Thaksin Shinawatra promised to return to the country from exile if the government moved to crack down on protesters. But when that happened yesterday, he remained holed up in a luxury hotel in Dubai.–Al Jazeera
Interview: Thaksin Shinawatra
Thaksin Shinawatra promised to return to the country from exile if the government moved to crack down on protesters. But when that happened yesterday, he remained holed up in a luxury hotel in Dubai.
He spoke to Al Jazeera about the situation and his “hopes for a peaceful solution” to the country’s political crisis.
Al Jazeera: You said that if force is used against your supporters you would return to Thailand. When are you going back
Yet, it is your supporters that have been out on the streets, commandeering vehicles, setting them alight, pushing them toward security services, setting tyres on fire. You have actually said you want the government to be overthrown and perhaps these actions have incited them.
Thaksin: The prime minister himself gave a speech in parliament when he was the opposition. He said if there was a protester, he should listen, whether it’s one person or a hundred thousand people. And we hope to be the same, and we hope he will remember what he said in parliament.
Al Jazeera: You have tried to incite even the military, and I quote again, you’ve asked the ‘troops to come out and join the red shirts to help us get democracy for the people’.
Al Jazeera: You said that if force is used against your supporters you would return to Thailand. When are you going back?
Thaksin: Yes, I’m thinking about it and I talked to my supporters; they are now still concerned about my security and safety. I’m thinking about it, I’m not planning yet. I have to be sure if I go back I should not add to more violence. I should be able to find some peaceful resolution for the incident.
Al Jazeera: You have certainly urged a peaceful resolution to the problems that Thailand is facing and the world is seeing right now.
That’s really inciting the military to have a military coup against the incumbent government isn’t it?
Thaksin: No, no. I never asked the military to stage a coup.
I said that if they were to stage a coup, the people would fight the coup.
There should be no more coups.
Al Jazeera: Do you condone the attacks that we have seen by your supporters on places like the education ministry or even on the prime minister’s car?
Thaksin: The local press cannot provide the true story and the army spokesman is telling lies to the people.
The military came out with M-16s and they shot at the heart of the people.
Many people died and they just take the dead bodies away.
Al Jazeera: This is only your accusation … made by some of your supporters that can’t be confirmed at the moment.
Thaksin: I would like to invite an international independent body to come here to Thailand and look at the whole story.
Do not just go to the government source. You are going to see it.
Al Jazeera: What is the way forward now?
Thaksin: I would like to see a peaceful resolution.
Without truth there is no peace. We need truth, we need justice.
Al Jazeera: Will you talk to the prime minister?
Thaksin: No, don’t worry about me, don’t talk about me.
I just want to see the situation now ended with peaceful means and I want to see true democracy in Thailand.
Al Jazeera: What is your next step?
Thaksin: I’m monitoring [the situation] closely because I’m worried about the safety of the protesters.
They come and beg for true democracy, they never want to beg for blood but now they get blood on their hands.
Thai red shirt rampage: Thaksin’s last hurrah?
By Bill Tarrant – Analysis
The rampage of “red shirt” supporters of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand this week may be a last, desperate attempt of the exiled billionaire to return to power.
In nightly phone-ins and video link-ups from his unknown place of exile, Thaksin has been exhorting his legions besieging Government House in central Bangkok to rise up and throw out the “illegitimate” government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
They responded by smashing into the venue of an Asia summit this weekend in the southern beach resort of Pattaya and battling troops after they blockaded a key junction in Bangkok Monday.
The aim, it appeared, was to provoke a bloody crackdown that would feed a groundswell of support for the populist Thaksin, still the only Thai premier ever to win two elections.
If that was Thaksin’s gamble, then it was a long shot.
His loyalists began streaming out of the Government House Tuesday, ending their three-week-long siege, and raising the question of whether — despite the millions of rural poor who still idolize him — the 59-year-old’s star has finally fallen.
URBAN MIDDLE CLASS
Thailand’s seemingly intractable political divide pits an urban middle class, the military and royalist elite against the more populous and impoverished masses in the countryside.
History shows it has been the urban middle class that has led successful protest movements in Thailand, often with support from the monarchy and military.
Abhisit, moreover, has been bending over backward to avoid bloodshed in containing the “red shirt” movement.
Indeed, his orders to treat them gently backfired when they came smashing through a glass facade at the Asia summit venue, troops tumbling haplessly after them, forcing leaders to evacuate by helicopter.
Although at least 113 people were injured in Monday’s clashes between troops and protesters, the only two deaths were due to clashes between marauding red shirts and angry citizens in one neighborhood of central Bangkok, authorities said.
