'People's Democrats in Name'
The political situation in Thailand continues to deteriorate. After forcing the resignation of one prime minister, the opposition has stepped up its fight to unseat the government in Bangkok and take power. This has resulted in the worst violence in nearly two decades, which has left at least one person dead and hundreds injured.
It appears as if the opposition has set out to destabilize the country and force yet another coup. It is a sad commentary on Thailand's opposition, which calls itself the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), but appears to have no respect for democracy or the rule of law.
Bangkok began its descent into chaos in May when PAD launched daily protests against then Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. The opposition party argued that Mr. Samak was a puppet of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who had been deposed two years earlier by a military coup following allegations that he, his family and close colleagues were corrupt. In addition, he was accused of lese-majeste. Those protests escalated in late August when demonstrators broke into the grounds of Government House and set up camp, effectively paralyzing the government.
After declaring a national emergency — which the armed forces refused to enforce — Mr. Samak was forced to step down when the Constitutional Court ruled that his appearances on a televised cooking show constituted a conflict of interest. This victory for the opposition was short-lived. Mr. Samak was replaced by Mr. Somchai Wangsawat, Mr. Thaksin's brother-in-law, a move that infuriated PAD.
Opposition supporters escalated their protests to try to block Mr. Somchai from making his address to open Parliament. (The new prime minister is operating out of the VIP lounge at the Bangkok airport.) The police this time responded with tear gas, amid rumors of gunshots, and street battles left at least one person dead and some 500 injured.
Ostensibly, the protests have targeted the new prime minister, who, like his brother-in-law, is charged with corruption. More cynical observers believe the opposition is trying to destabilize Bangkok and force the military to step in yet again with the 19th coup since Thailand became a democracy in 1932.
Thus far the military has stayed its hand. Gen. Anupong Paojinda, chief of the armed forces, bluntly stated that "the situation does not warrant staging a coup." This evenhandedness is a welcome development after the military refused to enforce the emergency declared by Mr. Samak. While no one wants to see bloodshed, the armed forces cannot afford to turn a blind eye to an opposition intent on destabilizing the country — especially when the government is democratically elected. For those who applauded the military's prior restraint, it is important to recall that the opposition and the military for the most part oppose the government's policies.
The real issue in Bangkok is that Mr. Thaksin and his successors have undermined Thailand's old order. There were plenty of grounds for complaint against Mr. Thaksin: He may have been corrupt, he condoned an extra-judicial war against drug dealers that resulted in thousands of deaths, and his heavy-handed response to the Muslim insurgency in the south exacerbated unrest in that region.
However, Mr. Thaksin's political message — support for the rural population that had long been neglected by the Bangkok leadership — resonated deeply among a majority of Thais. He was a populist and his successors continued that line. There was no mistaking that the victory of the People Power Party in elections last year reflected the will of the majority.
PAD has not accepted that verdict. Instead, it seeks to overthrow the government by any means. It seeks a government that is appointed rather than elected. This would ensure that PAD's constituencies maintain their grip on power. This is not democracy as the concept is commonly understood.
There is little that friends of Thailand can do to stabilize the country's fragile democracy. But concerned nations should send a message to the opposition that another coup will not be tolerated. Thailand's political parties must understand that they cannot change the rules of the game when they lose elections. There must be respect for the rule of law: If politicians are corrupt, then the legal process must be respected — that is the way to bring about change, not street protests.
Real democrats must find common ground between the government and opposition parties. They should not rely on the military to resolve the situation by force. Dissolving Parliament and calling new elections is unlikely to resolve this problem as a fair vote would likely return PPP to power. That would only postpone the eventual reckoning. Compromise that responds to the needs of all Thais is the only responsible course.
Wow, when you rile up the mind-mannered Japanese, you had better pay attention.
Despite the propaganda The Nation spews forth, many editorials and foreign commentary have not been favorable to the PAD.