Media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul gave an exclusive interview to Nation Weekend, the sister publication of The Nation. Here are excerpts of his thoughts on the state of Thai politics and how he fell prey to the gun attack.
Q : The attempt on your life is like things that happened 20 to 30 years ago. Politics has not changed. What are your thoughts?
A : I am interested in how the oldstyle politics resumed after the ousting of expremier Thaksin Shinawatra. It became clear when the miliary coerced the switch of the coalition alliance to the Democrat Party. I am convinced this is proof of the [continued existence] of the old political cliques and the military desiring to retain their political domination.
I believe the Newin Chidchob faction will never embrace the “new politics” [which ensures transparency by the public participation instead of placing power in the hands of selected elites – editor’s note].
Under oldstyle politics, it can happen that the faction will pull strings via Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan for investing in the Ruam Jai Thai Party, paving the way for the House dissolution. Then the faction will install Prawit as party leader and rely on votebuying and the patron system via the police and the Interior Ministry to secure election victory.
No one will dare challenge the militarybacked party. This way Prawit will be succeeded by Army chief General Anupong Paochinda. Power will remain in the control of a few.
The “new politics” means a stop to corruption. This is unacceptable to the oldstyle politicians.
The attempt on my life happened because they see me as the biggest obstacle to their scheme. I can see through all of them. I pointed this out three or four days before the gun attack.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was the victim of two assassination attempts, one happened in Pattaya and another at the Interior Ministry. He has survived unscathed but I sustained injuries.
I have been told that I have made so many enemies. I don’t deny it. Whenever you try to stand up for the country in fighting illintentioned people, you will have enemies wherever you turn, left or right.
But if you are determined in your mission, you have no choice but to march on.
If the powers that be see “new politics” as the obstacle, then does it mean that the attack against feudalism by the opposing camp is any less dangerous?
Certain soldiers are paying lip service to the monarchy although they are not really loyal. I suspect they just care for themselves. They want prestige, aim to increase the budget for arms procurement and ensure their survival.
Any military commander would be happy about having two things – control over secret funds and a mutual relationship with Newin.
Newin would have to rely on the military to intimidate political parties by invoking the coup threat. The military is also propping up Newin as its front to pull political strings.
Q : But isn’t the People’s Alliance for Democracy calling for the soldiers to stage the coup?
A : In my personal view, I don’t oppose the coup. But this hinges on what the coup wants to achieve. If the coup is meant to perpetuate the oldsyle politics, like what the Council for National Security did, then I disagree. I am in favour of the type of coup designed to overhaul Thai politics.
As a matter of fact, I am not much different from the red shirts. If the soldiers stage a coup to grab power, I will fight. If the coup is for a complete change, then I differ from the red shirts. I still see the need to uphold the monarchy. But the red shirts are not so clear on this issue.
My key difference from the red shirts is that I uphold the three pillars – Nation, Religion and Monarchy. The red shirts and I share the same goal for social revolution.
Q : How should the “new politics” be launched?
A : We should outline the principles for the country’s administration before spelling out the administrative measures. I do not hate the red shirts. I think certain red shirts have good intentions although, firstly, they do not have correct information, and secondly, they are unaware that they have been used.
Many think the red shirts and the yellow shirts are problems.
They always think this way. But do you really think society will be peaceful if you can get rid of the two colours? Peace means no protests? The absent of protests – is it a good thing or a bad thing?
It is stupid to assume that the problems will go away by getting rid of the yellow shirts. In India, Mahatma Ganhdi roused the Indians to fight. He was killed but the independence movement did not die with him.
Q : The soldiers have the lesson of the Black May incident in 1992. Why do you think they still try to grab power or collude with politicians?
A : I see the problem in two parts. First, the incumbent military leaders were groomed by Thaksin. Anupong and Prawit are close to Thaksin. Prawit is close to barred party executive Sudarat Keyuraphan.
Second, greed is the driving force behind capitalism. Top generals are expected to send their children for further studies in England and the United States. The expense amounts to millions of baht per year. Money and greed overshadow goodness and ethics.
Q : Aside from a few generals, other soldiers are still good?
A : I am not saying Anupong and Prawit are not thinking well. I say they are not thinking things through.
I don’t think the military will dare to seize power because the people will not tolerate another coup.
After being shot at, my worst regret in spilling my blood to the ground is, I think, my blood is no different from that spilled by soldiers defending the border. I was shot at because I defend the Nation, Religion and Monarchy. I regret I was shot by the people who should defend the same things I am defending. This is my worst regret.
By The Nation
Published on May 2, 2009
Straites Times : Nirmal Ghosh speaks to Sondhi after his near-death experience– Reds and Yellows alike?