Understanding Political Crisis in Thailand: From April 2009 to May 2010 Riots
The Australian National University Postgraduate Student
Graduate Studies in International Affairs (GSIA)
University of Canberra
We write this article with extreme misery embedded in the bottom of our hearts as Thai citizens who are now staying overseas and have to watch our beloved country being burnt down by a group of terrorists who claim to be ‘pro-democracy’ protestors. When we studied International Relations and Political Science during our undergraduate studies and saw the news about war-torn countries like Iraq, Afghanistan etc…, we felt deeply sympathetic to their people’s plight. We have always thought to ourselves how lucky we are to be born in such a peaceful country with freedom and rights. We never imagined that one day, due to the lust and greed for power of only one politician; Thaksin Shinawatra, that he would be able to lead our beloved country to a civil war-like incident, in which a large number of people lost their lives unnecessarily. He has only one ultimate aim; to resume his position as the prime minister with absolute power, which would allow him to do anything he wishes. The violence that happened in Thailand in 2009-2010 was neither for democracy promotion nor the better life quality of the impoverished Thai people. It has served only the interests of the most corrupt and greedy politician in Thai history; Thaksin Shinawatara.
Red-shirt Terrorists not Protestors
In April 2009, when Thailand hosted the ASEAN Summit and its other related conferences exemplified by ASEAN+3 in Pattaya, the red-shirt terrorists with the ignorance of concerned officers, attacked the hotel which was the venue of the conferences. They clearly announced that they wished to capture Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and took him to the protest area in front of the Government House and let him be punished by the protestors. The leaders of ASEAN member countries along with those of the dialogue partners had to escape and do everything for their survival. Later that night Thaksin phoned in from somewhere in the world and praised the protestors for their success in ruining the credibility of Abhisit’s government at the ASEAN Summit.
However, the red-shirt protestors did not stop their brutality and Thaksin was not satisfied with only the failure of the ASEAN Summit. The following days they drove a lot of trucks full of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) which could erupt any time to obstruct the main roads and the crowd areas of Bangkok including plenty of hospitals, temples and other important buildings. In other words, they took ordinary people, doctors, nurses, patients and monks as their political hostages. Other groups of the protestors shot and attacked the mosques, burnt people’s houses and killed at least 2 innocent people who had tried to fight them to protect their lives and their families. Thaksin has never shouldered responsibility for the loss of people’s lives or for the loss of the state’s property. While some Thai people were struggling and willing to sacrifice everything for him, Thaksin and his family enjoyed shopping in luxurious department stores such as Harrods. Thaksin himself, unlike Aung San Suu Syi or Nelson Mandela, has never come back to Thailand to lead his supporters to fight against what they perceived as a tyranny preventing Thailand from moving forward to real democracy. In contrast, he always hides behind the curtain and waits to accumulate wealth and power from the bodies of our fellow citizens.
In May 2010, Thailand encountered the most severe crisis in its contemporary political history. The red-shirt protestors, rallied on the main streets in Bangkok to put pressure on the current government led by the Democrat Party – the main opposition party during Thaksin’s era, to dissolve the parliament and called the general election earlier. Even though they have always claimed that they were protesting in an unarmed and peaceful way, what happened in reality was the polar opposite. The behaviour of the protestors was not different from terrorist groups. They invaded the hospitals, generally considered off-limits even in warfare, which led to the death of some patients. They have always threatened to kill the Prime Minister and his family, the Ministers in the current government and some other public figures who criticise them or just disagree with them. Earlier they had also prohibited Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to go to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand, where they claimed to be the land of only the supporters of Thaksin. Abhisit’s visit would allegedly insult Thaksin’s honour and dignity and Abhisit’s safety would not be guaranteed.
The worst of the worst occurred on May 19, 2010 when the red-shirt terrorists burnt down numerous important buildings in Bangkok city centre. The independent small and medium entrepreneurs, who make up the strong foundation for democracy, were the ones who suffered the most from this political terrorism. They also tried to incinerate some community markets but fortunately some of them had been arrested before successfully operating. How can the terrorists with barbarous actions be recognized as the fighters for the real democracy? They are not the pro-democracy protestors as they claim anymore. Consequently, the government and the military were justified to use all necessary means to fight against the brutal red-shirt terrorists in order to protect the lives of the innocent people and restore law and order in Thailand.
