|Protesters entering the government district/Dusit area.|
What lies ahead for Thailand? – Reflections on the deepening political crisis
A guest contribution by Nicola Glass, Bangkok-based German journalist
The last couple of weeks had been exhausting and deeply disturbing – yet, we have to expect more violence to come. Observing the situation on the streets many times, one has to ask why is that, that the PDRC, its self-proclaimed leader Suthep Thaugsuban, and his whistle mobbers, who are trying to topple the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, are being treated as if they were a legitimate challenge? How is it possible that Suthep, a former deputy prime minister and ex-MP of the Democrat Party, who is facing an arrest warrant for insurrection, was allowed, along with his supporters, to seize government offices, to incite deadly violence, to attack and intimidate media workers?
Millions of people, who, in fact, represent the majority of the Thai voters, strongly disagree with the ideas and actions of the PDRC-led movement, which several political observers called "fascist". Millions of ordinary people pointed out that they wanted to see elections to take place on 2nd February, and to express their political views via the ballot box. Many people, among them critical academics and journalists, have repeatedly raised their voices against political violence and have taken a stance against Suthep and his followers, warning that the methods of the PDRC and its vision of the establishment of an unelected “people´s council”, which would be only serving the interests of a comparatively small conservative elite, are tantamount to an attempted coup that could lead to civil war.
Why is that, then, that Suthep, the PDRC-movement, and the (clearly misnamed) “Democrat Party” that is heavily involved in the street protests and only represents a minority of the Thai people, have managed to come this far without being held accountable for their actions? One is wondering about that since we have seen a changing political landscape and a growing political awareness of broad parts of the Thai population, particularly during these years after the military coup in 2006 that toppled then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck´s brother. However, the power struggle is far from over, with the anti-Thaksin-camp adopting increasingly violent measures.
Recalling the past two months, it was disturbing to see that Suthep - who is also facing murder charges for his role in the brutal military crackdown on pro-Thaksin demonstrators, the "Red Shirts", in spring 2010 – has managed to exploit the deep flaws in the Thai political system. Although Thailand is officially considered a democracy and constitutional monarchy, the years after the military coup in 2006 have shown that a conservative, royalist, ultra-nationalistic and wealthy minority network - out of greed for power and out of fear of losing benefice and privileges – have started repeated attempts to deprive the majority of the Thai electorate, in particular Thaksin´s supporters living in the poor regions of the North and Northeast, and also as migrant workers in the capital, of their political rights.
Thailand´s conservative elite is claiming that former Prime Minister Thaksin came to power by vote-buying, and is regarding the farmers in the North and Northeast and migrant workers in Bangkok as “too stupid”, and therefore, unworthy to vote. However, that´s not the entire picture: The author of this blog post has also met several people of middle class-background during the last couple of years, who had listened attentively to the speeches during Red Shirt rallies, pointing out that they were not necessarily supporters of Thaksin or the Red Shirts, but would nevertheless support the idea of democratic elections and despise military coups. Suthep´s call for an unelected “people´s council/people´s assembly” and a new political system, however, is nothing else than an attempt to grab complete power, that would eventually boil down to put an end to the democratic principle of “One man, one vote”.
When people speak of flaws in the Thai system, we have to point out that we live in a country in which the courts and so-called “independent” bodies are generally regarded as political tools and where justice is not being served. For instance, the Constitutional Court ruled just recently, that Suthep and his supporters did not violate article 68 of the constitution, explaining that the PDRC-led movement is just expressing its political opinion: “The court ruled that under the Constitution, the PDRC's protest rallies were an exercise in freedom of assembly and there were no grounds to suggest they were organised with the intention to overthrow a democratically elected government.” http://www.nationmultimedia.com/politics/Grounds-for-prosecution-over-charter-change-bill-N-30223041.html
Adding even more complications to the ongoing political crisis, the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) has decided on 7th January “to press charges against 308 ex-MP´s and senators accused of misconduct in connection with the charter amendment on making the senate fully elected”. http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/388445/nacc-to-charge-308-lawmakers
For further reading I would like to recommend the link
What lies ahead for Thailand in the foreseeable future? We live in a country, in which the world´s most draconian “lèse majesté” law is being exploited in order to get rid of political opponents and silence differing voices. It is deeply disturbing to see that those, who were found guilty of breaching said article 112, were being locked up for years, while murderers and other human rights violators with powerful backing either receive lenient sentences or being granted bail or were even allowed to walk free entirely. Regarding the law of “lèse majesté”, Thailand-based journalists, including the author of this blog post, have to exercise self-censorship when covering the political situation in the country, if they don´t want to end up behind bars too.
