The Continuing Crisis in Thailand

Many analysts believe that the decision Tuesday by Thailand’s Constitutional Court to dissolve the People’s Power Party (PPP), Chart Thai Party, and the Matchima Thipatai Party – the three key coalition parties which constituted the large component of former Prime Minister Somchai Wongswat’s government – will put an end to the political crisis. What they have not considered is the strong possibility that the events leading to and resulting from the dissolution could actually lead to a larger and wider conflict.

First, the constitution that was referred to by the Constitutional Court as the legal basis for the party dissolution and of the barring of 109 party executives from five-year involvement in politics, is undemocratic. It was drafted after the 19 September 2006 military coup d’état by the Constitutional Drafting Assembly, which was hand-picked by the military. The particular clause (article 237) seems to be particularly directed against ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party. Thai Rak Thai was dissolved in May 2007 in a similar process.

It should also be noted that, during the August 2007 referendum, more than 10 million people (44 percent of eligible voters) voted against this military-drafted constitution. This was the turnout, despite intensive media campaigns by General Surayud Chulanont’s military government to convince the population to support the constitution.

Second, many are asking why the militant People’s Alliance for Democracy and Alliance leaders and supporters have not been brought to justice for grossly unlawful acts. The People’s Alliance for Democracy is responsible for the siege of Thailand’s Government House and airports and those are serious breach of laws.

The Alliance’s violent protest tactics cannot be defined as “the right to peaceful assembly” as constituted by the UN-International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which Thailand is a party to. Their methods include shooting and beating police officers and harassing journalists and reporters, and vandalizing property. There have also been incidents where PAD leaders have incited hatred and goaded their supporters to use force against academics, activists, politicians, and all those who hold differing views. The Covenant clearly stresses that “the right to peaceful assembly [may be restricted] in the interests of the protection of rights and freedoms of others”. It is obvious that the PAD protests are neither peaceful nor conducted in a manner which respects the rights of others.

Similarly, the siege of Government House and the two airports violates basic human rights such as the right to liberty, right to free movement, and the right to work. There were at least 300,000 passengers affected. In addition, the economic damage is estimated to be at least Bt350 million for the airports and Bt120 million for Government House respectively. The lost business opportunities resulting from the airports’ closures have also totalled Bt25 billion. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand and the Thai courts have yet to address these issues of series of violations perpetuated by PAD. Similarly, the Democrat Party has yet to criticize or condemn the role of Somkiat Pongpaiboon, who is one of the five supreme leaders of the PAD and is also a party-list MP.

The end to this crisis depends on whether or not the PAD will respect the rule of law and the electoral process. To most human rights defenders and academics, the MPs closely associated with Thaksin Shinawatra are not the ideal leaders for Thailand given that Thai Rak Thai was involved in series of human rights violations ranging from War on Drug to the hawkish policy in Southern Thailand. Nevertheless, if the majority of the population voted for the said party or candidates, we should respect the voice of the majority. It is a foolish assumption and a great insult to the majority of the voting population for the PAD to claim that the rural poor do not know how to vote properly.

The most recent PAD statement delivered by Sondhi Limthongkul is most worrying because PAD leaders have threatened a return to the streets (and who knows where else) if the new government is comprised of former PPP MPs. It disregards the votes of the majority. The poor who favor the dissolved Thai Rak Thai and the recently dissolved-PPP feel that they were robbed of their votes twice in an unjust manner through the party dissolution of Thai Rak Thai and PPP in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

If the MPs that used to be with PPP return to politics and form a new government, the PAD will continue to demand an unelected government and undemocratic “new politics” for 70 percent of the MPs to be appointed. If they do not get their way, it is very likely that the crisis will return. With PAD resolute in getting their way and given the unwillingness of certain institutions to address PAD’s blatant violations, what we will see is the start of a new and more extreme crisis in Thailand.

The writer is the Southeast Asia Programme Officer of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).