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Network opposes coup, backs election and reform

Posted by Rattana_S On January - 11 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Sixty prominent academics, intellectuals and activists across the political divide came together for the first time yesterday to create a network against violence or military coup, as well as to support fair elections and reform.

Their press conference yesterday at Thammasat University comes just a couple of days before the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) shuts Bangkok down on Monday and amid rampant speculation about an impending military putsch.

The new group, calling itself the “Network of Two Yes-es and Two Nos”, said they feared that the risk of widespread violence was real and hoped that Thais on both sides would learn how to co-exist peacefully.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), who has been highly critical of many policies of the current Yingluck Shinawatra administration, said that both sides should acknowledge the need to be empathetic.

“There’s a need to understand those on the opposite side, to understand the discontent of the red shirts and for the red shirts to understand Bangkokians and others who have come out to protest and are worried about the majority voice taking matters into their own hands,” he said.

Seksan Prasertkul, a noted political scientist and charismatic former student leader and ex-communist rebel who is usually reclusive, was also at the table expressing concern. He too urged everybody to accept the reality of Thailand as a pluralistic society.

“This society has developed to a point where there exists diversity in terms of interests and thinking,” he said, adding that there a single group cannot claim to be speaking on behalf of all Thais, because Thai society was no longer homogenous. He also warned that there were some who wished for a military coup as well.

“We can’t use means outside the democratic framework because it will not bring about a consensus. Even if it is done out of good intentions, what is gained won’t be worth the loss,” he warned, adding that sustainable change was needed and that Thais would have to rely on reasoning and wisdom to go through the immediate future without bloodshed.

The group also said that a coup “would be the starting point of violence between the coup makers, the people and among the [different groups of] people”.

At the same time, it called for the caretaker government to respect people’s right to peaceful assembly and only use force to maintain law and order when necessary and ensure it is in accordance with international standards.

Chaiwat Satha-Anand, Thammasat University political scientist and expert on non-violence, urged Thais not to give up on peaceful means to resolve the current cri?sis.

The network also said it supports the election, adding that it is “a political right of all Thais which no person or group can violate”.

The group also called for the creation of a Civic Reform Forum in order to enable a truly open reform process that’s not dominated by any one party. The network said it would try and present more detailed proposals in subsequent meetings.

Thammasat University political scientist Kasian Tejapira also called on PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban to stop blowing his whistle and start listening to others. He urged Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha to stop talking about a coup and asked Yingluck and her fugitive older brother Thaksin to pay heed to others, especially those who think differently.

A source from the network, who asked not to be named, said the group had assigned members to work on a national reform proposal along five aspects and release it at a forum on January 26. For instance, the TDRI has been tasked to come up with an anti-corruption proposal, while the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy has been told to look into promoting direct democracy.

The forum will be held at a university in Bangkok, but the exact venue is yet to be announced.

The source said that even though the network had declared they disagreed with the PDRC’s methods, most members agree that the February 2 election will not resolve Thailand’s division. However, they did not mention the issue in order to avoid confusion.

‘Network of 2 Yes-es and 2 Nos’

Who they are

The ‘Network of Two Yes-es and Two Nos’ is made up of prominent academics, intellectuals and activists from both sides of the political divide. The network was launched yesterday.

Network’s members

There are 60 people listed. Those critical of the government include Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) president Somkiat Tangkitvanich, former TDRI head and noted economist Ammar Siamwalla, and consumer rights activist Saree Aongsomwang. On the pro-government side are noted historian Nidhi Eoseewong and Red Sunday group leader Sombat Boonngam-anong. Well-known Buddhist monk Phra Paisal Visalo and former student leader Seksan Prasertkul are also members of the network.

Their standpoints

No violence by all sides and the government must only use force to maintain law and order if necessary and use it in accordance with international standards.

No military coup; the network said a coup would only deepen the conflict and lead to more violence and bloodshed.

Yes to an election; they say electoral right is an inviolable political right.

Yes to national reform; but the process must be all inclusive, participatory and legitimate, involving all parties in dialogue.