Apart from their violent actions, their demands were incompatible with liberal democratic principles. Their accusations against the government or other political institutions were propagated without reliable evidence. They also distorted historical facts to only serve their own interests. The details will be elaborated and discussed in the following parts of this article.
Legitimacy of the Current Government
After a bloodless coup d’état in September 2006, Thailand returned to democracy, of which the important milestone was the general election on December 23, 2007. The People Power Party (PPP), the nominee of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party, which supported Thaksin, won the majority in the House of Representatives; 233 out of 480 seats whereas the Democrat Party, the main Opposition Party in the Thaksin’s regime gained only 164 seats. The PPP formed the coalition government with other 5 political parties. The coalition government collapsed at the end of 2008 according to the Constitutional Court Ruling to dissolve the PPP and suspend the political rights of its executive committee for 5 years on the ground that one of its executive committee had committed frauds during the general election in December 2007. Its implication was that Somchai Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of Thaksin, who was at that time the prime minister and one of the executive committee members of the PPP, was automatically removed from power and the House of Representatives then had to vote for the new Prime Minister.
On December 15, 2008, the House of Representatives elected Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand. The red-shirt terrorists severely criticised that Abhisit did not legitimately assume the premiership mainly because his Democrat Party had not won the most MPs in the 2007 general election. It had to be only their dissolved party which was justified to determine who would be the next Prime Minister.
When considering the legitimacy of the government, one must take 2 dimensions into account; the legal and political dimensions. From a legal point of view, how Abhisit became the Prime Minister of Thailand was in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and was no different from those of the leaders of the dissolved PPP. It is not stipulated in the Constitution that only the leader of the party achieving the largest majority in the lower house could be the Prime Minister. In contrast, every single MP including Abhisit can assume that position if he/she receives sufficient support in the House of Representatives. Moreover, in every liberal democratic state, when the Prime Minister was removed from power for any reasons, every single MP has their own legitimate right to make their decisions according to their consciences who would be the most appropriate next Prime Minister, which is entitled by the Constitution. It can; therefore, be concluded that the Abhisit government is legally legitimate.
From a political perspective, there are three points which are worth considering. First, the PPP did not win the absolute majority of the seats in the House of Representatives – not more than 240 out of 480 seats. It could not be fully claimed that the PPP came to power by the consent of the absolute majority of the Thai people. It was successful in forming the government by only seeking support from other political parties the same as the Democrat Party did.
Second, when considering the votes both parties had received in the proportional system, which reflected the popularity of the parties not of the single candidate, the PPP received 12,338,903 votes; the Democrat Party received 12,148,504 votes. The margin was only 190,399 votes. The former had 34 proportional MPs and the latter had 33. This narrow margin indicated that the popularity of these two parties was almost at the same level, so either of them could legitimately form the coalition government after the general election.
The last but the most important point is that, on December 15, 2008, when the House of Representatives held a special session to vote for the new Prime Minister, the MPs of the dissolved PPP nominated and supported the leader of the Puea Pandin Party, which won only about 24 seats in the general election, to be the premiership’s candidate. In this regard the nomination has profoundly undermined the credibility of its criticism against the legitimacy of Abhisit government because they had done exactly what they condemned the other for or even worse. How could they claim that the premiership of the leader of the second largest party in the lower house was illegitimate but simultaneously consider its support for the leader of the much more smaller party legitimate? This was a really ironic political situation which has never been mentioned by the leaders of the red-shirt terrorists. From the reasons elaborated above, Abhisit Vejjajiva has been the legally and politically legitimate Prime Minister of Thailand since the day he was voted for this position in House of Representatives.
