Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Four Voices: Defending Thailand's Pro-Democracy Alliance

I’ve asked four prominent persons from what I would call Thailand’s “pro-democracy alliance” the four same questions to gauge the range of thoughts and feelings as to the country’s present political situation.

These four persons are, in order, trade unionist and possible prospective party list MP candidate for the new Palang Prachathipatai Party (Democratic Force Party), Jittra Kotchadet; Former Thai government minister, political dissident and exile, Jakrapob Penkair; SuranandVejjajiva, a former government minister and now the Secretary General to Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister of Thailand; Panuwat Panduprasert, lecturer at the School of Politics and Government, Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University.


Jittra Kotchadet

Will democracy survive in Thailand?
I believe we will have democracy because most people in the country want democracy. But there is a small group of leading politicians from the party [Democrat Party] which has failed to win a majority in elections who are trying to introduce an unelected regime. In the past they ordered the army to attack those calling for democracy which led to 99 deaths. Now they are trying to incite people, claiming they are protecting the monarchy. However, out in the provinces among the workers and farmers we clearly see people disagree with this group, but because they fear provoking violence they chose to peacefully wait for elections. It indicates that they prefer democracy. But if there isn’t an election it is clear I believe that the people who love democracy will certainly resist.
How real a threat is Suthep to democracy?
I believe that Mr Suthep and others have the right to protest and fully express their own ideas if they wish. But he must stoke divisions, hatred and violence in society by using the monarchy as a tool. For example, by accusing the Red Shirts of attempting to bring down the monarchy and preparing for genocide. If he insists on continuing to stage protests and speeches he will cause more hatred posing a great danger to democracy, which should be about people respecting varied views on many subjects and through elections living together without killing each other.

Will the Army intervene in some way against the pro-democracy alliance?
I don’t trust the army. The army is the army of the people, but we really don’t have any mechanism to control the army which means we cannot expect anything at all from the army. I believe that if army assesses that it will receive benefits or can preserve benefits it will intervene in the protests calling for democracy immediately as past political events show. Every time the army launches a coup in Thailand there is always a pretext, such as corruption or a threat to overthrow the monarchy. I have seen that the protests by PDRC are trying to spin clues in these ways and then the leaders call for the army to come out and assist them providing a clear signal for the army to act.

How strong are the connections between Suthep’s PDRC & Abhisit’s Democrat Party?
They are the same group working to create all sorts of issues to undermine social coherence with clear collaboration from the media. The PDRC is the voting base of the Democrat Party because most of these people are from the south or the middle class in Bangkok.



Jakrapob Penkair

Will democracy survive in Thailand?
Of course, it will survive and very well so. It took Europe decades and years of perfecting its democracy. Ours is only less than 10 years, counting from the very first full term of a democratically-elected government. The main reason is that Thai people now understand the values and virtues of democracy, and they are willing to protect it.
How real a threat is Suthep to democracy?
If the likes of Suthep are allowed to get even an inch, we will see a young democracy replaced or controlled by the establishment, whose political base Suthep is now representing.
Will the Army intervene in some way against the pro-democracy alliance?
The armed forces learn their lessons. The task of keeping power is far more costly than the takeover itself. They may withhold the first strike if there realise that the second strike by the other side is surely in order. It is safe to say that the armed forces will not wilfully exercise that power, unless they are ordered to.
How strong are the connections between Suthep’s PDRC & Abhisit’s Democrat Party?
One and the same. There are dissidents in their party who are against the ongoing games, but they are in minority.



Suranand Vejjajiva

Will democracy survive in Thailand?
Democracy in Thailand is under threat. The conservative reactionaries have gathered force again to try to divert from democracy towards a dictatorship in disguise. A silent coup d’tat has been in process for the past month, silent because an overt one like the 2006 coup is not acceptable to the Thai public and international community. Thai democracy have a chance of survival if the general population continued to be informed that democracy is the best option for the country. Continued international support for Thailand to keep on the democratic track is essential.
How real a threat is Suthep to democracy?
The threat is real as Suthep is the front man for anti-democratic alliance in Thailand. He is brash and crazy enough to play this dangerous game, and his supporters, secret and open ones, are willing to invest in him.
Will the Army intervene in some way against the pro-democracy alliance?
So far the military top brass has taken the professional stance that is maintaining the non-interference position in politics. In reality, some may be pressured to take action, in particular the Army Chief of Staff. However, the Army is reluctant to intervene. They do not feel they could handle the pro-democracy alliance especially the Red Shirts which will rise if democracy is ditched through a coup d’tat or any other undemocratic means. But if violence breaks between the supporters of both sides, an excuse for the Army to take action is probable and it will not be for democracy, but for their own power grabbing ambitions.
How strong are the connections between Suthep’s PDRC & Abhisit’s Democrat Party?
The Democrat Party has been supporting PDRC from the beginning. Their MPs have been involved in organizing and planning the rallies. Many may disagree with Suthep on his tactics, but not the overall goal, for the Democrat Party knows they could not win an election against Pheu Thai Party, except to overthrow the present government, change the rules of the game and stop the Pheu Thai Party political machine.


Panuwat Panduprasert

Will democracy survive in Thailand?
I believe democracy will survive. There will be setbacks and obstacles, but Thailand has come too far for anyone to definitively turn back the clock.
How real a threat is Suthep to democracy?
Suthep alone doesn't represent a great threat to democracy in my opinion. What's more worrying is the anger and resentment of people against Thaksin and his loyalists, and democracy itself has been the unfortunate victim of it all. I know several people who have said that they don't respect Suthep but see him as a tool for defeating the so-called Thaksin regime.
Will the Army intervene in some way against the pro-democracy alliance?
 If the army are rational actors, I think they should know that any intervention would be costly for them. The problem is I don't think they are rational so anything is possible.
How strong are the connections between Suthep’s PDRC & Abhisit’s Democrat Party?
Obviously there's a very strong connection. In fact this is probably the first time so many Democrat politicians have got involved in street politics in such a highly visible manner. 

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