In August, Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said that the head of the DSI and therefore the person leading the investigation against Abhisit, Tarit Pengdith, apologized to him by telephone after DSI officials attributed blame to the military for what happened in 2010. Tarit has declined to comment on what was said during their conversation.
As member of the Center for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation to restore order during the violence, Tarit has had to fend off claims that perhaps he too should be indicted, while also defending his impartiality as a civil servant following accusations he is being politically opportunistic in pursuing Abhisit and Suthep.
Among Abhisit’s supporters, the main criticism has been that charges serve as a political gambit designed to smooth exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s return to Thailand.
The government of Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra has for months tried to gain parliamentary approval to rewrite the constitution and pass an amnesty bill, a clean slate which would be retroactive to allow clemency for her brother who was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption.
“We are willing to go through the juristic system,” says Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, chief spokesman for Abhisit’s Democrats. “[But] it’s just a measure by the government to put pressure on the opposition to pass the amnesty bill.”
The red shirts, many of whom support Yingluck and Thaksin and who see themselves as the main victims of the violence nearly three years ago, have argued that the charges against Abhisit – however flawed – would represent a great deal more than politicking.
Most red shirts consider Abhisit enemy number one, the man responsible for killing and repressing their members during the dark days of 2010.
Jakrapob Penkair, a founder of the movement that became the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship UDD), the core of the red shirts, and a former Thaksin spokesman in exile, says the truth is that red shirts in many cases simply want “to take revenge.” But ultimately charges against Abhisit are also seen as a test of whether the Thai judiciary can be reliable.
Last week, two members of UDD filed a lawsuit against Abhisit and Suthep for attempted murder, saying they were shot by police who were acting under the former prime minister and his deputies orders during the 2010 protests.
Most importantly, he adds, the ongoing legal process sends a message to the highest levels of the establishment that people in power can be held accountable and that the overall system is capable of positive change.
“Abhisit’s trial would be seen as the very first step to get Thailand back on track,” says Jakrapob.
“Thaksin’s comeback should be at the bottom of our priorities,” he added.
Either way, Yingluck’s government faces a difficult balancing act. In a country that remains heavily divided along color-coded party lines, many supporters claim her government has created the political conditions for a former leader to finally be held accountable for violence against the people.
But critics argue the administration is encouraging a flawed process to anoint a scapegoat who just so happens to be the arch-enemy of her and brother Thaksin, the real center of power.
Political analyst Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun says that if critics of Yingluck are right and this is just a rouse to get her brother Thaksin back to Thailand by pressuring – but not punishing – Abhisit then ultimately risks alienating the Shinawatra support base.
With most red shirts keen to see Thaksin’s return but perhaps even more eager for Abhisit to be held accountable for the events of 2010, Pavin says it would be “absurd” if the political elite across the board simply gave itself a get-out-of-jail-free card for the past six or so years, the period of the proposed amnesty.
“This [the legal process against Abhisit] is a good start but we don’t know how it will end,” says Pavin. “I’m not convinced that the end product will be one that satisfies everyone – especially the red shirts.”
Steve Finch is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, TIME, The Independent, Toronto Star and Bangkok Post among others.