(Translated by Asst. Prof. Dr. Theera Nuchpiam)
Thailand in the post-Thaksin era may be compared to the post-Hitler world. The majority of the people could afford a sigh of relief following the fall of these two great men who, during their respective periods, were real demagogues: they had used their special rhetorical expertise to persuade people into believing they were helping the underprivileged strata in society but actually they were doing this for their own benefits.
The Thais are perhaps more fortunate, in that they caught up with Thaksin more quickly than the German people of the Nazi era did, and hence they succeeded in stopping his fraudulent behaviour, including his economic imperialist designs on Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Many Thais might say that Phra Sayam Deva Thiraj – the country’s Guardian Spirit – really exists, though the damage that has been done to the country by Thaksin is actually more extensive than it has ever sustained in its long history.
Thaksin is the most controversial figure in Thai history. He is most fervently loved by a large number of people, and is at the same time hated by at least an equally large number of people. Those who hate him carry their hatred to the extreme. Their hatred, in other words, is so strong that they do not even want to see him assassinated but would rather see him live a tormented life that he deserves for the evil deeds that he has perpetrated.
Therefore, as the nation’s most dangerous person, he is also relatively free from assassination threats. Only crazy people would attempt to assassinate him, like those allegedly involved in the planned car-bomb attack on Thaksin (General Panlop Pinmanee was the accused): the assassination attempt was aptly dubbed as a “car bong” [Bong in Thai means nuts!]. These people are not those who nurture extreme hatred for Thaksin.
However, while such incidents succeeded in boosting his fame, Thaksin, on his part, succeeded in creating divisions in the whole Thai society: deep divisions have occurred at all levels – from the national to the family levels. He anyway failed to capture his coveted star – being the greatest person on Thai soil and the ASEAN leader, before eventually catapulting himself onto the world scene as one of its leaders.
Thaksin’s Star Waned
After his government was toppled by the coup d’état on 19 September 2006, Thaksin has been formally charged or accused in a total of 17 cases involving unlawful or unconstitutional acts. Before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions delivered a two-year imprisonment verdict on Thaksin, he had already fled to Britain to avoid imprisonment (end of July 2008).
Other cases remain at the various stages of the judicial process. The governments that were regarded as Thaksin’s proxies (those led by Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat) could help only in so far as their executive authority was relevant. Hence, the cases that have already been submitted to the court of justice and independent organizations must duly go on, even though Thaksin is away in foreign countries.
With a new coalition government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva coming to power (January 2009), Thaksin tried to regain his power by ordering his close aides to mobilize red-shirt people who he had organized before his fall from power to serve as a spearhead. The political masses thus mobilized were instigated by propaganda through media inside as well as outside Thailand to create tension and chaos in society and cause heavy political and economic damages to the nation.
However, the Abhisit government succeeded in turning the situation that had placed it at a serious political disadvantage (8-11 April 2009) into a favourable one, which was significantly helpful for its measures to disperse the rioting mobs (12-14 April). The instigation of these red-shirt mobs to cause serious damages to the country, the use of road blockades and intimidation of Bangkok’s Din Daeng and Nang Lerng communities, as well as setting more than 20 buses on fire – all with a view to provoking the government to resort to violence – had the important effect of increasingly turning the people of Bangkok more openly against these pro-Thaksin mobs.
When the government declared the emergency situation by invoking the Emergency Decree in its use of troops to disperse the rioting crowds without causing any death (although 131 soldiers and civilians were injured, and two members of the Nang Lerng community were killed – with substantial evidence indicating that this was the work of those belonging to the Thaksin camp), the credibility and popularity of the government was significantly boosted, whereas the voice dictating the red-shirt groups through telephone and video links became silent.
A question arises in this connection: Will Thaksin and his supporters stop their moves to scuttle the Abhisit government? The answer is “No”.
This is because Thaksin has huge interests at stake, and he still dreams of coming back to Thailand as a powerful figure capable of claiming his 76,000 baht-worth assets back, lifting all the cases against him together with the jail sentence that he has received, and using political power to clear himself and members of his clique of all political and criminal charges and accusations.
He still believes that the gigantic amounts of money he has easily acquired are sufficient to buy off the Thai people. Moreover, he still commands the loyalty of the red-shirt masses that would serve as a spearhead in pushing for his political gains and controls the MPs and senators who have received benefits from him, and who would fight for him in Parliament. Finally, he can still rely on the large grassroots support in northern and northeastern Thailand.
If Thaksin stops engineering the moves that are damaging to Thailand, and if the Abhisit government fails in its effort to solve the economic problems that have pulled the country down since the time of Thaksin’s puppet governments, when the whole world plunged into a major economic crisis, then he might have a chance of returning to power in the country. The world economic meltdown has made the task of the present government in overcoming the economic problems even more difficult. And, given the existing political instability, its chance of having enough time to accomplish this task becomes even less.
