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A Public Forum on “Thai Politics After Amnesty and Preah Vihear: Determinants, Outcomes and Prospects”

 A Public Forum on

“Thai Politics After Amnesty and Preah Vihear: Determinants, Outcomes and Prospects”

Monday, 20th November 2013 at 8.30 - 11.30 a.m.

The Chumbhot-Pantip Conference Room, 4th Floor Prajadhipok-Rambhaibarni Building,
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.

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Programme

08.30 – 09.00 a.m.      Registration

 09.00 – 09.10 a.m.     Welcome Remarks

                                    Professor Pirom Kamolratanakul, M.D.
                                    President, Chulalongkorn University

 

09.10 – 11.00 a.m.      Speakers

                                              Mr. Korn Chatikavanij
                                              Former Minister of Finance
 
                                              Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn

                                              Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

                                              Former Deputy Secretary- General to the Prime Minister

                                             

                                              Assoc. Prof. Dr. Puangthong Pawakapan
                                              Department of International Relations
                                              Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

 

                                              Dr. Jarupan Kuldiloke

                                              Pheu Thai Party MP

                                             

                                              Moderator

                                              Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Director of ISIS Thailand

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

11.00 – 11.30 a.m.      Q&A

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If you wish more detailed concerning this seminar please click
www.facebook.com/ISISThailand

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Moderator:

We will listen to the speakers in view of the Amnesty Bill decision and the protests, the International Court of Justice’s decision on the 1962 ruling, and also all the rest that is going on in Thai politics. Speakers have a free reign to say whatever they like in reflection of Thai politics.

 

Welcome Remarks:

Professor Pirom Kamolratanakul, M.D. stated that this forum is topical as Thai politics is currently beset with turmoil once again. The controversy began with the blanket Amnesty Bill which inspired people to protest in the streets. These protests continue. Today, we now have a crucial judicial decision which may contribute to the political tension.

Thailand must find a way to get past this period in its politics where the people are so polarised. Peace and reconciliation must be achieved for Thailand to move ahead as a nation.

Many people want to understand what is happening with Thai politics, what is happening with the Amnesty Bill and Preah Vihear. What does Thai politics stand for? What are the determinants, outcomes and prospects? These are the questions to be addressed by this forum by the balanced set of speakers discussing these issues that dominate our lives and our times.

 

Mr. Korn Chatikavanij

Mr. Korn Chatikavanij first noted that he resigned from the position Deputy Leader of the Democrat Party on the 31st of October so that he could join the protests against the Amnesty Law without threatening the status of the Party.

He believes when will look back on the last few divisive years of Thai politics, the events in the next few weeks and months will very much determine how we reflect on this period. It will be a decisive period in which Thais will decide to whether to give up on liberal democracy and move towards autocracy or majoritarian rule. The jury is still out on which course will be taken. But, the positive view in the last couple of weeks is that it looks like the Thai people are still willing to be politically involved and that Thai politicians can’t ignore the voice of the people.

Khun Korn explained that before the Amnesty Bill was announced, the Democrat Party was not sure how it would be perceived.  On the first reading it appeared as if its true meaning was to help the members of the public who were participating in the political over the past several years. However, time revealed that true objective of the law was always going to be around providing amnesty for Thaksin – particularly in corruption breaches – and the protests are the public’s response to this dishonesty.

The protesters were drawn from all segments of society and, so far, and so far the protests have not ended in bloodshed, both facts of which are relatively rare for Thailand. The Senate voted down the bill unanimously 141-0, which was largely driven by these public protests.

As a participant in these protests, Khun Korn said that it was one of the highlights of his time in politics. It was pure in the way that people were able to express themselves and their goals, and the way that people were passionate in talking about their opinions in Thai politics. It gives hope for the future of Thailand having a true liberal and participatory democracy.

The Amnesty Bill is not yet completely dead, but can be reintroduced after 180 days. The protests are ongoing as they intend to keep the pressure on the Pheu Thai Party over a number of different issues. For instance, Pheu Thai have said that they expect to reject the ruling of the Constitutional Court. This is a cause for alarm, as it is effectively a challenge on the existing political system that we have. When such a challenge is made, it is always a concern. So the protesters are hoping to keep the checks on the government and perhaps even pressure the resignation of the Prime Minister or force another election.

 

Dr. Jarupan Kuldiloke

Dr. Jarupan stated that the finding a way forward on the Amnesty Bill is the most difficult political issue she has ever experienced. She drummed the fact that this issue is not one that can be solved by individuals, but something that must be worked towards by friends, people from different sides of the political spectrum, people from different backgrounds and countries, and with input from everyone in society.

