all thought a new era of democracy has finally arrived, an era without the cycle of coups d’état.
It was not to be. An elected government which won two elections with a majority was overthrown in 2006. Thailand lost track and the people spent almost a decade to regain their democratic freedom.
Many of you here know that the government I am talking about was the one with my brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as the rightfully elected Prime Minister.
Many who don’t know me say that why complain? It is a normal process that governments come and go. And if I and my family were the only ones suffering, I might just let it be.
But it was not. Thailand suffered a setback and lost international credibility. Rule of law in the country was destroyed. Projects and programmes started by my brother’s government that came from the people’s wishes were removed. The people felt their rights and liberties were wrongly taken away.
Thai means free, and the people of Thailand fought back for their freedom. In May 2010, a crackdown on the protestors, the Red Shirts Movement, led to 91 deaths in the heart of the commercial district of Bangkok.
Many innocent people were shot dead by snipers, and the movement crushed with the leaders jailed or fled abroad. Even today, many political victims remain in jail.
However, the people pushed on, and finally the government then had to call for an election, which they thought could be manipulated. In the end, the will of people cannot be denied. I was elected with an absolute majority.
But the story is not over. It is clear that elements of anti-democratic regime still exist. The new constitution, drafted under the coup leaders led government, put in mechanisms to restrict democracy.
A good example of this is that half of the Thai Senate is elected, but the other half is appointed by a small group of people. In addition, the so called independent agencies have abused the power that should belong to the people, for the benefit of the few rather than to the Thai society at large.
This is the challenge of Thai democracy. I would like to see reconciliation and democracy gaining strength. This can only be achieved through strengthening of the rule of law and due process. Only then will every person from all walks of life can feel confident that they will be treated fairly. I announced this as part of the government policy at Parliament before I fully assumed my duties as Prime Minister.
Moreover, democracy will also promote political stability, providing an environment for investments, creating more jobs and income. And most importantly, I believe political freedom addresses long term social disparities by opening economic opportunities that would lead to reducing the income gap between the rich and the poor.
That is why it is so important to strengthen the grassroots. We can achieve this through education reforms. Education creates opportunities through knowledge, and democratic culture built into the ways of life of the people.
Only then will the people have the knowledge to be able to make informed choices and defend their beliefs from those wishing to suppress them. That is why Thailand supported Mongolia’s timely UNGA resolution on education for democracy.
Also important is closing gaps between rich and poor. Everyone should be given opportunities and no one should be left behind. This will allow the people to become an active stakeholder in building the country’s economy and democracy.
That is why my Government initiated policies to provide the people with the opportunities to make their own living and contribute to the development of our society. Some of these include creating the Women Development Fund, supporting local products and SMEs as well as help raising income for the farmers.
And I believe you need effective and innovative leadership. Effective in implementing rule of law fairly. Innovative in finding creative peaceful solutions to address the problems of the people.
You need leadership not only on the part of governments but also on the part of the opposition and all stakeholders. All must respect the rule of law and contribute to democracy.
Another important lesson we have learnt was that international friends matter. Pressure from countries who value democracy kept democratic forces in Thailand alive. Sanctions and non-recognition are essential mechanisms to stop anti-democratic regimes.
An international forum like Community of Democracies helps sustain democracy, seeking to promote and protect democracy through dialogue and cooperation. More importantly, if any country took the wrong turn against the principle of democracy, all of us here need to unite to pressure for change and return freedom o the people.
I will always support the Community of Democracies and the work of the Governing Council. I also welcome the President’s Asian Partnership Initiative for Democracy and will explore how to extend our cooperation with it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to end my statement by declaring that, I hope that the sufferings of my family, the families of the political victims, and the families of the 91people, who lost their lives in defending democracy during the bloodshed in May2010, will be the last.
Let us continue to support democracy so that the rights and liberties of all human beings will be protected for future generations to come!
Letter to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Concerning Abhisit’s Criminal Liability
Social media is abuzz with reactions to an interview that former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gave to the BBC. Looking flustered in answering the uncomfortable questions posed by interviewer Mishal Husain, Mr. Abhisit described the charges of pre-meditated murder recently filed against him as “far fetched.”
In light of the coverage generated by the BBC interview, we are releasing to the public the content of a letter my firm submitted to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 31 October 2012. The letter focuses exclusively on Mr. Abhisit’s criminal liability, providing a comprehensive treatment of Mr. Abhisit’s involvement and individual responsibility for the commission of crimes against humanity in April and May 2010.
The Wall Street Journal Asia edition has published my letter to the editor responding to their coverage of the murder charges filed against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The full text is below:
Your newspaper’s recent article gives ample space to the allegation that the charges of premeditated murder filed against Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsubhan are somehow “politically motivated” (“Former Thai Prime Minister May Face Murder Charges,” World News, December 7). The article, however, fails to point out that the charges are supported by a large body of evidence already in the public record.
Predicting that the number one priority in Pitak Siam’s November 24 demonstration was to spark violence did not require sophisticated forecasting skills. Given the strength of the government’s majority in parliament, an incident of some kind was needed, whether to provide the military with an excuse to stage a coup or to generate additional support to escalate Pitak Siam’s activities. What could not be so easily predicted is that the demonstration would fail so miserably. The day started off badly for Pitak Siam, which despite the great fanfare was only able to get 20,000 people at most to show up at its rally. The pathetic turnout forced desperate leaders to play the violence card early, in fact so early and so blatantly as to completely discredit themselves. Less predictable of all was that the often maligned Royal Thai Police would act with such professionalism and restraint, resisting to provocations while refusing to cede ground to the demonstrators.
Today in The Hague, I accompanied a group of representatives from Thailand’s Red Shirt pro-democracy movement as well as independent members of civil society such as the historian Dr. Thongchai Winichakul to attend a very fruitful meeting with officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Given the public interest in this case, we thought it would be reasonable to share this letter authored by Dr. Winichakul which was presented to ICC officials some weeks ago.
Dr. Winichakul writes, “If impunity prevails again, how many more massacres before a single life is recognized as inviolable? How much more cruelty to civilians before every citizen can be equal in the land? How much more truth and justice to be sacrificed for justice to prevail and truth be told without fear? The ICC can help end this culture of impunity.”
We hope that at some point in the future to share further information. The full text of Dr. Winichakul’s letter can be read below.