The following is a transcription between Thida Thavornseth, director of the UDD advisory board , and ML Nattakorn Thewakul (“Pleum”) on the topic of “Ongoing Thai Style Class War with No End in Sight” that was aired on The Daily Dose program via Voice TV on April 17, 2014, at 20:00.
Pleum : Now that you’ve already stepped down as president of the UDD, I would like to welcome you to talk on the program as an academic.
Thida : I’m pleased to be here.
Pleum : Well, this time around, the Red shirts appear as if they’ll survive; and it seems to me the recent rally was quite energetic. However, the political groups in opposition to the Redshirts have tried to “woo” others into believing there weren’t over 50,000 people at the rally. Can you explain about this a bit?
Thida : That’s not true because if you calculate based on area, the number was hundreds
of thousands; but if you ask how many people exactly, that can’t be confirmed. In terms of the number of people seen during peak time, there were a few problems in estimating this. One was that Puttamonton sai 4 Road was completely packed with vehicles, and no other people could enter. We have a photo taken from a police helicopter. Cars were parked tightly everywhere along the road on both sides for 1 kilometer. I didn’t calculate the number of people, but if you look at the aerial photograph; you’ll see the vehicles were really packed tightly together.
Pleum : It is a rather large road.
Thida : It’s a large road indeed, on both sides. There’s also a rather wide canal of water running along the middle of the two sides, and another part is facing a large Buddha statue. At that location, there is a large courtyard; where around 100,000 people were densely gathered. That area was completely filled with people. If I ask myself specifically about the area where people estimating took into account a distance beyond 1 kilometer; and that area was filled with people, the estimates were nearly 200,000 people. If you ask me, I think there were definitely over 200,000 people there – perhaps even more than 300,000. Then, we have to consider that some supporters couldn’t even get in to the rally site because of the heavy traffic. But as we’ve said before, this was basically just a “rehearsal”.
Pleum : A source said the next big rally will start during the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
Thida : It will be 1 day prior to the ruling.
Pleum : Lately the weather is extremely hot in Thailand. So will the Red shirts be able to hold rallies for an extended period of time?
Thida : We have to regardless. Hot weather isn’t equivalent to a destruction of the country.
However hot it is, it’s a rather good time for the People; because there is reasonable cause. Citizens’ movements need to have legitimacy and be based on reason. Then, we must be aware of the subsequent impacts that follow. This time around, we have a lot of legitimacy behind our motives for rallying; because we’ve been waiting patiently and allowing PDRC to come out and do whatever they want to do for 5-6 months, until they are finished and have nothing else to say or do. In addition, they’ve said they want sovereignty (supreme authority) over the country. We think that it’s the right time to show PDRC what “sovereignty” really means. They say they want their group to be the supreme leader of Thailand, but how many supporters do they have?
Pleum : Well, we obviously know the UDD has a lot more supporters than PDRC.
Thida : Yes, a lot more. When I was still the president of UDD, I didn’t pay attention to Sutep’s non-sense and challenges to us. But later on, I talked to Jatupon and Nattawut; and they said they want to face his challenge. So now, after accepting Sutep’s challenge regarding the number of protesters at the rally; Sutep is announcing that he wants to take sovereignty. This is the end of the game. To put it bluntly, we want to end Sutep Thaugsuban’s game. Our demonstrators aren’t going to act like political hooligans, but we want him to realize that he doesn’t have a large number of supporters (in contrast to UDD) and yet he’s declaring himself as the supreme leader of Thailand. Well, we want to declare sovereignty too. Suppose that Nattawut decides to say “I have the right to be supreme leader too.”
Pleum : Yes, it’s the same. It’s a joke.
Thida : Yes exactly! Nattawut and Sutep are both “Secretary” of their respective groups. So if you ask me which group’s Chief has more support, it’s the UDD. So Sutep shouldn’t think that in his position, he can talk directly to Prime Minister Yingluck. Negotiating with Nattawut is good enough.
Pleum : If the leader of either group claims to be a supreme ruler of Thailand, then it’s even more outside the boundaries of the law.
Thida: Maybe Sutep thinks like Mussolini? It seems like he wants the 40,000-50,000 PDRC protesters to legitimize (his grab on sovereignty) similar to that of Mussolini’s followers long ago, but today we live in a different era.
Pleum : Yes, right. Now I’m just thinking that PDRC isn’t the true issue. The real issue is the problems regarding the Constitutional Court (CC). Do you think that the CC is ready to end the game by getting rid of PM Yingluck and the Cabinet? Or are they just reluctant to do it now, and considering what to do?