Thaksin’s “red shirt” movement (red stands for nation in Thailand’s red white and blue flag; blue is for the monarchy and white is for Buddhism) wants a new constitution and elections.
Abhisit, 44, told Reuters Monday he is willing to consider both — once law and order is restored throughout the country.
“Who can say that it would be an election that would showcase democracy if we see the kind of phenomenon that we saw over the last couple of days?” he said.
But he ruled out making any deal with his nemesis, Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail on a corruption conviction.
Thaksin has said repeatedly he is ready to return “at the right time” and lead his followers in a “peaceful uprising.” He told CNN Monday he is not bankrolling the red shirt movement but only providing “moral support.”
The former policeman and telecoms billionaire may be running out of options.
His considerable assets have been frozen in Thailand, probably the main reason he was forced to sell his ownership of the English Premier League soccer club Manchester City.
He also wants amnesty on his corruption conviction, his family’s assets released, security guarantees for himself and his family and a ban on politics lifted for him and his cohorts.
“Despite the chaos Thaksin has been able to orchestrate, he is operating from a position of fundamental weakness,” political risk consultancy Stratfor said.
“Apart from his assets being frozen, the Thai courts are against him, he is at risk of being imprisoned and the government he is seeking to destabilize still retains the support of the military, monarchy and bureaucracy.”
Thaksin’s trump card has always been his ability to win elections. But at least one poll shows his popularity has waned.
A poll by Abac University, the most respected pollster in Thailand, found that 55 percent of 2,178 respondents in 18 provinces from throughout the country wanted the red shirts to end their protest and let Abhisit continue to run the country. Only 11 percent wanted Abhisit to resign.
An Abac poll last month showed Abhisit with a popularity rating of 51 percent against only 24 percent for Thaksin.
The writing on the wall for Thaksin appeared on March 21 when Abhisit easily survived a no-confidence vote mounted by the pro-Thaksin forces in parliament.
Days later, red-shirts began besieging Government House.
With the protests petering out Tuesday, Thaksin now finds himself in a tight corner.
Political loyalties are fickle in Thailand. If the protests are indeed at an end with a minimum of casualties, it would likely induce his political allies to switch sides. Many already jumped ship in December, throwing their support behind Abhisit.
All of this would certainly send strong, positive signals to the Thai markets, which have been heavily discounted for political risk for the past several years.
The World Bank’s World Governance Indicators, a set of estimates of political risk widely followed by investors, rated Thailand’s political stability at 44.7 out of 100 in 2003. By 2007 this had plunged to 16.8 — far below regional peers like Malaysia and South Korea, and not far above the Philippines.
The World Bank is yet to release 2008 figures but most analysts agree instability worsened over the past year.
The key question going forward is how long will any political peace last without resolving the deep-seated electoral divide.
After Thaksin was re-elected in 2005, he was overthrown by a military coup the following year. Thai voters elected Thaksin allies when the army-backed government held elections in 2007.
Abhisit came to power only after that government was overthrown after months of street protests culminating in the occupation of Bangkok’s major airports and controversial court rulings against Thaksin and his political allies.
After leading his party’s boycott of the 2005 election, it can only be a matter of time before the Oxford-educated son of physicians has to seek a mandate from the people.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall; Editing by John Chalmers)
Abhisit Vejjajiva won the media battle but the hardest job is yet to come
On Saturday he was made to look like a clown in front of Asia’s most powerful leaders. By Sunday it was hard to believe that he would be around for more than a few days. Yet despite this, yesterday the Thai Government of Abhisit Vejjajiva appeared to be slowing his country’s slither into anarchy.
Whether this is a temporary lull before more violence will become clear in the next few days. It is a sign of how far Thailand has fallen that news which in normal times would be disastrous, starts to sound quite positive. If early reports are correct and only two people died in Bangkok yesterday, reportedly in fights between locals and protesters, then Thais have got off lightly. When nervous soldiers with automatic weapons meet furious protesters with petrol bombs, tragedies can unfold in seconds. But the Thai troops seem to have followed orders to employ restraint, and disperse crowds rather than attack them — and to fire their live bullets well up into the air. Mr Abhisit won the media battle yesterday — in their respective television interviews with the BBC and CNN, he seemed reasonable, patient and articulate while Thaksin Shinawatra, his exiled antagonist, was shrill and unconvincing.
The hardest job is still to come. About 4,000 protesters have fallen back to the streets in front of Government House. There are women and elderly people there, and children. To clear such a crowd without bloodshed would be difficult anyway — and the suspicion lingers that some of the Red Shirts are courting a violent response. A few unambiguous martyrs, genuinely innocent victims, would galvanise the movement at a moment when it may be in danger of losing momentum. This is what Mr Abhisit must avoid at all costs.