Thaksin, reform and political crisis

Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above.

They come out of struggles from below.

Noam Chomsky (2008), What Next? The Elections, the Economy, and the World 

Thaksin’s “phone-in” to the mass gathering at Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi on Saturday, 2 June 2012, marked a turning point in the struggle for democracy. It highlighted the need for democratic revolutionary leadership as red shirts are encouraged to regroup around the core leaders of “Truth Today” (Veera/Thida, Nuttawut and Jatuporn).

Readers may recall the unusual violence in parliament last week started by the Democrat Party over the third reading of the Reconciliation Bill. People’s Alliance for Democracy/Yellow Shirts/Multi-Colours took to the streets and obstructed Pheua Thai Party (PTP) Members of Parliament coming into Parliament. The PAD believes that giving the appearance of colour conflict in public could bring about their ulterior motive: a coup and the destruction of PTP. But some consider a coup is already underway through the courts. The PAD was quick to thank the Constitution Court for supporting the current constitution and in resisting changes to it in the interests of protecting the nation and monarchy.

The Reconciliation Bill involves an amnesty which will, among other matters, exonerate Thaksin from the charge which led to his exile. It will also enable the return of Thaksin’s money, which was frozen by the courts (though it has been suggested that much of this has been used by the post-coup regime: hence their concerns over accountability among the Democrat Party/PAD).

Now, given this background and rumours — even indications — of an impending coup, Thaksin stated (my rough translation) in a concerned and urgent manner that:

…the process to overthrow the power of the people has started again. Yesterday the Constitutional Court made a judgement and those who understand the law will know that certain rules [kotrabiat] come under the law, which in turn cannot be above the constitution. The rules and regulations must be in accordance with the law.  But today we see these rules placed above the law [and used to benefit certain interests]. The Constitutional Court has overstepped its authority in directing Parliament to cease its work [in regard to amending the constitution and reform bills] until further orders. Today the country has no consistent rule of law for citizens to follow because those who are supposed to reinforce the law clearly lack virtue, consistency [in interpreting the law] and basic honesty.  They [the judiciary] continue to use double standard, which is causing deep division which cannot be resolved. This social division will surely get worse.  One would think that having a female PM who does not want to argue with anyone would create the conditions for peace in the country. However, it is not possible when this works against the will of certain powers. If this situation continues I have to ask people whether we should allow them [amaat /courts] to bring down the power invested in elected government. Peoples’ power is the highest power. Let’s monitor closely the situation. The parliament has to consider whether we should accept the power that does not have the right to exert influence on the parliamentary process. Each of us sacrificed blood expecting that we would have reconciliation in Thailand, but seeing the picture happening in Parliament [last week’s violence caused by DP MPs] there was nothing other than an imagined fear of Thaksin! Well, Thaksin is not dead yet, but they are afraid of Thaksin’s ghost!  PTP is trying to raise the credibility and confidence of Thailand among the international community and investors and yet at the same time there is a rumour of a [another] coup. So we cannot trust anything because the rule is not the rule that people respect. Those who are supposed to keep the rules lack virtue and do not keep the rule of law anymore. PTP believes that in hurting one of its politicians [in parliament last week], this is in fact hurting the people as they were elected by the majority of people in the country.

All government projects are seemingly going well, but still certain people came out to create unrest again. We must make the rule of law become firm and followed by everyone, as in government where its public servants are expected to work under strict/proper rules [of conduct and procedure].  DP talk only about 4.6 billion Baht. I urge you to recall the day that Chamlong Srimuang came to invite me to become Minister of Foreign Affairs under Palang Tham Party some 18 years ago. I declared that I had 4.6 Billion Baht assets [way back then]. I was financially well-off before becoming a politician. I did not go and rob anyone. However the younger generation have been taught now to think I became rich after coming into politics. In fact I lost money in politics. This money was taken from me. It is my family’s money that has been taken illegally from me. DP plays a game inside and outside of parliament; is this political party functioning in accordance with the law? 60 years as a political party, why do they play such a dirty game inside parliament? There has never been such an ugly image inside Thailand [the violence and scuffle last week] caused by the oldest political party in Thailand.  As for the likely coup, it is not so easy this time because Prayut is not the same as Anupong. He is smarter and may not do anything that he does not think right. I have read Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s article/s and have to thank him and admit that many things he has written are in fact correct. Much cannot be talked about, but I would like to thank Somsak for his concern and well wishes. Today we have to help bring democracy back to Thailand, even though some of the politicians are just emplaced through electoral networks, but we have to go through this in order to achieve full democracy.

While events turned nasty last week in parliament, agreements were made among red shirt groups to come together and listen to their leaders. The ever-illusive Chupong noted in his media talk (Saturday, 2 June 2012) that his supporters were “ready” and could now see that reconciliation is not working and should join to together with the three core UDD leaders to consider the next steps. He said now he is not just fighting the military, but the amaat’s judiciary.  He noted that the red shirts are entering the revolutionary phase.  Thida also suggested that red shirts start to get prepared (as did Jatuporn in a separate talk). Red shirts with conflict at local level should now put aside their difference and cooperate as one mass movement.

The strategic compact with the amaat (as many have pointed out, not least Thaksin above) has in fact failed. The government tried to make space to govern and bring about democratic changes as smoothly as possible. But the amaat, many red shirts argue, refused to change. Jatuporn has also mentioned that the coup in 2006 occurred because people around Thaksin betrayed him. Right now the military is largely still in the hands of the amaat.  Jatuporn exposed the preparation of a VIP prison room in Regiment 11 in Bangkok ready to detain the elected Prime Minister.

Red shirts everywhere are now being told to “pack their bags; prepare food for a long struggle; fill their motor vehicles/petrol tanks” (Jatuporn). Immediately the coup takes place red shirts have no choice; they consider it a last war for freedom and democracy. Indeed, Democracy Monument will be the chosen gathering site if there is another coup. The amaat really want to maintain their privileges and interests at any cost.  Therefore Jatuporn has said that red shirts must consider this as a last fight. Red shirts are being told to wait to hear from only from its leaders Jatuporn, Thida and Nuttawut. If anything happened to these three persons, then others will come forward to lead.

So now Thaksin realises that he was deceived, after giving elements within the amaat a last chance. The red shirts are now getting back together again, with a new compact consisting of the media/information, education and revolutionary groups. And as Thaksin can now see, Yingluck is in potential danger as the army make plans for her containment. The amaat played a game all along and tried to show the PTP was working with them simply to create division among red shirts (and it worked, even among many intellectuals).

It would seem only a matter of time before the final confrontation.

Jim Taylor is an anthropologist at the University of Adelaide