Thida : They might be rethinking some things first; but, based on their past actions, they made decisions which they shouldn’t have been confident enough in doing. So, I say “There’s nothing under the sun that this court cannot do”.
Pleum : So based upon what they’ve done over the past 2 months, it won’t be surprising if they repeat their past actions and decisions, right?
Thida : Right, it won’t be surprising. Just look at the decisions made in past cases of Samak, Somchai and other cases the court has ruled on. To be completely honest, I don’t want to think the CC of Thailand dared to make a ruling for those cases. Frankly speaking, there were many cases which had no justification for the CC to intervene and make a ruling. Like with the case regarding amendments to the constitution, the CC’s suggestion was to conduct a referendum. If the referendum was conducted, then a mistake would be made immediately. So how can the CC give suggestions that are unconstitutional? How can someone amend a specified list of sections in the constitution and then say that they’re not a seditionist or tyrant? The moment someone tries to amend sections of the constitution is when they become a tyrant.
Pleum : Moreover, the violation of Section 68 of the constitution is concerned.
Thida : The court was so courageous to do that. However it’s great if they won’t make a ruling like in the past. But if you ask me, I believe they’ll do the same thing again for sure.
Pleum : If the court hadn’t set a precedent by making an example out of a few people through their past rulings, then it would have shown us they’re willing to back off a bit.
Thida : Maybe it would be backing off some; but not completely. And maybe this time around, the courts will give the same recommendations as they did the last time. They may say they don’t believe you and then offer you some advice to “do like this” or “do like that”.
Pleum : Why doesn’t the opposition evaluate this based on the fact that even if this game ends and a prime minister is appointed, the newly appointed PM will not have come from an election; and therefore, no true governing can rule the country? Why do they not want to base things on facts? Why do they suddenly imagine that it’s time to “appoint” (rather than “elect”) a PM and think that middlemen can govern? I don’t understand this, because mostly everything done by all parties is based on correct intelligent information (at the very least).
Thida : That’s a reasonable idea.
Pleum : Yeah, ideas have to be based on reasons.
Thida : But they don’t use reasoning and don’t analyze the situation realistically. It’s like each individual lives in a different world and they agree with each other to play a certain character. You know like “I’ll play this role, you play this other role; and then we’ll divide them into separate acts.” If we think back and remember the leaked news that emerged just before the 2006 coup at Pi Malakul’s house, we can recall that they performed as a team. One group of them made a killer bomb and the other groups did this or that, etc. So it’s like another world for those people who believe they’re living in the world of good people; and perhaps the “good” world exists because of their good intentions. Those involved might have really believed that way.
Pleum : Right, simply to give themselves some kind of justification for doing it.
Thida : So if they tell their supporters this is “a war”, then “war” means they can do anything you want (no rules).
Pleum : So, they are willing to lose. And if the Red shirts don’t get in their war, then they’ll just say “never mind, to hell with the Redshirts anyway”. Is that what they’re thinking?
Thida : They just want to win, and they see it as a war. And if it is war, then it means all strategies are legitimate in order to win. This is sort of the way they’re looking at it.
Pleum : Yeah, I see. Actually I understand this principle. It is commonly said that it’s the war against Thaksin, so
Thaksin must be defeated. If the people who support Thaksin are the victims, then it’s fine and doesn’t matter. Is this the general idea within the PDRC?
Thida : Yes, but we don’t want to believe that why they were thinking like that. We tried to be optimistic, and then see that it was unbelievable that how would rational people think like that but it has happened. I couldn’t believe it, but when I passed through all situations: October 6th, I’ve seen how they tried to destroy the dead people with vindictiveness. I didn’t believe that they would be able to do it and it was even before the coup. Then in the 2010 crackdown, the military was shooting people in the heads. General Adul Ubon, former Director of Armed Forces Education Department, wrote a letter to me before he passed away. I couldn’t believe it, but I saw that he had his brain programmed to think that those people weren’t devoted; just like in the past when people believed “there’s no sin in killing Communists”. So he needed to do everything to make the soldiers shoot people. It seemed like he didn’t see that this was a matter of the people in the country; rather, it was a war.
Pleum : Yes. However, there were nearly 100 Redshirts that lost their lives in 2010. Why is it that this time around, Redshirts from various provinces outside Bangkok are regrouping and are still prepared to risk their lives again? The opposition is calculating that, although they may still feel resentful about the past, this time there aren’t as many Redshirts as before. However, this time around, they Redshirts probably won’t absorb the same losses as they did in 2010.
