An attempt by a small number of predominantly right-wing Bangkokians supported by Thailand’s second oldest political party*, the Democrat Party, to suspend democracy in Thailand and install their own unelected “people’s committee” under the guise of ridding the country of the “Thaksin regime” has seen political fervour reach a level not seen since 2010.
Back then protests by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), aka the red-shirts, ended with a military crackdown on protesters resulting in more than 90 people, including two foreign journalists, being killed and more than 2,000 people injured.
While some people have been quick to draw a parallel between the 2009 and 2010 red-shirt protests and the current movement, the two are diametrically opposite.
In 2009 and 2010 the UDD were calling for elections to be held after Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party (PPP) over allegations of vote-buying by one of it’s MPs, after earlier stripping Samak Sundaravej of the prime ministership for hosting a television cooking show. His crime? He got reimbursed a very small amount of money to pay his gas travelling expenses to the studio.
In a subsequent simple vote of lower house MPs, some of who crossed the floor of parliament to join with the Opposition, Abhisit Vejjajiva became Thailand’s 27th prime minister.
Attempt to suspend democracy
The protests this time, however, are about suspending the right for Thailand’s 66 million people to elect their own government as they have done 26 times since the end of absolute monarchy rule in 1932 following “an almost bloodless “revolution”” on the morning of June 24, 1932, which culminated in King Prajadhipok, Rama VII, granting suffrage.
Ahead of the “uprising” King Rama VII had already began down the path of democracy and the decentralisation of power, though his plans were opposed by those in his inner circle, including American Francis Bowes Sayre, Sr., a Harvard Law School graduate and a son-in-law of former US president Woodrow Wilson.
At the time the reasons given for opposing democracy and the people’s right to elect their own government were that the Thai population was politically immature and not yet ready for democracy. The same cries that are being heard today in the concerted effort being made to kill democracy in Thailand.
The protests began in August when the little known People’s Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism (Pefot) staged a rally on the edge of Bangkok’s Lumphini Park against a proposed amnesty bill for political protesters that the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PTP) was planning on tabling in parliament.
The location is the same as that at which the red-shirts erected a massive bamboo and tyre barricade in 2010, and where Royal Thai Army (RTA) specialist, Major-General Khattiya Sawatdiphon, affectionately known as “Seh Daeng” (commander red), was shot dead by an unidentified sniper in 2010.
This was followed by a token protest rally supported by the Democrat Party when the document was tabled. After passing through an examination committee the bill returned to parliament for it’s second and third reading, allegedly substantially different than the originally tabled document.
Changes to Amnesty Bill criticised by all
Red Sunday, a red-shirt splinter group led by Sombat Boongamanong were the first to stage protests about the changes, which would have seen all people involved in political unrest, including protest leaders, soldiers, and authorities from 2004 up to August 6 of this year exonerated. Those charged or convicted of lèse-majesté offences would be excluded, it proposed.
Other groups opposed to the return to Thailand and pardoning of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra began holding protests in Bangkok and regionally.
A whistle-blowing campaign in the heart of the Bangkok business district by those opposed to the blanket amnesty bill, along with wide-spread public disenchantment, saw the government beat a face-losing retreat, promising to drop the Bill, in the process offering all but the souls of their future heirs in an attempt to convince the public that it would not proceed with it now, or in the future.
However, the damage was already done. This was exactly the stumble that opponents of the government had been waiting for, while some say they had been actively working towards.
Suddenly the genuine wide-spread opposition to an unjust law that continued the historical transgressions of previous governments was hijacked by a well-prepared and well funded force which artfully channelled a peoples’ movement against a bad law into a peoples’ movement against the government and democratic process.
Despite parliament being dissolved on February 2, to make way for a fresh general election, any hope of Thailand returning to the democratic fold were dashed, with the Thailand’s opposition showing it was the law of the jungle, rather than the law of the land that was their guiding principle.
Led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban and a band of willing thugs and bullies who say that surrender of total power to run Thailand to them is the only option, with open and veiled threats having been made to the safety and future of the Shinawatra family should this not occur.
Along the way various claims, accusations and demands have been made with the common thread running through them all being that the majority of Thai people are not ready for democracy as it operates in Thailand and that overall they are to stupid to chose their own government due to rampant vote buying by political parties, primarily the ruling PTP.
Therefore democracy should be suspended in Thailand for up to 14 months to allow an unelected “people’s council” to make the necessary changes in place to rid the country of corruption and remove “the Thaksin regime”.
* Thailand first listed political party was the Khana Ratsadon which mounted the 1932 democracy uprising that saw King Rama VII grant suffrage to the Thailand people.
**Some images have been digitally altered in order to comply with Thailand’s lése-majesté laws. Clicking any photo will launch a slide show from that point in the page onwards. To view all photos on a page in a continuous slide show select the first image on the page. For website performance reasons the number of photos on any page is limited to 50.
August 4, 2013 – People’s Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism (Pefot) rally @ Lumphini Park
August 7, 2013 – Protest against tabling of original draft amnesty bill – about 300 protesters
October 27, 2013 – Red Sunday kick off the first protest against the blanket amnesty bill
November 5 – Protesters move to Democracy Monument to protest blanket amnesty bill
November 6 – Daily whistle blowing campaign in Silom Rd., against blanket amnesty bill
November 13 – Day 1 of a call for a 3 day national shut-down — that everyone ignored
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me
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