Some Notes on the Crisis in Thailand – Sunday, 7.12.2008

Posted on 8 December 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 589 |

Some friends abroad had asked me to write briefly how I see the Thai crisis. I sent the following, and I repeat it here, because I think that the role of the courts, claiming their independent position as one of the three powers in a modern democratic state, was extremely important in this process. Their role has not been sufficiently reflected in the general international media.

“The voices of the more than 100.000 tourists, who were stuck in Thailand, are unanimous, if a sample of blogs and interviews were representative: ‘Never again Thailand! – How do you Thais want to live without us tourists? – We will never come back again!”‘

“’The warnings of the Asian Human Rights Commission go deeper:

‘The takeover of the main international airport in Bangkok by protesters, going under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, is a watershed moment for democracy and the rule of law in Thailand. It follows some months of increasingly aggressive strategies to get the current government to resign and to block it from making amendments to the 2008 Constitution, which was prepared under the watch of the 2006 military coup leaders and their supporters…

“’Alliance members have since August gone from merely occupying spaces like roads and parks to occupying public buildings, in particular, the Government House.’

“After all, the present government was formed based on the results of elections.

“Already the question, when the social processes in Thailand started to derail, receives quite different answers. What was the role and value of this electoral democratic system, when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra initiated, in 2003, a campaign against drug dealers, during which 2800 human beings were shot dead in three months – not after court procedure according to the Thai constitution, which allows the death penalty, not after a proper judgment, but mostly during raids, during which drug dealers and many innocent people together lost their lives.

“The media were ‘cleaned’ from critical voices – one hundred persons from the fields of the print and electronic media lost their jobs. A young woman – Supinya Klangnarong – became also internationally know. She had created a Campaign for Popular Media Reform, collecting publicly available information and showing how the different parts of such information were connected. She was sued for libel, and convicted to pay a fine of several million dollars – silencing her and putting her in jail if the political developments in September 2006 had not silenced and deposed the prime minister. She had documented how, during his time in office, he had develop an ever growing control over the media, while at the same time multiplying his personal wealth.

“It it is true that mainly ‘intellectuals’ and the ‘middle class’ criticized the machinations of Thaksin. His rise to ever more power was possible, because the separation of the three powers – the judiciary, the legislative, and the executive – was not functioning, as they were not working independently from each other, keeping an equilibrium between the three.

“The international press paid little attention to this lack of balance between these three powers, and the international press did not analyze and report much about the recent assertion of the judiciary against the executive. The parliamentary and senatorial elections of 2007 and 2008, which reinforced Thaksin’s power, were possible because of manipulations, which resulted in the disqualification of more that one hundred persons of the party whose majority they had helped to win. The Thai Rak Thai a party – ‘Thais love Thailand’ – was disbanded because of the same fraud activities. But family members and other party members found a new majority in subsequent elections – continuing the activities of the ‘Thai Rak Thai’ – now under the name of the ‘People’s power party.’

“Head of the new government became Samak Sundaravej. But he had to resign in September after a court accused him of not having reported financial data about his income from a regular TV program. Already in July, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Noppadon Pattama, a former legal adviser of Thaksin Shinawatra, had been forced by a high court decision to resign, because he had acted on crucial issues without authorization by parliament. After that, Somchai Wongsawat, a brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra became Prime Minister.

“Before these events, when in June the highest court planned a date in order to clarify perceived irregularities related to the sale of public property to the wife of Thaksin Shinawatra, three of Thaksin’s attorneys visited the court. They were arrested and jailed for 6 months, because they – ‘by mistake’ – had left, instead of a small gift of chocolate for the court employees, a chocolate box with 60.000 dollar for the court staff.

“Thaksin, together with his wife, flew to China after paying a bail payment, promising to be back soon for the court hearings. Instead, they flew to England – at that time he was still owner of the famous soccer club Manchester United. In the meantime, their British visas are canceled. Their most recent divorce, legalized in Hong Kong, is seen by some as a legal move to secure the property, registered in the name of his wife, in case the enormous properties acquired in his own name during the years a prime minister might be impounded.

“It should be remembered: also Hitler, the German leader, who led Germany and many of its neighbors into war and destruction, was elected by majority vote in 1993, elected ‘by the people’ because ‘the people loved him’ has ‘the leader.’ In a similar mood, Thaksin was elected and his followers were re-elected – and it is quite possible that he would be elected again. If the courts would not have decreed that election fraud leads to an exclusion from politics for several years.

“There is hope that the speech of the King, at the occasion of his birthday on 5 December, will provide a perspective for a solution. Though the King is above politics, his birthday addresses have been important occasions also in the past to provide widely accepted guidance. At these occasions, he has already often said things which nobody else dared to say.

“As for the general social climate: When a group of riot police was ordered to clear the airport from its occupiers and re-establish public order, one of the two important leaders of the the People’s Alliance for Democracy, retired General Chamlong Srimuang, who had been crucial in 1993 to lead a peoples’ uprising in order to topple the military government led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon. Chamlong was quoted to now have advised the demonstrators: “If the police tells everybody to go home – no panic! – then goes home. And comes back again tomorrow morning!”

Written on 2 December 2008”

But on the same day the Thai high court – considering irregularities during the election which had brought them to power – banned also Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat for five years from politics, and dissolved the ruling party, the People’s Power Party.

On the evening of 4 December 2008, the date when the birthday address of the 81-year-old Thai King was expected, it was announced that sickness prevents the King to speak to the public, as he is too weak and is receiving medical care.

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Apologies for the delay. I am sending this from Korea, while attending an international workshop. There will be some more delays during the next two or three days.

Norbert Klein

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