Thailand: Will Pheu Thai put human rights first?
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Thailand: Will Pheu Thai put human rights first?

By Anek Sae-lao

I had a few exchanges with a few friends over Twitter and Facebook last week after learning that Pheu Thai (PT) is fielding Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, as the candidate for Prime Minister. I see such a move as a clear act of nepotism. Yingluck does not have any experience that would make her a credible leader for the party apart from her background in Shinnawatra’s family business and being the sister of the ousted PM.

Later, I had a discussion with a senior journalist at The Nation, who is regarded as one of a few black sheep left in the highly pro-Democrat newspaper. I would keep his name off record as our discussion was purely informal in nature. He questioned if  the red shirts and their sympathizers can really think of PT as a political party that will be friendly to human rights and rule of law. I totally agree with him and have also been wondering if red shirt members are too naïve to think that the party will be the solution to all problems.

It is quite frightening to see some red shirt members believing that if PT wins the election, the party would take an all out war against the “amaat” and the “establishment”.

I doubt that this will happen. Yingluck is no left wing political activist and neither is Thaksin. Both of them are businesspersons. After the April – May crackdown, Thaksin’s positions were unstable. He shifted back and forth. In one occasion, he even supported the call for national reconciliation.

Red shirts need to understand that Pheu Thai and the red shirts are two separate identities. While red shirt leaders such as Jatuporn Promphan, Nattawut Saikua, and Weng Tojitrakarn have been listed in the party-list of the party, they constitute a small minority in the party. MPs running under the banner of PT are still largely conservative or sons and daughters of the banned Thai Rak Thai (TRT) and People’s Power Party (PPP) politicians.

If PT does not win the majority and needs to form a coalition government with other smaller parties that want bygones be bygones, it is likely that the demands of the red shirts for an investigation into the April – May crackdown will be neglected.

PT leadership has remained silent on the 150 political prisoners who have been detained since May last year or the arbitrary detention of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a red shirt sympathizer and prominent trade unionist. I believe that, for PT, Somyot is dispensable and is not that important for the party.

PT has many times tried to distance itself from the red shirt movement, especially on matters related to lese majeste charges. The party has no clear policies on what it would do with lese majeste law, Computer Crime Act, Emergency Decree, and Internal Security Act, despite reports by international human rights groups of the laws’ implications on the state of human rights in Thailand.

Will PT push for these laws to be amended or repealed if it wins the election? We don’t know as it has never said anything on the matter.

The Emergency Decree, in fact, was drafted and passed under Thaksin’s government. Lese majeste was also used in 2001 by Thaksin Shinawatra to target Far Eastern Economic Reviews journalists who wrote article critical of him.

The law was also used during the term of PPP. Dr. David Streckfuss, an expert on lese majeste law, documented that in 2008 (during the administration of the PPP), there were 77 cases of lese majeste received by the lower court and 62 adjudicated by the lower court.

On human rights, what are Pheu Thai policies on that? TRT and PPP were not friends of human rights.

Under TRT, three massacres took place under Thaksin’s watch: Krue Se Mosque massacre on April 2004, which killed 108 people; Tak Bai massacre in October 2004, which killed 85 people; and the war on drugs in which around 2,300 people were killed in the span of three months. At least 20 human rights defenders, including a prominent human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, were assassinated under Thaksin’s premiership.

All these questions are critical for red shirts to raise with PT. If PT is to run the country after the election and will neglect these issues, we might be seeing the split between PT and the red shirts (and progressive elements within the Redshirt).

Anek Sae-lao, a Thai national of Sino-Khmer descent, is a researcher, activist, and translator. You can follow him on Twitter @aneksaelao