Suthep´s PDRC movement, along with key representatives of the Democrat Party (DP), have abandoned all ethics and democratic principles. The DP, now boycotting a general election for the second time since 2006, is very well aware that it cannot gain political power by the ballot box. Instead, the anti-Thaksin-camp chose to incite violence, sabotage the elections, and call for military intervention.
The Thai armed forces, however, have initially shown reluctance to take sides and tried to present themselves as a mediator instead. Some observers assumed that the military leadership has learned its lessons from the coup in 2006, which has eventually let to the deepening political rifts in Thai society. Others explained the possibility for another coup might have diminished over the last years, because the armed forces – like the rest of Thai society – are deeply divided, and that Thailand´s political landscape had changed fundamentally. In an interview ahead of the elections in July 2011, a political analyst told the writer of this blog that staging another military coup would be met with much more resistance than in 2006, given the fact, that a strong network of Red Shirts, particularly in the provinces of the North and Northeast, would possibly fight the coup makers and all soldiers who would dare to enter their villages.
Officially, the highly politicized military claims to be staying neutral. During the last days of December, Thailand's army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, again urged both sides in the country's bitter political dispute to show restraint. However, he did not explicitly rule out the possibility of another coup that time: “That door is neither open nor closed”, Prayuth said on 27th December in response to questions from journalists as to whether a military intervention was likely. "It will be determined by the situation."
Right now it seems, the army has decided to wait and see what is going to happen next, especially in regard to the PDRC´s planned “shutdown” of Bangkok on 13th January. People might wonder, whether the military would lift a finger to support and protect the government of Yingluck Shinawatra or whether it will rather choose to sit back and watch the Thaksin-aligned government crumble as it had happened back in 2008, when the military under then-army chief Anupong Paochinda did nothing to prevent the royalist and ultra-nationalist "Yellow Shirts" of the “People´s Alliance for Democracy” (PAD) from seizing the compounds of Government House and Suvarnabhumi airport.
The sieges only ended after the Constitutional Court issued a verdict in early December 2008 that the then-ruling “People Power Party” (PPP) under then-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat (Thaksin´s brother-in-law) and its two coalition partners had to be dissolved due to election fraud. It was obvious that the court´s decision to disband the pro-Thaksin PPP and those two other parties and to ban the executives of each party from politics for five years, was politically motivated, eventually paving the way for the military-appointed Democrat Party-led coalition government under Abhisit Vejjajiva, who became Prime Minister then, with Suthep Thaugsuban as his deputy. The impact of this political manoeuvring had resulted in political unrest in 2009 and 2010, when the "Red Shirts" took to the streets, calling the Abhisit administration "illegitimate" and demanding fresh elections. In the end, their demonstrations had been brutally crushed.
Now, it remains to be seen if history will repeat itself, and how the future of this country will look like, when another elected, Thaksin-aligned government might be toppled again. The political hatred has already added fuel to the fire and made the situation in this country, where corruption, injustice, and impunity prevail, even worse.
It is true, that no government, be it military or civilian, has ever taken a serious stance against widespread human rights violations or has ever made a serious attempt of breaching the ongoing circle of political violence and impunity. Yingluck´s ruling Puea Thai party was no exception, on the contrary: By pushing an abysmal blanket amnesty bill through parliament which would not only have allowed former Prime Minister Thaksin to return home, but would have also let those responsible for the 2010 violence off the hook, the Puea Thai party has even angered its own supporters. Having asked many Red Shirts about this move, the author of this blog received an unisonous answer: "Yes, we love Thaksin and we want him back, but not at any cost! We want to see justice first for the people who had died in the military crackdown in 2010!"
Nevertheless, Puea Thai came to power via democratic proceedings in 2011, reflecting the will of the majority of the Thai electorate. If this government will be unhinged by violent and fascist means, then Thailand´s political future will look even more bleak. It is already about to slip back into a very dark period.
A related topic (by Holger Grafen): the-anti-government-protest-in-bangkok-a-fascist-movement-?
|Protesters in front of the Government House|
|Violence at Luk Luang|
|Protesters in front of the MBK.|