Abhisit tells Mubarak to “respect wishes of the people”
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Abhisit tells Mubarak to “respect wishes of the people”

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Thai PM's interview with CNN in Davos, Switzerland

By Prach Panchakunathorn

Thai PM Abhisit is in Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum. CNN reports what he said in an interview with their correspondent:

Thailand’s Prime Minister has called on leaders troubled by civil unrest to exercise restraint, less than a year after a bloody military crackdown on the streets of Bangkok.

Abhisit Vejjajiva sent in government troops to quell long-running Red Shirt protests in the Thai capital last May. Ninety-one people died and hundreds were injured in the street battles that followed.

But as thousands gathered on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez to demand an end to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-rule, Abhisit — speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — told CNN leaders should respect the wishes of their people.

Asked to offer advice to Mubarak, the Thai PM said: “He should just respect the key principles of governance, respect the wishes of the people, and at the same time do his duties.”

There seems to be more than a hint of irony in CNN’s report. But Alan Friedman, a veteran of the Financial Times, the WSJ and the IHT, expresses the irony more explicitly in his commentary on Davos’ response to Egypt’s unrest:
“And Thailand’s prime minister called for restraint. He should know, having sent government troops to stage a bloody crackdown to quell street protests in Bangkok last year, resulting in 91 deaths.”
In the same interview with CNN, Abhisit reflects on his dealing with the Red Shirts, commenting that other countries should “be able do the same”:
“For us I think what was important we needed to enforce the law to ensure there was rule of law. At the same time we had to exercise the utmost restraint and to try address whatever legitimate grievances these people on the streets had. And I hope that in another … in a number of other countries they would be able to do the same.”
PP: One wonders here what Abhisit thinks the “legitimate grievances” of the Red Shirt protestors were, and what he has done to “address” them. The Red Shirts has been saying that they had suffered from a deprivation of their political rights to elect the government of their choice, having had their parties disbanded and their politicians banned. They asked Abhisit to call for new general elections. Abhisit certainly hasn’t done anything to “address” these calls.

So it seems that Abhisit, if he really thinks he is addressing the Red Shirts’ grievances at all, thinks that the Red Shirts’ grievances have nothing to do with politics, but with economics – i.e. income and welfare. This seems to be precisely what Abhisit has been doing: addressing economic problems while keeping politics unchanged. He seems to hope that by addressing the poor’s economic problems, political problems will automatically resolve themselves.

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor, comments on President Mubarak’s past response to political uprisings:
“The question now is whether President Mubarak will follow [the curfews] with political concessions. He hasn’t in 30 years; he tends to buy off protests with cuts in food prices and by increasing subsidies. That might not be enough this time.
PP: Abhisit, like Mubarak, has refused to make any political concessions, but rather tried to buy off opposition with stimulus packages and welfare schemes. This, too, might not be enough.

Prach Panchakunathorn is studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, UK.

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