Does the ICG support the PDRC’s position of reform before elections?
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Does the ICG support the PDRC’s position of reform before elections?

PDRC leaders and PDRC supporters/sympathisers in the media and on social media have been critical of the foreign media and to a lesser extent foreign governments and NGOs, but recently on the PDRC stage we have a statement of claimed support for the PDRC agenda from the International Crisis Group. International support for PDRC agenda?

The speaker is Somkiat Onwimon, a well-known media commentator. Video is below from around 2:00 onwards:

BP: There are various copies of this video, but the above one has over 350,000 views….

Fortunately, Post Today have a transcript (not 100% word-for-word – Somkiat calls them the Crisis International Group –  but it is accurate of the overall views):

A few days ago, I read a statement from the American research group called International Crisis Group who have analysed the political situation in Thailand and the fight of the great mass of people in the centre of Bangkok [PDRC] that reform elections is the correct path; no other option(s) but it is the option which is the hope of the most fatigued [kinda of like the last option] (เมื่อ 2-3 วันที่ผ่านมา ผมได้อ่านบทความหน่วยงานวิจัยชาวเมริกัน ชื่อ International Crisis Group เขาวิเคราะห์ว่าวิกฤตการเมืองไทย และการต่อสู้ของมวลมหาประชาชนกลาง กทม.ว่าการให้ปฏิรูปก่อนการเลือกตั้งเป็นทางเลือกที่ถูกต้อง ไม่มีทางเลือกอื่น แต่เป็นทางเลือกที่เป็นความหวังที่อ่อนล้าเต็มที). It can be compared with someone who has head just above water and is about to drown, but you are holding onto a slim reed which is only just above the water’s surface  (เปรียบเสมือนคนลอยคอกำลังจะจมน้ำ เพียงแต่เกาะหญ้าปล้องน้อยที่ลอยปริ่มน้ำอยู่เท่านั้น). However, this international research organization concluded that the slim reed that is just above the water surface is the only hope of the Thai people; no other option for reform in Thailand (อย่างไรก็ตามองค์การวิจัยระหว่างประเทศองค์การนี้สรุปว่า หญ้าปล้องน้อยที่ลอยปริ่มน้ำถือเป็นความหวังเดียวของประชาชนชาวไทย ไม่มีทางเลือกอื่นใดสำหรับปฏิรูปประเทศไทย)

The only report/statement issued by the International Crisis Group recently is the conflict alert of January 13, 2014 which BP had reproduced in full below:

“The campaign by anti-government protesters to derail the 2 February election raises prospects of widespread political violence, and scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing. Protests may aim to provoke a military coup, or encourage a judicial coup. If protesters succeed in their bid to delay the poll and replace the elected caretaker government with an appointed council, others who demand to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed franchise are likely to resist. Competing Thai elites – with mass backing – disagree fundamentally about how political power should be acquired and exercised. The election, and the opposition to it, crystallises the dilemma in reaching a new consensus on Thailand’s political order: will government be legitimised by voters or by traditional institutions such as the monarchy and the military?

Since 2005, political and structural tensions have animated a conflict centred on self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who won enduring support from majorities in the north and north east newly conscious of their electoral power. Thaksin challenged institutions that draw legitimacy from traditional sources of authority, including the military, judiciary, palace network elements and watchdog bodies collectively known as “independent agencies”. Beginning with a 2006 military coup, and in concert with the Democrat Party, which draws most of its support from the south and Bangkok, these institutions have tried and failed to eliminate Thaksin’s influence.

Anti-government protesters have staged mostly-peaceful rallies in Bangkok for two months, but also occupied government buildings, attacked pro-government Red Shirt activists, disrupted election registration and occasionally clashed with police. Gunmen have targeted protest sites. At least eight people have been killed and more than 450 injured in protest-related violence.

There is no clear way out. But there are ways to render a bad situation potentially catastrophic. Denying the chance to vote is one. So is the propensity of some leaders to achieve by mass action – often violent – what they cannot by popular mandate or negotiation. As much as elections, Thailand needs leadership to generate the truly inclusive national dialogue required to set it on a stable path.

As anti-government protesters intensify actions, the risk of violence across wide swathes of the country is growing and significant. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters, led by former Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban, are determined to unseat the caretaker government of Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They also aim to derail the election they fear will reinstall Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party. Thaksin-aligned parties have won every poll since 2001, a record that has eroded his enemies’ faith in elections. The PDRC considers Thaksin uniquely corrupt and malevolent. It attributes his electoral success to vote fraud and the susceptibility of poorer, less educated citizens to unethical, unsustainable populist policies.