Dr. Jarupan emphasised the point that the government has a duty to listen to the views and feelings of everyone in society. The most important step is to encourage dialogue, note it down and report it so the next generation can understand how difficult this period has been, and so they can learn and apply the lessons that Thai society has had to work though.

About 10 years ago, Dr. Jarupan explained that she wrote an article about Thai politics and the value of dialogue for resolving conflicts. When she recently reviewed this article, she was struck by the fact that the lessons she wrote down in the past were still applicable to the situation facing Thailand today. This emphasises the fact that Thailand is going through a cyclical process of political turmoil. If the government continues to listen to the voices of the people, we may be able to escape this repeating process.

The government will continue to follow the rule-of-law and abide by the Constitution. While there seems to be some argument about who the Amnesty Bill will cover, or what crimes will be covered, the main motivation for the government is to help people who have been detained for three years or more because of their role in the political conflicts.

 

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn

Some things never change, including this topic. Prof. Panitan noted that we could have had the exact same conference 12 years ago because this crisis is not new. He believes that the current political crisis has its origins in the change of government in 2001. When he left his position with the Democrat government in 2001, Prof. Panitan said that he and his colleagues believed that their job had been done, and that the new incoming young, energetic and popular government had potential to continue the reforms in three key areas, Checks and Balances, Corruption and Conflict of Interest. The reforms in these areas did not continue and they proved to be major points of conflict in the following years. In the next few weeks and months, these same issues could again be major determinants in making or breaking Thai society.

1)    Checks and Balances: on 31 September 2013 at 4am the actions in Parliament highlighted the fact that Thailand is in a crisis when it comes to checks and balances. The Parliament is not functioning properly.

2)    Corruption: It is becoming an old clichéd issue now and many people have forgotten how important it is.

3)    Conflict of Interest: Today Senators will vote on whether to extend their terms. Is this not a conflict of interest when they vote to protect their own jobs?

4)    Survival of Political Parties and Individual Politicians, for example Khun Thaksin, Khun Abhisit and Khun Suthep. Today, the internet, Facebook and Twitter are contributing to politicians’ ascent to the status of super-stars and super-villains, where they are either worshipped or despised by millions of followers. It has become more intense and personal.

Despite these endemic problems in Thailand, Prof. Panitan explained that he is still optimistic about the future of Thailand. The idea of checks and balances is coming to the forefront, civil society is becoming more confident, mobs are not resorting to violence, and people are becoming more educated on issues of democracy. There are still issues surrounding personality conflicts, cooperation between the parties and corruption, so there is still progress that needs to be made.

The same issues have been going on for 12 years. Today, Parliament is weak, but the people in the street know what is going on.

 

The International Court of Justice clarification should lay this conflict to rest. It is a very complicated issue, but not new, and there are still challenges ahead.

Prof. Panitan explained that the root of the conflict began 10 years ago, around 1 June 2003 when a joint cabinet meeting between Thailand and Cambodia agreed that they would develop the temple area together. On 30 January 2006 Cambodia submitted a request that Preah Vihear be considered a World Heritage site, which was approved on 7 July 2009. This was during a very hostile time in Thai politics, and the temple became caught up in the domestic dispute and clashes took place on the border in July 2009 making it a regional issue. One of the misconceptions about the conflict is that it occurred during Abhisit’s premiership, however it began well before he became Prime Minister. Clashes intensified and Cambodia went to the ICJ.

The ICJ’s ruling could put some issues to rest. Prof Panitan said that the outcome will be dependent on three main points: 

1)    How the Thai government reacts to the decision. Thai people are very pragmatic, but they are very attached to the temple. The government should be cautious.

2)    The government needs to have a plan for how they will comply with the ruling. They need to have mechanisms set up which help them move forward with coordination, trust and transparency. This will be difficult.

3)    The final decisive issue is with the military, both in Cambodia and Thailand. We need to work with Cambodia to demilitarise our respective forces. This should be handled effectively to avoid further confrontation.

The amnesty issue has allowed anti-government sentiments to gain traction. However, Preah Vihear has not fanned the flames as much as it could have.

 

 

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Puangthong Pawakapan

Ajarn Puangthong believes that the Amnesty Bill has been killed since it was voted down by the Senate. The Pheu Thai Party would not dare to pick it up again. However, the Yingluck government still owe an apology to people of different groups for the failure of the Bill.

1.    People against the pardon of Thaksin Shinawatra. The judicial process against him in 2006 was politically motivated, but the actions with the Amnesty Bill today are not much better.