Thida : We didn’t come to lose, but to show that Thai citizens in this country are not willing to make changes to the political system which is outside the bounds of law. We do not want this country’s power to fall into the hands of a few, rather than returning the power to the people. If people’s fear is that there are two ways, one is to “surrender” and the other is to “take a risk”, then we must avoid both of these. If you do not fight at all, it is as if you surrender and anyone can do anything to you. Thai people are not prepared to surrender but there could be random people thought to take some risk. But for us, our main role in the masses is to avoid this. So we will need to provide the appropriate way by not surrendering, but not necessarily taking a risk as well. They know that we are using non-violent strategies and we try to avoid confrontation. Last time we accomplished that at Puttamonton – many things were suitable. One of them was the place. It was a place where there shouldn’t be violence, because of its meaning “Puttamonton”. It refers to our intention that we don’t want confrontation; and we don’t want loss. However, we cannot remain invisible. We believe that a lot of people did not surrender and they believe that we are not taking a risk. But, we’d rather take the careful path. Nevertheless, to surrender is impossible. We try to say all the time that the core leaders and/or the
, or others must be responsible for their words and actions. We have said that bad behavior and actions can cause damage to the overall purpose of the movement. But it’s something that we can’t avoid.
Pleum : There are many issues which have become problematic these days. I would ask you about them one-by-one. First, what needs to be done about the Election Commission (EC) situation? Is there a way for them to set up a new election?
Thida : We represent the People (the majority). We will try to apply pressure, including public prosecution, regarding the fact that they (the EC) did not comply with their obligations. We must continue pressuring and speaking. But we know they’re merely just another actor in an episode of this war saga.
Pleum : So it means you have to accept that they’re likely going to act their part like this?
Thida : Yes, but we also will show that we won’t let it go away. We have to keep up the pressure and we need to criticize.
Pleum : But removing the EC members by using senators requires that appointed senators participate in the removal process. So it would be difficult, since they are allies.
Thida : Oh yes, that’s difficult. There’s no way to remove them. For example, we filed with the CC judges the names of EC members to be investigated and/or removed from their positions. The CC just looked at it and held on to it, doing nothing. We know that they won’t do anything and they can’t. But we want the society to file complaints and grievances against them. We couldn’t remove them, but we wanted to legally punish them via society pressure and condemn them. The most powerful punishment is really that which comes from the citizen majority. In this case, if anyone keeps quiet, this country will be forced by a number of people to accept certain people to do whatever they want to do. Our duty is to make all the people rise up and take action against this by themselves.
Pleum : But the penalties or punishments from the society will only be effective if people are concerned and responsive. You get my point, right?
Thida : Yeah, I understand that.
Pleum : So for now, those walking all over the citizen majority just don’t care and remain the same.
Thida : I understand that it’s that way. The Redshirts and other people know that the law is not our side. So we want to advise them to fight within the boundaries of the system. But if those trying to hold authority don’t allow enough of a boundary for battling against the system, there may be fighting outside the boundaries. Are they ready to allow the country to be destroyed like that?
Pleum : Speaking as someone that has an understanding of Communist principles, I want to ask you if there is any way to remove everything within the current system – the National Anti-corruption Commission, the Election Commission members, the Constitutional Court, independent organizations that are problematic, as well as the senate?
Thida : We have essentially done that in the past. We tried to amend the constitution (to have a fully elected senate) which could improve the system, and they actually knew this already.
Pleum : And they didn’t allow it.
Thida : So the CC didn’t allow it, right. In that particular case, they told us to amend the senators’ section, article by article. But as soon as Phua Thai did that, it fell into a trap.
Pleum : So to revise within the system, whether entirely or by sections (within the constitution), it wasn’t allowed to be done.
Thida : That’s right. It couldn’t be done.
Pleum : Historically, any changes made outside the systems of law (throughout the world) came from relying on the military or having enormous groups of protesters (an uprising).
Thida : Now, we do not think about it. We just remind them to know that the principle is like that. If people cannot fight within the system, it will become anarchy and fighting will occur outside the system. I say this only in a theoretical context, and it’s not what UDD aims to do.
Pleum : I understand, but I see that Thailand can’t be a democracy. In the end, the military is hard to be on the side that wants to create the type of democracy that we’re talking about. It means that there is no way to accomplish what we see in other countries. I just see that we will be in this trap for a long time.