It is therefore not surprising that Thaksin and his supporters have continually created political crises and tensions in Thailand, and at the same time engaged in propaganda work in the country as well as abroad to discredit the government. They will continue these demagogic activities as long as Thaksin remains at large and has not been put in jail in accordance with the court verdict, or as long as he is still provided with freedom to engage in such activities by foreign governments that are friends of Thailand. He will never cease his search for a chance to restore his power and come back to power.
There are chances for Thaksin’s influence to decline with the passage of time and changing political situations in Thailand. These are
(1) the dwindling of the financial resources he has at his disposal to support anti-government activities by red-shirt people and pro-Thaksin MPs;
(2) the MPs under Thaksin’s control (presently the Peau Thai and other pro-Thaksin MPs) becoming in disarray with the lapse of time;
(3) the Abhisit government gaining greater popularity as a result of the policies it has undertaken; and
(4) the sharp decline in the popularity of Peau Thai Party as result of its support for violence perpetrated by the red-shirt mobs who were instigated into such actions by Thaksin and the fact that Thaksin and his supporters have acted in strong opposition to several members of the Privy Council, especially General Prem Tinnasulanond. Not only did these people threateningly surround Prem’s residence, but also many of them including Thaksin have acted in manner that is tantamount to lèse majesté.
Who Used Violence?
On 11-14 April 2009, press reports fully and straightforwardly covered how red-shirt mobs led by Arisman Pongruangrong sabotaged the ASEAN + Three Summits and ASEAN + Six Summits in Pattaya, as well as how the troops had dispersed red-shirt mobs at Din Daeng and the Government House without casualties. How the people of Nang Lerng community came out in opposition to the red-shirt mobs, who had seized a bus with an intention of setting it on fire near this community and who murdered two members of the community, were also extensively reported.
The media indeed covered all these other incidents as they occurred. No other governments in the world had given the media such freedom for full coverage of a serious political disturbance, but the red-shirt mob leaders, Peau Thai Party, and their patrons who manipulated a remote control from a foreign country have repeatedly accused the government of using troops to commit violence against the people.
Let us take an example of how the Thaksin-type people have distorted the facts relating to the red-shirt mobs threatening the life of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the Ministry of the Interior.
Here is a brief factual summary of the event. Following their success in sabotaging the Summit Meetings (11 April), the red-shirt mobs who were in their jubilant mood widened their rioting activities in Bangkok. The prime minister invited his cabinet members to a meeting at the Ministry of the Interior (12 April), because the Government House was still sealed off by the red-shirt mobs. The ministry was intended to serve as a hideout where the cabinet could work to solve the country’s problems in safety from a sudden attack by the red-shirt mobs. It was here that the government declared an emergency situation.
However, there was an enemy within the government circle, who tipped the red-shirts off about this hideout. A mob was thus mobilized and directed to the Ministry of Interior. Although by that time the government had declared an emergency situation in Bangkok, the police still maintained their “empty-gear” work and allowed the red-shirt mob to blood-thirstily go after Abhisit and his colleagues, who the mobs suspected might still be their cars or in certain rooms at the ministry. Abhisit’s car managed to escape from the hunting mob, but Mr. Niphon Promphan, the Prime Minister Secretary General, who was in another car, was not as fortunate as the prime minister: he was violently attacked by the red-shirt mob and later hospitalized.
The facts relating to this incident were recorded by all branches of the media that witnessed it. They should not have allowed the Thaksinians to distort these facts and resorted to political games to discredit the government. The mob leaders, particularly the supposedly “honourable” MPs who belonged to the party that had twice been formally disbanded by the verdict of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised very unlikely issues that Abhisit was not in the car that was attacked by the red-shirt mobs; and that other people posed themselves as red-shirt mobs to attack the prime minister.
Raising such ridiculous issues was simply a political game of the Thaksinians to defeat their enemy – that is, creating chaos within their enemy’s ranks by raising queer issues to attract the attention of certain shallow media that in turn took the bait by extensively reporting on them and thereby succeeding in both covering up and distracting the public from their evil deeds.
The result was that their enemy had to keep on denying the distorted facts and had no time to any good work, whereas the Thaksinians succeeded in keeping themselves in the news. Hence, when an absurd issue they had raised began to lose public attention, they would find a new one to create news for themselves.
To defeat an enemy intent upon causing trouble in their homeland with a democratic spirit is a difficult task. It seems Abhisit has been trying to do this. The media that know the country’s problems are not in a position to solve them; they tend instead to end up quarrelling among themselves about what the appropriate role of the media should be. Such a social illness in Thai society might have a chance of abating if the media would abstain from reporting the news of those who are maliciously intent upon destroying social peace and the people’s happiness. It is necessary in the long term to rid Thai society of the yoke of Thaksinism.
Author: Khien Theeravit
– Professor Emeritus, Chulalongkorn University
– Outstanding Research Scholar awarded by National Research Council