Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has sent a special envoy to Washington to discuss the country’s return to ‘normalcy’ in the aftermath of a military crackdown on anti-government protests in May that left over 80 dead and several hundred more injured. Special Envoy Kiat Sittheeamorn sat down with POLITICO's Zeeshan Aleem to discuss the Thai government's response to the "red shirt" protests:
POLITICO: What is the purpose of your visit here?
Sittheeamorn: Things are more or less back to normal. We tried to monitor the views of various countries, and what we have observed is that some of the international media’s reporting in the past few weeks has been a little bit incomplete, in many cases inaccurate.
POLITICO: ... Are you seeking support from the US government, and what are you asking for?
Sittheeamorn: ...My purpose is to ensure that people in the States have all the facts right on what’s happened in Thailand. In recent weeks, Sen. Jim Webb has issued resolutions with regard to incidents in Thailand, and all the statements have been very supportive. In particular, the statement is very supportive of the 5 point reconciliation plan proposed by the prime minister to ensure that all the conflict that’s happened can come to a good conclusion.
POLITICO: Can you expand on what sort of facts need to be straightened out?
Sittheeamorn: What we were dealing with was not an ordinary demonstration. It started off as a group of people requesting for the government to address their concerns, such as the income gap and the poverty situation , which the government is always ready to hear. Along the way what we have discovered is that there are armed elements embedded along with the demonstrators …The military force and police force moved in to cordon the area, basically secure the perimeter, ensuring that no movement would be scattered around the city of Bangkok and other provinces. Once we started doing that without even moving in, the armed elements actually retaliated and started using firearms and M-79s and using guns with real bullets to fight against the barricades of the military and the police.
POLITICO: When do you plan to have new elections?
Sittheeamorn: Having another election is not an issue at all. Our [current prime minister’s] term will end in November of 2011. During the process of dealing with this situation we tried very hard to negotiate with the leaders of the demonstrators we even had the negotiations televised, which you probably would not see many governments of the world do. We had an open channel of communication with the leaders, during this time. At one point they publicly confirmed that they agreed with an earlier election date … on the 14th of November this year , provided that everyone agrees on the rules we don’t want any political parties to say after the election, ‘Oh I disagree with the constitution,’ and secondly we want to ensure that all political parties should be able to campaign freely without intimidation … We negotiated openly, at point they agreed, and after an agreement in principle, they backed out, and that has been the problem
POLITICO: Who would win an open election called today?
Sittheeamorn: God knows. It’s very difficult to forecast something like that. In major cities like Bangkok, it depends very much on the sentiment a couple of weeks before the election. In recent polls the popularity rating of the government is still more than 50% -- that’s the best thing I can tell you.
POLITICO: What steps is the Thai government taking to address issues that brought tens of thousands of people into the streets and made them willing to die for their cause?
Sittheeamorn: What we have proposed is the five point reconciliation plan: The role of monarchy, the income gap, constitutional amendments, the role of, and finally an open investigation of things that have happened throughout the incidents [of May] by a third party -- by a respected committee which will be investigating all sides. Once all 5 points are implemented, that will help reduce conflict.
POLITICO: Do you find that a very powerful military and the culture that accompanies it can be at odds with a robust democracy? Pakistan comes to mind.
Sittheeamorn: I would say that’s not the case in Thailand. In the old days, we have seen a number of coup d’états, and they are for different reasons. But the last coup, the military did not want power; they wanted to avoid a crash among people. The military and police force work very closely with the government in order to deal with situations. The military clearly understands that staging a coup is very easy, but running a country after that is really difficult. That’s why we don’t see the military trying to play any political role throughout this political challenge that we have had.
--By Zeeshan Aleem