Abhisit tries to take on a new role…facilitator to end the political crisisBy Bangkok Pundit Apr 30, 2014 3:00PM UTC
Thai Rath first had some comments from former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on April 23 where he said that he had called on Yingluck and Suthep to talk to each other to find a solution for the country, but they haven’t talked (ซึ่งตนเสนอมาตลอด และเรียกร้องให้ น.ส.ยิ่งลักษณ์ ชินวัตร นายกรัฐมนตรี กับนายสุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ เลขาธิการ กปปส. หารือกันแต่ก็ยังไม่มีพูดคุย เพื่อหาทางออกให้ประเทศ) so if it is like this then another way has to be found (ซึ่งหากเป็นเช่นนี้ คงต้องหาทางอื่น). The Democrats are ready to talk: “we will help to do things, but the government doesn’t pay any attention to this” (พรรคประชาธิปัตย์พร้อมที่จะพูดคุยว่า เราจะช่วยทำอะไรได้บ้าง แต่ถ้ารัฐบาลไม่สนใจโจทย์นี้เลย).
However, things became clearer in two subsequent interviews. First, Reuters on April 23:
Alarmed by the prospect of bloodshed in Thailand as a six-month political crisis nears a critical juncture, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has called for talks between the government and its foes, urging compromise to restore stability.
The 49-year-old leader of Thailand’s main opposition Democrat Party has joined street demonstrations in Bangkok aiming to force out Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and his party boycotted a February 2 election, which was nullified by a court in March after widespread disruption.
But now Abhisit appears to be putting some distance between himself and the protesters.
“I’ve been urging a dialogue between the prime minister and Suthep for months and clearly it’s not happening … It doesn’t mean that I should sit idly and look at what’s going to happen or wait for something to happen,” said Abhisit.
“I will do what I can to see if we can break the stalemate.”
“A lot of it could be rhetoric but the risks are clearly there,” said Abhisit.
Since the protests began in November, 25 people have been killed in politically related violence.
“No one is blameless and we are all part of the problem,” said Abhisit. “Now I’m saying that we need to move on.”
FT on April 24:
Abhisit Vejjajiva, head of the Democrats and a former prime minister, called for talks and the start of political reforms ahead of elections within months, warning that the Arab Spring had shown the dangerous potential for countries to suddenly erupt in violence.
“[People] see the country moving ahead next month into what could be even more confrontation, more threat of violence,” Mr Abhisit said in an interview. “Given the accumulated frustration and suffering and loss of opportunity for the country, I think it’s really time people begin to speak up for the middle ground.”
Mr Abhisit rejected criticism that he had played a big part in the current turmoil by boycotting an election in February and throwing his weight behind six months of street protests. He insisted instead that he had been trying to bring the two sides together for “months” to talk about a reform package covering areas such as corruption, decentralisation and education.
“It’s not very difficult to whip up sentiment against the other side,” Mr Abhisit said. “Even the Arab Spring began from some minor incidents. It just gathers momentum – and if people are in the mood for conflict, who knows what it will lead to.”
BP: Well, not so sure about the months part, but he has certainly made it clearer that he wants a role now… Then on April 24, Abhisit released the below video:
The Bangkok Post on April 24:
“I believe that the only way forward for the country is reforms, undertaken constitutionally and democratically with elections an integral part of the process,” he said on the social media posting, with a statement released hours later.
He admitted there were potential stumbling blocks ahead, including possible problems with the Democrats, but pleaded for a chance to try for a solution.
The Bangkok Post on April 25:
Mr Abhisit hits YouTube for a Thursday address: “All sides have to realize and accept is that there can be no clear-cut winners, nor losers.”
A key Democrat Party figure said Mr Abhisit’s planned meetings with representatives of all sectors of society are a middle-of-the-road approach that should be acceptable to all, because nobody will gain everything and nobody will lose everything. Mr Abhisit’s proposed reforms will not be extreme ones that would allow “outsiders” or appointed persons to push for legal amendments.
Mr Abhisit’s proposed reform process will comply with the legal, democratic and constitutional framework, the source said, adding that Mr Abhisit will detail his proposed solutions to all during his meetings with them.