2.    Red Shirts who have been imprisoned since 2010. These were the people that the Amnesty Bill was supposed to help on the basis that their actions were not criminal, but politically motivated under extraordinary circumstances. Thaksin has ruined their near-term chances at freedom.

3.    Families of the people who were killed in the April-May 2010 crackdown. At least 49 deaths and 2000 injuries occurred, but with the blanket Amnesty Bill it showed that Thaksin and Pheu Thai were selfish and wouldn’t hesitate to step over the dead bodies of the Red Shirt supporters in order to attain their own freedom. This is absolutely unacceptable and Thailand cannot allow this culture of impunity in its society.

The Bill aroused anger from people of all sides. Some Red Shirts criticised Thaksin and vowed that they would vote against the Pheu Thai Party. Many Red Shirts do not love Thaksin, but they want to defend Parliamentary Democracy. However, Ajarn Puangthong highlighted the fact that this might not be the case for the Democrat Party, as evidenced by inflammatory statements from their members.

However, Ajarn Puangthong believes that what is even more worrying is the perception among many educated middle-class Bangkokians that the conflict, and associated deaths and arson in 2010 was driven entirely by the actions of Red Shirts, where in fact the military and Democrat government played a large role in escalating the conflict.

1.    According to the Bangkok Criminal Court, the persons killed at Wat Pratum were killed by soldiers on the SkyTrain rails. Those dead did not possess weapons when they were shot and there were no ‘Men in Black’ in the area.

2.    94 people were killed, 84 of whom were citizens and 4 were reporters. 67,000 soldiers were employed and 600,000 live bullets were used (120,000 were spent of which 2,000 were high-powered sniper bullets.) The entry wounds of those who were killed or injured suggest that the soldiers were given ‘shoot-to-kill’ directives.

3.    The image of CentralWorld burning has dominated the imagination of the public. However, the Criminal Court acquitted all of the people accused of the arson attack. There are in fact accusations some quarters that the arson was committed by the military for political reasons.

There was an excessive use of force by the government in 2010. However, people seem to hate Thaksin and the Red Shirts so much that they are not receptive to these facts. Much of this information was not reported and people of different colours and sides of the political spectrum are very selective about the news and information they decide to consume. Because of this, it is difficult to solve issues or find public consensus any of these issues.

 

With the ICJ clarification occurring at the time of the Amnesty Bill, it is fortunate that Thailand did not lose the whole 4.6km area. H.E. Mr. Virachai Plasai explained that Thailand did not lose in the decision and that Cambodia did not win. Furthermore he said that there is still a great deal of work to do to resolve all of the issues. The decision was a fair compromise and the consequences too little to further trigger any political issue in Thailand.

 

 

If the original Amnesty Bill were to be re-introduced, would the Democrat Party support it?

Mr. Korn Chatikavanij: There were many flaws in the original Amnesty Bill (other than the blanket amendments). But the basic principle about providing amnesty to individuals who breached the Emergency Decree is not an issue for the Democrat Party, but we do have a problem when individual conscious breaches of the criminal law – which would have included arson and the 90 deaths – would be unconditionally absolved. We believe that for proper reconciliation to go ahead and that the path outlined by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission (that truth and justice should be pursued) should be followed so that peace can be achieved.

 

Are the current protests simply the Democrat Party moving from crisis-to-crisis and seeking to gain power through conflict and non-democratic means?

Mr. Korn Chatikavanij: Thailand is moving from crisis-to-crisis, but we are trying to pressure the government while also avoiding conflict, which is quite challenging. Protests are part of democracy. Without protesting, what can the Opposition do? Just keep quiet about the Amnesty Bill, corruption and the rice-pledging scheme? It is the job of the Opposition to highlight any wrong that we see. That should not be considered as ‘conflict’, that is the Opposition’s job. What should be questioned is the actions of the rulers and why their decisions are provoking this kind of response.

Pheu Thai has pledged not to press ahead with the Amnesty Bill, but could the original draft be returned?

Dr. Jarupan Kuldiloke: It is good for politics that a close friend in Ajarn Puangthong starts to complain about the government while Ajarn Panitan starts to compliment it. Things are so complex! With regards to the Amnesty Bill, the government will continue to listen to all the voices in Thailand deeply and try to meet their expectations. The government wants to listen to the dialogue and have politicians represent every citizen in the whole country. Voice and opinions on this issue need to be heard so we can find a way to move forward together to resolve these issues of freedom and accountability. 

 

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