Controversies over 2007 Constitution Amendment
Apart from condemning the origin of the current government, the red-shirt terrorists also called for the abolishment of the 2007 Constitution, which they claimed the poisonous fruit of the 2006 bloodless coup d’état and the restoration of the 1997 Constitution, which was regarded the product of the pro-democracy peaceful movement during the 1990’s and more democratic. Even though the fact that the 2007 Constitution was drafted after the coup cannot be overlooked, one should also bear in mind that it is the first constitution in Thai history that was approved by the majority of Thai citizens in the referendum held on August 19, 2007; 14,727,306 against 10,747,441 votes. The demand of the red-shirt terrorists to abolish the constitution has ignored one of the most significant democratic principles; the majority rules. If the red-shirt terrorists did not respect the majority’s decision, how could they still claim themselves the pro-democracy protestors?
Prime Minister Abhisit himself admitted that some provisions in the Constitution were not sufficiently democratic and he had tried to compromise by convincing every political party to mutually amend the constitution. However, he emphasised that the amendment propositions must be approved by the referendum before proceeding. After the constitution is successfully amended he said he was willing to dissolve the parliament and call the general election earlier. It was the red-shirt terrorists and their political party, who withdrew from the constitution amendment process and led Thai politics to deadlock. They have always insisted that the constitution was the product of the coup but they have never respected the decision of the majority who had approved this constitution in 2007. If they had been real pro-democracy protestors and had not distorted historical facts for their own benefits, they would not have ignored the voices of almost 15 millions Thai citizens in the referendum. Our current Prime Minister has already shown his broad-mindedness but was adamantly refused by the red-shirt terrorists and their political party.
The Dissolution of the Parliament
In addition, the red-shirt terrorists also pushed Abhisit to dissolve the parliament as soon as possible. If Thailand had a general election today, it would be a bloody one and the friction in the country would be too profound to heal. In every liberal democratic country, a free and fair election occurs only when every political party can launch their electoral campaigns anywhere without violent resistance from the supporters of their political competitors. In Thailand, it could not be guaranteed that if the candidates of the Democrat Party travelled to launch their campaigns in the Northern part of Thailand, which was claimed to be the orbit of Thaksin’s party, they would not be attacked or killed by the red-shirts terrorists there. This is not exaggeration because the red-shirt terrorists had always threatened Abhisit not to visit Chiang Mai otherwise he and his family would have been attacked. When some of the ministers of the current government travelled to the North, there were always the red-shirt terrorists throwing something disgusting and dangerous like eggs, excrement and sharp pieces of wood in order to hurt or kill them. Worse still, when some scholars who have always criticised them visited Chiang Mai, the red-shirt terrorists encircled the hotels in which they stayed and tried to burn them down.
From their historical violent actions, it is predictable that the Democrat Party will not be able to go to the North and the Northeast of Thailand and run their political activities there safely. Its candidates will definitely be threatened and attacked by the red-shirt terrorists. The appropriate analogy here would be that in a federal election the Australian Prime Minister could go to seek political support only in the state where he/she was born, and when he/she travelled to other states, a lot of people there threw something dangerous to hurt him or encircled his hotel and cut off water, electricity, would you still think that general election is democratically free and fair?
This is the reason why Abhisit has not yet been able to call a general election immediately but has tried to the best of his ability to reconcile with all interest and pressure groups both inside and outside the parliament through measures such as proposing the constitution amendment referendum in order to amend the supreme law of the country to be more acceptable to stakeholders and to gradually eliminate political violence, which is the basic condition for a free and fair election. It was also the red-shirt terrorists and its party who refused to participate in the reconciliation process proposed by Abhisit and led our beloved country to the deepest friction in our political history.
We are not stimulating the sentiment of hatred in Thai society which will definitely make the situation deteriorate. We wholeheartedly support the reconciliation process to bring peace and stability back to our beloved country. However, the reconciliation process must be separated from the law enforcement and the truth dissemination. Whoever commits crimes and political terrorism must be socially condemned and legally punished. The violence in any way must be resisted. Corrupt, greedy and cruel politicians like Thaksin Shinawatara, who always regard Thai people as only a tool through which they can resume power, must be cursed forever.