Mr Abhisit will also take his proposals to caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra if she agrees to meet with him.
Reuters on April 25 also covered Abhisit’s YouTube clip:
“The courts cannot tell us how the country will move forward in a manner that all sides will accept,” Abhisit said. “And I don’t believe that a coup, by whoever, or military intervention, will bring peace back to the country.”
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has yet to respond to Abhisit’s invitation to talk but Yingluck welcomed the idea.
“At least Abhisit agrees with elections and the need to speak to each other. This is a good beginning,” Yingluck told reporters.
“If the opposition creates a path to find a way out then this is our chance to walk together.”
The Nation on April 25 also has what Yingluck said
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Friday welcomed Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva’s kick-off of his campaign to talk to all sides to find solutions for the country’s political crisis.
“I see this as a good sign that we will turn to hold talks,” Yingluck said.
“At least, it’s good that Abhisit agrees with election.”
She said she would be willing to hold talks with Abhisit to find a solution for the country. But so far, Abhisit has not yet requested a talk with her.
The Nation on April 28:
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Monday that Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva should be given a chance to try to find a solution for the political crisis.
“Abhisit should be allowed to try his best and we will monitor his moves,” Yingluck said.
She said if Abhist manages to find a solution accepted by all sides, it would benefit the country.
“The government is open-minded to support anyone in anything that is useful for the country,” Yingluck said.
The Bangkok Post on April 28:
Asked whether the meeting would be broadcast live, if it happens, the prime minister said she needed to look into the details first.
She said both the political and people sectors must join hands to solve the country’s problems.
Ms Yingluck said it would be good if Mr Abhisit could hold talks with People’s Democratic Reform Committee secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban before meeting the government. She said Mr Suthep was the one who initiated the reform idea. She hoped the two could reach an agreement.
The prime minister said people should not be suspicious of Mr Abhisit’s sincerity and instead watch him try and give him moral support.
BP: Not all within Puea Thai responded as positively as Yingluck, although they would prefer Abhisit speak to Suthep first but Suthep is not interested.
The Bangkok Post on April 25:
But anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban gave his former boss the cold shoulder, accusing him indirectly of “meddling”.
“Don’t appoint yourself as a middleman,” said the Surat Thani powerbroker who once served as deputy premier under Mr Abhisit.
The Bangkok Post on April 26:
Asked about Suthep Thaugsuban, secretary of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), who had made clear a middleman of any kind was not welcomed, Mr Chavanond said he was confident Mr Suthep did not refer to Mr Abhisit.
“This is because Mr Abhisit is not a middleman. He’s just floating the country’s solutions. Ms Abhisit affirms he would go ahead with meeting all sides to break the impasse,” Mr Chavanond said.
Krungthep Turakit has the wording of what Suthep said in Thai on April 25 in the afternoon. “It doesn’t matter who it is, don’t be so audacious as to appoint yourself as a middle-man to negotiate. Whether it is a person I know, have worked with or was close to. Don’t meddle. I want to say that Suthep who has been in politics for 36 years doesn’t exist anymore. I am just Kamnan Suthep who is a medium [as in a "voice"] of the people only. Therefore, I will not listen to anyone except the people….” (“ไม่ว่าใครก็ตามอย่าบังอาจตั้งตัวเป็นคนกลางมาเจรจา ไม่ว่าจะเป็นคนที่ผมรู้จัก เคยทำงาน หรือสนิทสนมก็อย่ามาสะเออะ และขอบอกว่านายสุเทพที่เล่นการเมืองมา 36 ปี ขณะนี้ไม่มีแล้ว วันนี้ผมเป็นเพียงกำนันสุเทพ ที่เป็นร่างทรงของประชาชนเท่านั้น ดังนั้นผมจึงไม่ฟังใครนอกจากประชาชน…”นายสุเทพ กล่าว)
BP: Now you can say it is a faux argument, but it is clear that Suthep was meaning Abhisit despite not directly naming him.
The Nation on April 25:
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Friday said he would step up efforts for ten days to find a solution acceptable for all sides for leading the country out of the political crisis.
Giving an interview to Channel 3 live, Abhisit said if he could not convince all sides to accept a solution within ten days, he would abort the efforts.