Thida : I think the military is contemplating what to do next; otherwise they would have done a coup already. From making relationships with many foreign countries, there were some talks with many Embassies, we obviously know that all of them don’t support the idea of another coup and many of those countries have correct attitudes on democracy. We try to fight with principles and realistically inside the system of the law, like a civilized country. We don’t reject alternative ideas, but the solution for the different ideas must conform to democratic principles. If you look now, the situation is very different from 2006, because foreign countries have several reasons for their support. Initially, they thought that after experiencing the crackdown of May 2010, people would definitely begin fighting with weapons. But ultimately, we had proved that we won’t do that, because it’s a political fight. It’s not militant fight. We believe if we fought the military, we would have lost. Also, no troops are on the people’s side. And we will do our best to keep the fight within the political system and by democratic principles. We’re trying to control the game, while the anti-government supporters are trying to play outside the rules of the game (outside the law). We know the law isn’t on our side. It’s only being used to punish our side. But foreign governments have changed their past views on Thailand’s situation, a lot. Firstly, the election results served as proof alone. Secondly, we aren’t an armed uprising. I had an opportunity to talk with them myself, and I sincerely confirmed this. They knew me and my past experiences, and I explained why we have to do this. We want to change the country realistically, not by some dream or unrealistic fantasy.
Pleum : What thing(s) in Thai society cultivated or shaped a group of people to grow up and have the types of ideas that we see among some of the Democrat Party members, Constitutional Court Judges, Election Commission members or National Anti-corruption Commission members? Have you ever took a look at Thai society and thought about why some people grow up and have progressive ideas; but others grow up (and are now 20-80 years old) and think backwards? It’s a really big problem.
Thida : It depends on whatever perceptions dominate the society. There are primary and the secondary factors. For example, you should be a conservative but I already decided in my own mind to label you as a liberal.
Pleum : I’m trying to find an explanation or reason(s) for why Thai society has molded some groups of people into conservatives, which ultimately could have disastrous consequences regarding democracy in Thailand. So perhaps if we could resolve that (the molding process), it could lead to a solution for all these problems.
Thida : In my view, and in the “leftist” language, they call this the “hegemony” of the society. It is independent of the particular politics, but is dependent upon the culture(s), ways of thinking, and the educational system – all are very important. During more conservative eras of recent Thai history, the citizens fought against the Elites and this came into the view of various media such as newspapers, books writing or others. There was an expansion of the middle class a lot while the people disappeared and existing military system didn’t show us liberal ideas or allow progressive ideas to emerge.
Pleum : So during that period, liberal ideas disappeared, right?
Thida : Yes. The development of the world has only produced technocrats, like medical doctors and engineers; but the procedures for creating new types of social systems and ideas could not really exist, because of military dictatorships, especially during the cold war era. Therefore, the ideas of conservatism and dictatorships were a perfect combination. Thus there are the words “good people”, “smart people”, etc. Everybody wants to be a good person or a smart person, so people in the middle class have been shaped (ideologically) to look for “good people” and “smart people”.
Pleum : Yes, I understand that they’ve been taught like that.
Thida : It has been a dominant view in Thailand that politicians are always bad, even some of us who are progressive. When we ask people if they want to be a member of a political party, they just reject our offer.
Pleum : However, in the next generation, there is the possibility that changes in the ways of teaching at the familial level (parents to children) or at a larger overall social level.
Thida : Yeah, it should be that way. We assume that if people who make truly liberal media, not necessarily the Redshirt side; but accept different ideas. Then people can use rational thought by focusing on the benefits of the general public as a key principle, resulting in continuing development. We still see things optimistically even though it has only been 4 years since the terrible things happened in Thailand (in 2010). Nobody in the opposition thinks about the people that died, and those that have died recently. I’m still glad that there are many people in the middle class and academia who started to join us. They join us because they can’t stand those people that won’t accept the idea of “one person, one vote”. So more people are beginning to understand that the group that wants real democracy isn’t only the Redshirts; but also the ordinary people on the street, where they see a person as a person, equally.
Pleum : Yes, I begin to understand what you’re fighting for.
Thida : If thinking the right way, rather than using weapons could dominate the society; it could therefore change the society. We should prefer to change the thoughts and ways of thinking. If you get a weapon and threaten somebody, they still aren’t going to change their thinking. So we must help each other instead. There should be more media sources where liberal people express their views more.
Pleum : Thank you so much! Professor Thida Thavornseth. We will wait to see where the UDD will go from here. Thank you so much.