(Time) The Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts are agreeing on something for once — and that is, that neither side wants to forgive the other

Thousands crowded onto the streets of Bangkok on Thursday to protest the passing of an amnesty bill that wipes away all charges relating to political violence since 2004.

Fervent demonstrators in V for Vendetta masks and sweat-drenched tees braved the muggy heat along with old ladies clutching hand fans. “There’s nothing to lose,” says Jintana, a 59-year-old employee of an export firm, who was in a crowd jammed into a long, narrow field by the city’s Samsen railway station. “We will be suppressed anyhow, so we fight until the last breath.”

Yellow Shirt sympathizers like Jintana are opposed to the legislation because it would quash the corruption conviction of exiled former Thai Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra — a divisive figure, whose ousting in a military coup in 2006 sparked years of street rallies, mass sieges and sporadic bloodletting. “We hate corrupt government and we hate Thaksin Shinawatra,” explains another 40-year-old protester called Amy.

However, those on the other side of Thailand’s color-coded political divide — the Red Shirts — are also vehemently opposed, but for very different reasons. They want justice for comrades killed in the 2010 crackdown. The prospect of general amnesty has them fearing that justice will never be served.

Despite this widespread opposition, at around 4 a.m. on Friday morning the amnesty bill was passed by the Thai legislature with 310 votes to zero with four abstentions.

Thai politics has long been characterized by shows of popular force; mass Yellow Shirt protests led to the 2006 coup, and a Red Shirt rally that swarmed over central Bangkok in 2010 was violently crushed with more than 80 civilians killed and around 2,000 injured. Tanks rolled into popular shopping districts of the Thai capital and snipers, widely assumed to be backed by the military, picked off victims from rooftops amid carnage a world away from the Land of Smiles portrayed on popular tourist brochures.

But now these grassroots political groups have formed an unholy alliance against the amnesty bill. The Yellow Shirts — generally urban royalists and nationalists joined under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) — fear the return of their nemesis Thaksin. The Red Shirts — rural poor known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) — want those responsible for the 2010 bloodshed to be held accountable.

In 2011, Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected Prime Minister as head of the Pheu Thai Party largely on the back of huge Red Shirt support. Calls for restitution for the victims of 2010 — the military incursion was ostensibly ordered by then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the PAD-backed Democrat Party — reverberated throughout the UDD rank and file. “They want justice for the violence that claimed their loved ones,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

The amnesty bill seems to be the final nail in the coffin for these hopes. Abhisit and his then Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban have been charged with murder but will not face trial, and the UDD is incensed that Pheu Thai is “climbing over the bodies of the Red Shirts so Thaksin can come home,” says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.

UDD leaders spat venom at their former Pheu Thai brothers in arms in parliament as the vote approached. Prasang Monkonsiri, a left-leaning Red Shirt and former editor of the Voice of Taksin magazine, labeled Pheu Thai lawmakers in favor of the amnesty bill as “traitors” and “whores” who will develop “the faces of leprous dogs” owing to the “hundred ghosts of people you led to their deaths.”

Even within Pheu Thai, four MPs suffered a crisis of conscience and abstained from the amnesty vote, including Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Nattawut Saikua. “This is a turning point for the Red Shirts,” says Thitinan. After ousting the Democrat Party at the ballot box, an apparent chasm now divides the UDD and Pheu Thai. “Down the line, it will make it more difficult to reconcile Thailand.”

Adding fuel to the fire, Red Shirt political prisoners serving time on lése majestè grounds were conspicuously left out of the amnesty bill. Otherwise known as article 112, lése majestè is an antiquated law prohibiting any remarks deemed offensive to the Thai royal family, but critics argue its mandate has been widened to curb general dissent.

So while Pheu Thai widened the amnesty bill to include Thaksin and those soldiers who gunned down unarmed Red Shirts in the street, “it has not seen fit to include the victims alongside the perpetrators: those imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political beliefs,” says Benjamin Zawacki, senior legal adviser for Southeast Asia at the International Commission of Jurists.

Pavin warns the amnesty bill “deepens the culture of impunity in Thailand.” Over the past century, the nation has witnessed several bloody coups and associated strife, but few individuals or groups have been held accountable. “It could set a new standard in Thai politics that the state can kill people and get away with it again in the future.”