The Bangkok Post on April 25:
Mr Abhisit refused to unveil the specifics of his blueprint, saying that it could jeopardise his efforts.
The Nation on April 28:
Abhisit continues to keep his proposal details secret, but insists it abides by the Constitution. Although it was his party that boycotted the February 2 election, which was eventually nullified, he did not reject the poll being held.
BP: Only thing specific, as of that point, was some reform before elections.
The Bangkok Post on April 26:
The Democrat Party leader is open to talks with caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and even with her fugitive brother next week, but the meeting should be broadcast live.
After talks with election commissioners this week, Mr Abhisit is ready to meet with representatives from the caretaker government and he is free to do so on Wednesday to Friday, said party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut on Saturday.
It will be good if Ms Yingluck could meet him then and even better if the session is broadcast live to minimise the chances of the meeting being used by the followers of the two sides to discredit each other.
Mr Abhisit is also open to talking with Thaksin Shinawatra if the former PM can join the broadcast session with his sister through web-conferencing services such as Skype.
This was reversed the next day. The Bangkok Post on April 27:
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has never said he would like to hold talks with fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said on Sunday.
“Mr Abhisit has never asked for talks with Thaksin as his legal adviser Noppadon Pattama claimed,” Mr Chavanond said.
BP: Change of mind or Chavanond exceeded his mandate? If Thaksin controls Puea Thai shouldn’t Abhisit also be speaking with him?
The Bangkok Post on April 28 with more on what Abhisit wants:
[Q] Should we reform before or after a general election then?
[A]There is a crisis of confidence in political parties. Those supporting a reform before election don’t think reform is attainable unless it is done first. The other group questions how long the reform will drag on. Even if we have no idea about what to do, there is no telling how long reform will take. So, reform before election is not the answer. Rather, an election must be made a component of reform. The political stakeholders must come to an agreement that the reform that follows a general election has to be guaranteed not to fail, and that no party will backtrack on it.
…The most difficult challenge is the political figures. I’ll speak to the government and Suthep Thaugsuban [the People’s Democratic Reform Committee leader]. If we can convince them, the jigsaw will be complete.
[Q] To what extent do you think the government and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee will agree to your idea?
[A] We believe they won’t reject it out of hand but they won’t be satisfied with everything we present to them. We can’t please everyone.
I don’t think what the government is trying to do — fixing an election date — is the answer. Even if we hold an election, the country won’t be peaceful. Or will a military coup help the country? And what of the people’s revolution? Will stability return? Look at Egypt, Ukraine and Syria.
BP: Some comments:
1. Whether Abhisit is sincere or not depends on his actions, but he has taken a risk. It was likely Suthep and those aligned with Suthep wouldn’t be happy. This even includes those in his own party. Banyat, who Abhisit replaced as leader of the Democrats, appeared for the first time on the PDRC stage on the weekend (Thai Post) and BP doesn’t think this was a coincidence. There are likely huge rifts within the Democrats, particularly between those in the South (who are generally more supportive of Suthep) and those elsewhere (who are generally not as supportive). These rifts have resulted in an all-out public fight (Suthep didn’t even mention Abhisit by name in his criticism). ASTV Manager has been even harsher saying that Korn and Abhisit have colluded with Thaksin to make a deal (may blog on this later, but it isn’t meant as a compliment by ASTV Manager). So for taking a risk, Abhisit deserves some credit.
2. Abhisit’s success (and how much credit he deserves) will really turn on whether he can get some kind of even tentative agreement from Suthep. Abhisit initially criticized the government for not talking with Suthep and this was what he needed to take on a bigger role, but while in the past Suthep has on some days suggested he would talk – in reality he is more seeking a debate as opposed to a compromise – most of the time he takes this position as reported by The Nation:
However, anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on Monday night rejected all attempts to hold talks to resolve the political impasse and have an election. He asserted that there would be no talks with ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, and they should be overthrown and banished from the country. Suthep said he rejected all these mediation attempts and any proposal for a national government, except a people’s government.
Or per the PDRC Facebook post on Monday:
I reiterate once more that the muanmahaprachachon shall uproot and eradicate the Thaksin regime. We will neither compromise nor negotiate with the tyrant and his scullions. No one need waste their time in approaching us with such proposals.
