Is the Abhisit indictment just a political ploy to get Democrats to accept an amnesty?By Bangkok Pundit Jan 21, 2013 10:00AM UTC
[NOTE: This post was mostly written around one month ago and never got time to adding the finishing touches and posting it. BP has been quite busy recently so decided just to add a few changes and post it]
BP has previously commented on the murder charge
In fact, the arrests of the two are widely viewed by political observers in Thailand as extremely unlikely to result in conviction or execution. They appear to be a political gambit by the ruling Pheu Thai Party to put Abhisit’s Democrat Party on the back foot, analysts say. Pheu Thai for months has been seeking ways to pressure the opposition into accepting a broad amnesty that would include allowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s exiled brother, Thaksin, to return to Thailand from his bolt-hole in Dubai.
“It’s a political game and a way for Pheu Thai to gain the upper hand by forcing their opposition to accept some sort of amnesty deal,” Kan Yuenyong, director of Siam Intelligence Unit, a think tank in Bangkok, told Reuters last week.
For one thing, the charges leave far too many others out of the affair, including Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, the current commanding chief of the armed forces and the man who ran the military operation against the civilians, of whom more than 90 were shot and killed. Prayuth today remains in power with no charges contemplated against him, or against any other senior military officials for their role in firing on the frequently violent protestors.
“Personally, I do not believe that (Abhisit) will be convicted,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a contributor to Asia Sentinel and a veteran observer of Thai politics. “There are too many powerful people involved in the operation.”
“My initial reaction was that this was a little bit of revenge, possibly pushed by the Red Shirts, who really smarted a lot about the way Abhisit had them branded as terrorists,” said Chris Baker, a long-time author and commentator on Thai politics and business. “But rumors that there is some kind of bargaining going on in the background all the time to find a position where they can negotiate somehow for Thaksin’s return and all of this can be part of this.”
Efforts at reconciliation between the competing power groups have failed to bridge the gap, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University. But Thitinan said the filing of charges against Abhisit marks a new threshold in Thai politics.
“This is a threshold being crossed with the charges against Abhisit and Suthep. Normally, Thai government leaders would not be charged for having cracked down on protesters,” said Thitinan. “So the sense of impunity, invincibility, is being challenged here and it sets a precedent.”
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.
DBS report on Thailand (PDF)
In our view, these charges may not have a large legal impact on the Democrat Party as the case could carry on for years before the court makes a decision, and that could well be a ‘not guilty’ verdict. However, the political impact may be huge. First, the defendants’ political careers are likely to end. The Democrat Party will need to seek a new party head in the next election.
BP: Look, BP agrees that part of the reason for the indictment Abhisit and Suthep is that those on the government side view it as a bargaining chip,* but BP thinks there is more to this than that. BP sees four other reasons which are listed in order of importance below for the charges:
First, it helps pacify the red shirts. It can be seen as a start to hold holding people responsible for the dozens of red shirts killed by the military in 2010. If the court either find they have immunity or finds them not guilty, it is out of the hands of the government. The government can say the executive as done all they could possibly do to bring Abhisit and Suthep to justice and they don’t control the judiciary. Given the way the court has ruled over the past 6 years, any red shirt anger over Abhisit and Suthep escaping conviction would be directed at the judiciary (and possibly DSI depending on what the court says) and not the government.
Second, it hurts Abhisit. Of course, a final conviction is a long way away and many people, particularly Democrat supporters, will see the indictment as politically motivated. However, the indictment serves as a reminder of what transpired in 2010. While many people view the events of 2010 differently, BP doesn’t think the constant reminder of 2010 is a positive** for Abhisit.
**[UPDATE: Argh, changed from “negative” to “positive”.]
Third, it raises the issue of double standards again if Abhisit and Suthep are not convicted. The indictment against Abhisit and Suthep menat on one hand that the double standards argument lost some of its potency, but if Abhisit and Suthep are not convicted then the issue of double standards will be back again. Many on the red shirt and pro-Thaksin side will see it as another case of the establishment favouring the Democrats again. Of course, in the unlikely event that Abhisit and Suthep are convicted then it would be the end of their political careers.
Fourth, the pro-Thaksin party has won 5 elections in a row (2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2011). Unless things change, a pro-Thaksin party will likely win the next election. The only way the pro-Thaksin party has been forced out of government is through a military coup or a judicial intervention. If either happens again, you are likely to see protests by the red shirts and ultimately this could lead to another 2010-style crackdown. It is unlikely there will be a final court decision by this time and if so the head of the government seeing the predicament of Abhisit and Suthep may be reluctant to order a crackdown.
h/t to ZenJournalist for DBS report
*BP thinks the Democrats will most likely not will ever support an amnesty. Why would they? It is to their political advantage to oppose one as many of their supporters are opposed to Thaksin gaining any advantage from one. Abhisit and Suthep are unlikely to get convicted and if an amnesty is passed before any final conviction they gain the advantage of the amnesty without the downsides of having supported one. It is better for them politically to let Puea Thai push the amnesty without providing any support for it. Hence, BP doesn’t think the indictments will actually make the Democrats support an amnesty despite the hope by some it will persuade them otherwise.