Analysts say Pheu Thai probably placed wiping Thaksin’s criminal record above all else from the beginning. “I don’t think it’s a last-minute thing,” says Pavin, “I think everything has been well calculated.” Zawacki agrees: “An objective analysis shows that [Thaksin’s return] is the only real benefit the [Red Shirts] stand to gain.”

Despite the promise of amnesty, Thaksin is unlikely jump on a plane if popular support is dwindling. “Thaksin is very shrewd,” adds Thitinan. “He’s testing the water to see how much he can get away with.” Powerful forces including the influential Privy Council and royal family have long been a thorn in the media mogul’s side, but there are signs this may be waning. Nevertheless, “If he thinks it’s not the right time then he’ll stay away and it will be back to business as usual.”

There are still several stages before the amnesty bill becomes law. First it needs to be passed by Senate, and then ratified by the King. The Democrat Party — whose MPs walked out of Friday’s vote en masse — may even challenge it at the Constitutional Court.

While the long-term consequences might threaten Pheu Thai’s dominance at the ballot box, the short-term impact could be fresh unrest. “Political violence could come back to Bangkok any time soon,” says Pavin, adding an extra note of caution that “this time around anyone could be the enemy” because of the blurring of traditional allegiances.

Thitinan admits the “likelihood for confrontation has risen dramatically” as Thaksin’s opponents “will come out to create conditions of ungovernability — just chaos in the street.” But according to Zawacki, the government will likely invoke the Internal Security Act to ensure the protests are either contained or paid for with a heavy legal price.

Relatives of slain red shirts seek peaceful solution

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 8 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Family members of the three red shirts killed during the latest round of political violence said they hoped no more people will end up being killed and urged all sides to seek a peaceful resolution for the country. Their deaths come even as none of the killers involved in the political violence of 2010 have been apprehended yet.

“I want to see peace. I don’t want to see such things occurring again,” said Maneerat Kemnak, the 21-year-old daughter of Viroj Kemnak, who was killed by gun shot in the early hours of last Sunday near Rajamangala Sports Stadium in Bangkok where the reds held a rally.

“I feel sorry for HM the King and the fact that we call our society a democracy. Let us not kill one another anymore.”

Surarat Thongphu, mother of killed red-shirt demonstrator, Vishnu Thongphu, said she’s worried that more could die in the days ahead. “If they don’t stop [the confrontation], many more will die.”

The same sentiment was aired by Thachid Viengkham, uncle of slain red-shirt off-duty conscript soldier Thanasit Viengkham, 22. “I want both sides to stop and seek a solution through negotiations.”

Thachid said Thanasit went to join the rally out of his own will and volunteered when red-shirt leaders asked for help. Sudarat wanted the police to quickly bring the killer of her son to justice, however, adding that she felt the media have played down the news about the death of red shirts. “I lost a bread winner,” she said, adding that her son, a company technician, was financially supporting her parents.

Maneerat, who’s still a third-year university student at Sri Saket Rajabhat University said she was speechless about her father’s death, however, she was not interested in politics. Her father, Viroj, was an employee at the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

They all said the red-shirt movement and the related government agencies have been providing assistance although they refused to provide details. None of them said they had received any messages of condolences from leaders of the anti-government protest groups or the opposition Democrat party. Sudarat said a wreath was sent for her 26-year-old son’s funeral by Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, however.

Pro-govt Red Shirts declare major rally Saturday

Posted by Nuttapon_S On November - 28 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS
BANGKOK, Nov 28 – The pro-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) plans a massive rally at Rajamangala Stadium on Saturday, its leaders announced.
UDD chairwoman Thida Thavornseth and leading member Jatuporn Prompan last night said the political situation has become critical and they would hold a big rally on Saturday to retaliate key anti-government leader Suthep Thaugsuban.
Mrs Thida called on Mr Suthep to stop intimidating the media and occupying government property – a serious offence that led to chaos among civil servants and the public.
Mr Jatuporn claimed that Rajamangala Stadium will be fully packed on Nov 30 when people will jointly protest against Mr Suthep.
The rally will continue until the former Democrat MP calls it quits, he vowed. (MCOT online news)