Thailand: Protestors Whistling Their Way to Democracy
Protestors in Bangkok, November 20
Image Credit: REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Thailand: Protestors Whistling Their Way to Democracy


Over the past month, Thailand has made international headlines again as the loose coalition of anti-Thaksinism and anti-blanket amnesty bill demonstrators took to the streets of Bangkok, voicing their discontent ranging from objection to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s return to Thailand, opposition to amnesty for Democrat Party’s leaders who were allegedly responsible for the bloody crackdown on Red Shirt protestors in 2010, to vague disagreement with the powers-that-be and the culture of impunity long entrenched in this Southeast Asian nation.

The amnesty bill – engineered to bring Thaksin back to Thailand in exchange for whitewashing most political crimes on all sides and pushing the “reset” button to end the years of political deadlock that has bitterly divided the country – unexpectedly met with a huge groundswell of organic and spontaneous protest. The protestors include ordinary Thais from all walks of life, not only the so-called elite royalists but also professional as well as lower and upper middle class.

Analysts say this is a miscalculation on the part of the Thaksin camp, who thought they could pass the bill with relative ease now that they have bought the non-intervention of military generals and with the radically conservative Yellow Shirts in disarray. Traditionally, regime change in Thailand has only been possible through military intervention. However, ordinary people under the accidental and opportunistic leadership of the Democrat Party have generated so much noise against the bill that the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, had to back down and promise not to bring it back to the table after it was shot down by the Senate, quashing once again the hope that Thaksin can finally return home scot-free and victorious.

On paper, it seems that once again the middle class is refusing to play by the electoral rules of democracy. Once again, urban Thai and the Democrats are refusing to let the Pheu Thai party rule despite its electoral mandate. But the truth is more complex that that, largely because the Thaksin camp is seen as unacceptably corrupt. Last week, the opposition Democrat Party upped the ante by calling for acts of civil disobedience, urging people to go on strike, boycott products made by Thaksin’s companies, and carry whistles to blow at Pheu Thai politicians and Thaksin allies.

This was seen as a misstep by the Democrats, after it met with a lukewarm response among many Thais who drew a lesson from the damage done by the Yellow Shirts’ airport seizure in 2008 and who feel that stopping work and halting business is not a reasonable option. The Democrat Party’s opportunistic attempt to raise the stakes betrays its plan to uproot the Thaksin regime once and for all by riding the current wave of mass discontent against Thaksin and the Pheu Thai Party. What is unclear, however, is how long such a movement can be sustained.

Apart from calling for continued protest, nine Democrat Party politicians resigned from parliament, signaling that they want to take the extra-parliamentary route as the party prepares to impeach Pheu Thai MPs and file a censure motion against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the coming weeks. Overall, the focus on sustaining the demonstration and cutting short the life of Yingluck’s elected government shows the total disdain on the part of many Thais for a parliament that passed an amnesty bill 310-0 vote with four abstentions in the wee hours on November 1, an action widely seen as sneaky and dishonest.

The perpetual paradox of Thailand’s politics, therefore, is that electoral victory is not seen as bestowing legitimacy. In mature democracies, this refusal to accept parliamentary decisions is rare – it would seem preposterous – but in a dysfunctional democracy like Thailand, it has increasingly become the norm. Regardless of its status as legitimate government, the current proxy administration, with Thaksin as puppet master, is perceived as lacking the moral authority to govern the country given its “corrupt” image.

This begs a difficult question: Should a democratically elected government be allowed to continue a corrupt rule with impunity? And to what extent can it continue without succumbing to some sort of intervention, either military intervention or popular protest? In this particular case, do these whistle-blowing demonstrators have the right to oust an elected government, given that their assumptions and beliefs are not without the bias of self-righteousness or moral judgment? And ultimately, should popular protests be recognized as a way to call for a change of government?

November 26, 2013 at 03:25

whistle their way to democracy or to absoute monarchy as Suthep said in his speech?

Venceremos con la Paz
November 24, 2013 at 20:27

This ought dispel the myth created by Thaksin propaganda machine and widely believed by gullible Western media that those who opposes Thaksin and his regimes are the narrow “elite” of Bangkok. Just for your information some 85% of Thailand’s assets is own by less than 10% of the population these oligarchs are also in control of the government and corporations they are mostly belong to Thaksin’s coteries. Elites by nature hardly ever come out of domains to demonstrate in the streets. The ‘groundswell’ opposition you mentioned also occurred in 2005 – 2006 and like today they are from all sectors of Thai society and from all provinces. By simple logic – workers, employees from all types are far more numerous than another other groups in all societies. Like in yesteryears – hundreds of farmer groups have joined the demo in Democracy monument while union workers form the backbone diehard crowd.

But unlike the ‘red shirts’ – among today’s protesters there is no paid assassins in black as support with lethal weapons. There will be no M79 attacks against train stations killing and maiming. There will be no need to hire rogue general to lead attacks on hospitals and public places – there is no need to blame, lie after lie. No need to pay 2,000 baht per day and confiscate IDs – this is the people’s protest. Take a look!

My opposition to Thaksin and his company is not so much of corruption but for worse abuses – mass murders. Thaksin’s iron fist policy – war on drugs – 10 years back killed more than 2,870 people throughout the country – pumped up as ‘popular’. Entire families, elderlies, women and children were massacred by police officers which later reported that some 1,840 of those killed had NO drug related records and police are investigating up to today not a single police officer has been charged – oh by-the-way NOT a single person killed has been charged either. Today a letter from Takbai was read in the demo reminding us how – not long after war on drugs – Thaksin’s regime went a killing spree in the south – torturing to death 89 unarmed protesters. Since then – 5,700 people have died in the south. Let me remind those with short memory that these crimes have been considered by the office of UN secretary general Kofi Anan as crime against humanity. Kofi not only assigned a special rapporteur to investigate Thailand but the mass murders and other deadly abuses against civic leaders and human rights investigators led to UN Commissioner on Human Rights to accuse the Thai state under Thaksin of 23 accounts of force disappearance and outright multiple murders.

December 5, 2013 at 05:33

What have you said about mass murders of innocent civilians, women and children by the US military over the past three decades? Nothing? I thought so.

Man in a Van
November 21, 2013 at 17:24

1million protesters?? Why are the Diplomat allowing completely misrepresentations into print? There was, at the very very very best 50,000 protesters. As for Thaksin being deeply unpopular with the majority of Thais? Eh??? His political parties have won, with overwhelming landslide election victories the last 5 general elections. The Thai “Democrats” are representative of a minority of Thais actually opposed to full democracy, who long for a return to a semi-feudal state and who prefer not to have elected representatives making the laws. As for the 2010 massacre – there’s no “alleged” about it. The Democrats, led by Abhisit, ordered the killings, 100% without any equivocation.

Seriously, Diplomat, who is this author? Why is he so unable to deliver the most basic facts and why are you publishing such nonsense without any editorial control?

December 5, 2013 at 05:31

Why? Probably for the same reasons CNN, Fox, BBC, the NY Times, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post … etc publish adulterated stories, false information, and propaganda.

November 21, 2013 at 17:23

The author writes a long list of unsubstantiated claims and empty slogans (same old over-abused catch word “democracy”), but no real evidence or sound argument. It’s been my experience and observation that whenever the title contains the word “democracy”, 99.9% of the time the article is propaganda and misinformation. This is especially true for those with a liberal arts degree from well-known propaganda prep schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Cornell, John Hopkins, Georgetown, and George Washington University.

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