Recently I had the chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Suranand on Thailand's present predicament and possible ways out of the crisis.
I started off by asking him to give a brief outline of the situation right now as he sees it.
The on-going protests can be divided into three groups, more or less. The first are those who disagreed with the blanket amnesty bill and came out to show their discontent. These dispersed when the government “backed down” and the Senate dropped the bill. The second group led by the opposition Democrat Party is now trying to capitalize on the large turnout against the blanket amnesty bill and use it as a political tool to topple the government – extending to a call for ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and eliminating the “Thaksin regime.” The third group is a composition of remnants from the Yellow Shirts who calls for “political reform” through a coup d’tat. Alliances are being formed and positions negotiated amongst the opposition groups. They are hoping to get another large turnout in order to pressure for change, not necessary in a democratic manner.
Was it a mistake to attempt a blanket amnesty?
The intention of the blanket amnesty bill is based on to forgive (but not forget). Many countries with violent political conflicts eventually end up with amnesties as a mechanism to set the country back on track. It is not a mistake but maybe a little too naive and “off” in terms of timing and communicating to the general public.
Is the amnesty now dead as a policy?
The sad part in this episode is the victims of the protests especially people who came out to join the protest rallies and were charged with criminal cases, some still serve time and many have to fight court cases. Time had passed and they should be given amnesty. The government have to find a way to help and relieve them from the burden they did not deserve to take.
Is the government considering a snap election?
No, and the Prime Minister has no intention to resign.
Are you surprised that those who were completely silent regarding the amnesty for the 2006 coup leaders are at the head of the protest against this amnesty?
I am not surprised and always have been disappointed. The 2006 amnesty for coup leaders was not the first time. There have been more than 20 amnesties since Thailand became a democracy in 1932. Most amnesties are for coup leaders, and the people remained silent because the amnesties were usually passed by an appointed legislative body set up by the coup leaders themselves. The current amnesty bill, despite the controversy, was proposed through democratic process via an elected parliament as stipulated by the Constitution. It is embarrassing for Thai political history.
How real is the threat to Thai democracy right now? Do you think the opposition are committed to democratic means?
The threat to Thai democracy is always real throughout since 1932. There are groups of elites who believe they are superior and do not believe in the voices of the common man. They allied with the military and businessmen in many occasions to topple democratically elected governments. The opposition [led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, Surnand's cousin] has always been the tool of the elite, and especially more so since they lost the last five elections over past two decades.
How much does the Pheu Thai party need the Red Shirts right now?
Pheu Thai and the Red Shirts are inseparable. There may be differences in opinions, but they fought and need to continue the fight for democracy together.
Critics claim the govt let down their supporters by not reforming laws like lese majeste or not doing enough to free the Red Shirt prisoners - what would you say to them?
The government has been trying to work to free the Red Shirt political prisoners as hard as possible. Some has been released but many remained, stuck in the judicial maze. The work will need to continue. As for lese majeste, the law remains a sensitive issue in Thailand.
There's been some talk of the govt bring in the ICC - how likely is this?
Finally, how can the govt achieve a sustainable reconciliation?
We need to work to create trust between stakeholders and the Prime Minister proposes to use the reform forum initiated by the government as the venue to discuss how the country can move ahead.