Asian political parties silent on 2010 Bangkok crackdown
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Asian political parties silent on 2010 Bangkok crackdown

By Anek Sae-Lao

As I was cleaning up my email account today, I came across a forwarded email which I received from an activist friend around this time last year.

The email was an open letter to Dr. Neric Acosta, the Secretary-General of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), a network of allegedly pro-human rights and democracy Asian political parties that Thailand’s Democrat Party is a part of. Dr. Acosta is currently being considered as the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines.

Along with the letter was the list of 323 signatories of prominent scholars of Asian/Thai affairs and dignitaries such as Professor Amado Mendoza (University of the Philippines), Dr. Dennis Arnold (University of North Carolina), Eric Avebury (member of the UK House of Lords),  Profesosr Garry Rodan (Murdoch University), Professor Katherine Bowie (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dr. Lee Jones (University of London), Dr. Puangthong Pawakapan (Chulalongkorn University), Dr. Tyrell Haberkorn (Australian National University), Professor Meridith Weiss (University of Albany), Kanda Naknoi (Purdue University), Dr. Michelle Tan (National University of Singapore), and Associate Professor Tamara Loos (Cornell University).

The open letter calls for Dr. Acosta and members of CALD which includes the Democratic Progressive Party (Taiwan), Liberal Party (the Philippines), Liberal Party (Sri Lanka), National Council of the Union of Burma, Malaysian People’s Movement Party, Sam Rainsy Party (Cambodia), and Singapore Democratic Party (Singapore) to take action on the crackdown orchestrated by the Abhisit Vejajiva’s led Democrat government. The letter says the following:

“The atrocities and excessive use of force committed under Prime Minister Abhisit to prohibit those voicing opposition to his government will undermined the principle of respect for human rights, democracy and rule of law as respected by CALD and protected by the Thai Constitution. Governments cannot simply shoot guns at its citizens who think differently than they do.

Furthermore, the continuing abuse of power by Prime Minister Abhisit is in direct contradiction to the charter of CALD and its Manifesto for Transparency, Accountability and Access to Information which states that any “CALD member party must be consistent with its policies of good governance when it is in power”. We also demand CALD to take appropriate measures including issuing a press statement condemning the massacre and to demand that the perpetrators behind the killings be brought to justice” (highlight be writer).

After reading this letter again today, I did a little Google to find out what sort of actions have been taken by these political parties which envision “a society based on […] social justice, human rights and the rule of law; good governance”.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), which is headed by Dr. Chee Soon Juan, an academic-cum-activist who has many times been imprisoned by the autocratic People’s Action Party government, issued a press statement on 17 May 2010, which says the following:

“The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) calls on the Thai Government to cease the shooting of protesters. Violence will not solve the political impasse.

As members of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, our parties have pledged to uphold democratic principles and human rights. The killing of unarmed protesters runs against the basic tenet of democracy.

While we note that your administration has shown restraint in the last several weeks during negotiations and that the Red-shirts camp has demonstrated intransigence in helping to find a compromise to resolve the political impasse, shooting unarmed protesters is not the answer.

The SDP has received word that the Red-shirts are willing to return to negotiations. We urge you to seize the opportunity and resume dialogue with the protesters to find a peaceful solution (highlight by writer).”

However, I could find no further action by other political parties.

Anything from the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan? Sam Rainsy Party? Liberal Party?

Come on. There has to be something from these allegedly pro-democracy alliance.

But I could not find anything, not even a statement from the National Coalition of the Union of Burma, which Aung San Suu Kyi is a member of.

Bangkok has a large number of Burmese activists-in-exile living and working. Don’t they feel any resemblance of the April – May crackdown in Bangkok with the crackdown that took place in Rangoon in September 2007? After September 2007, many Redshirt and non-Redshirt activists protested against the military crackdown in Burma.

After few hours of searching, all I can find was a statement in the personal blog of Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha, who is currently serving as the Chair of CALD. The statement is the resolution of CALD issued on July 2, 2010 (about six week after the May crackdown), which was passed at its Executive Committee meeting in Manila. The resolution says that CALD:

[Appreciated] the restraint displayed by the government of Thailand in dealing with protests that included violent and disruptive action

Relieved that the government succeeded in restoring peace and order in the face of great difficulties

Welcoming the programmes put in place by the government to promote reconciliation between all elements in Thai society, including the Trust and Reconciliation Commission

The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

Affirms its support for the government headed by the Democrat Party of Thailand

Urges all parties to avoid violence and participate in the government’s efforts at reconciliation and

Requests the international community to take firm measures against forces seeking further disruption of Thai society” (highlight made by the writer)

The resolution of CALD appreciates the “restraint displayed by the Thai government” and “affirms its support of the Democrat government”. Am I reading the statement from the Democrat Party’s public relations department?

This sounds more like statements that you would get from Thepthai Saenthong, the personal spokesperson of Abhisit Vejajiva or Panithan Wattanayakorn, the Deputy PM’s Secretary-General who said from time to time that the military was not responsible for any civilians’ death in last year crackdown.

Am I reading this right? Is CALD a coalition of political parties that are helping to hide the atrocities which resulted in 92 deaths and injuries of around 2,000 people?  Are they supporting the usage of military weapons in “restoring peace and order”?

Observers of Thai politics should remember that all these Asian political parties (with the exception of the Singapore Democratic Party) that publicly praise human rights, democracy, and rule of law are complicit with the Democrat Party. They are not only turning their blind eyes on the crimes that its member committed, but also by directly supporting and helping to whitewash the atrocities.

Should we take this alliance seriously? You tell me.

Anek Sae-Lao, a Thai national of Sino-Khmer descent, is a researcher, activist, and translator. He lives and works in Nakorn Ratchasima and Surin Province. He can be reached @aneksaelao.