Or the Facebook post for what Suthep said yesterday:
Our country must come first and foremost. We shall not bargain with despotism, autocracy, and kleptocracy. The Thaksin regime has no rhyme or reason beyond personal profits and acquisitions. This is why I continue to reject offers to ‘negotiate.’ How do you bargain with the devil?
BP: Suthep doesn’t sound interested in compromise. If Abhisit can’t get even a tentative agreement from Suthep, by the self-imposed condition that all sides must agree, can it be called a success? If Abhisit wants to try to persuade the government to delay the election for a few more months in order to fully negotiate the path for reform then he needs Suthep to buy-in, otherwise the risk for the government is to continue in limbo as a caretaker with no light at the end of the tunnel. That is what Suthep wants.
For things to proceed promptly, Abhisit needs to lay his cards on the table on what he wants and then try to hash out a deal with the pro-Thaksin side in a short period of time. If Abhisit is willing to deal then the government should listen and be willing to concede some ground to Abhisit in exchange for elections in Q3 of 2014 where the Democrats will contest. But Abhisit has to realize that reforms should be put to voters in an election (although if a general agreement can be worked out based on some minor superficial reforms then this doesn’t seem unacceptable in BP’s view). The interests of both Abhisit and pro-Thaksin side are not aligned, but they are much closer. Until Abhisit actually lays out what he wants the government to agree to, then the government is unlikely to delay the election. On the other hand, even if Abhisit is unable to meet with Suthep, BP thinks Yingluck should meet him to hear him out. The clock is ticking for both sides.
3. Still don’t get the preference for televising any meeting with Yingluck when the blueprint specifics are secret. So if they are to remain secret, Abhisit won’t reveal details when he talks with Yingluck if it is televised? A meeting can help lay the groundwork for future discussions, but Abhisit has set himself a 10-day deadline. He needs to either to decide to lay his cards on the table in public OR drop the need for televising it otherwise the meeting will just be for show.
Few specifics are known, but we did hear yesterday about electoral reform. The Nation:
The eight proposals have not been revealed to the public though the EC said it would consider them.
According to Puchong, Abhisit has proposed that the EC issue regulations to penalise politicians or parties who fail to deliver policies promised in their election campaign. For example, their electoral rights could be revoked if they failed to deliver, he said.
Abhisit has proposed that the EC consider issuing yellow or red cards to candidates within 30 days after the election day, instead of within one year according to the current law. Otherwise it would be difficult to take legal actions against them when they had already taken a political post for a while, he said.
BP: On the 30 day issue – this is in the aftermath of the Sukhumbhand case – and BP doesn’t have a big issue with quicker decisions being made so we are not kept in limbo for so long, but what kind of penalties for parties? Thailand has coalition governments. All the political parties in a coalition have differences in policies so which party or politicians will be penalized then? This proposal shifts power from the electorate to the unelected EC Commissioners. Should the EC be able to just give itself this power?
Q1. If today there was an election, who would you support as the Prime Minister between Yingluck and Abhisit? (ความเห็นต่อข้อคำถาม “หากวันนี้เป็นวันเลือกตั้ง ท่านจะสนับสนุนใครเป็นนายกรัฐมนตรีระหว่าง น.ส.ยิ่งลักษณ์ ชินวัตร กับนายอภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ”)
BP: Sure no improvement by Yingluck, but Abhisit’s support has almost been cut in half since November.
Q2. If today there was an election, which party would you vote for? ( ความเห็นต่อข้อคำถาม “หากวันนี้เป็นวันเลือกตั้ง ท่านจะเลือกพรรคการเมืองใด”)
BP: Again, no improvement by Puea Thai, but large drop of support for the Democrats.
If anything, BP views that politically Abhisit was forced to do something. While the decision to boycott the February 2 election was unanimous by the party, the reality was there was a lot of discussion and dissension within the party over whether to boycott. But this decision was made in December when PDRC was more popular and there was a larger number of people were attending protests. PDRC’s popularity, like its protest numbers, have declined in recent months. By remaining silent, Abhisit was treated as tacitly supporting the PDRC so it is likely he viewed he needed to do something different.