The PDRC insists that extraordinary measures, including suspension of electoral democracy, are required to “uproot the Thaksin regime”. Citing ambiguous constitutional provisions to justify ousting the elected government, the PDRC proposes to eradicate “Thaksinism” via an unelected People’s Council – 100 “good people” whom it would appoint and 300 others chosen as functional representatives – to govern for up to eighteen months and implement reforms. The reform agenda is only broadly outlined and includes decentralisation, elected governors, stronger anti-corruption laws and police reform.

After Pheu Thai’s 2011 election victory, Yingluck cultivated relations with Thaksin’s opponents in the senior ranks of the military and Privy Council. Small anti-government protests lacked traction until October, when parliament passed an ill-judged blanket amnesty that would have erased Thaksin’s 2008 abuse-of-power conviction. It would also have absolved ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy, Suthep, for ordering the 2010 military crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok that killed more than 90, as well as army officers who implemented the order. The bill galvanised Thaksin’s opponents and sparked sustained protests that attracted growing numbers of middle-class Bangkokians. Faced with overwhelming opposition, including from Red Shirt allies, the government withdrew support.

Even before the Senate rejected the bill on 11 November, protest leaders shifted their goal to ousting the government. Several Democrats, including Suthep, resigned from the party to lead the street protests. After Democrat Party MPs resigned en masse, Yingluck dissolved parliament on 9 December, and the government acquired caretaker status. As demanded by the constitution, the February election was scheduled and endorsed by royal decree. The Democrat Party resolved to boycott the election, as it did in 2006, and support the protests.

The PDRC plans to paralyse Bangkok to eject the government and force cancellation of the election. There is immediate risk of violence designed to instigate a coup. The army chief, General Prayudh Chan-ocha, has not ruled out the possibility. The army has mounted eighteen successful and attempted coups since 1932 and suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations with lethal force in 1973, 1992 and 2010. It has never intervened on behalf of a Thaksin-aligned government.

There are other potential triggers for unrest. If the election is delayed without government consent or results are nullified, many who saw their representatives expelled from office in 2006 and 2008 too, may see no recourse other than violent resistance. The combination of street protests and judicial intervention to unseat elected government is familiar; in 2008, the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied Government House for months and closed Bangkok’s airports before the Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party, a Pheu Thai predecessor. Many perceive the Constitutional Court as biased, and the “independent agencies” – mandated by the 2006 coup makers’ 2007 constitution – as compromised because their members were appointed by committees dominated by judges and officials not themselves democratically accountable.

The election faces multiple pitfalls. The Democrat Party decision to boycott might provide a pretext to challenge the poll’s legitimacy. The Election Commission appears reluctant to perform its duties and has called for the election to be postponed. Protesters prevented candidates from registering in 28 constituencies in the Democrat Party’s southern stronghold. The Election Commission should take remedial action, but this is uncertain. On 7 January, the National Anti-Corruption Commission pressed misconduct charges against 308 mostly Pheu Thai lawmakers who supported an amendment to create an all-elected senate. Many are candidates and could be disqualified if impeached by the Senate. If less than 95 per cent of the 500 seats are filled on 2 February, by-elections will be required before the new parliament can meet.

The détente of the last few years masked fundamental, unresolved tensions. Today’s crisis has greater scope for serious, protracted violence than earlier episodes not least because there is neither evident middle ground nor protester appetite for compromise.

A deal to postpone the election could buy time for negotiation but would be only a stopgap without a comprehensive, broadly accepted agreement on the future political order. Thailand is deeply polarised, and the prospects for such an agreement are dim. Still, a counsel of despair is not an option. All need to understand that violence will not advance more responsive and transparent government. An election alone will also not resolve basic disagreements about how political power should be acquired and exercised, but the following should be borne in mind as a way out of the impasse is sought:

  • there is no obvious route to a peaceful resolution that does not respect the voice of a majority of voters. Imposition of an appointed government without consent of the electorate would invite violence;
  • the Democrat Party should recommit to the electoral process;
  • all should commit to pursuing political change non-violently and with due regard for others’ rights;
  • the military could best respond to the current crisis by an unequivocal commitment to the democratic process and express support for dialogue between the opposing camps; and
  • Thailand needs to confront how it is governed, including the decentralisation question and reform of key state institutions, but these issues should be discussed nationally – not presented as the agenda of one side – and take place in parallel to and beyond, not in place of, the constitutionally-required electoral process.

If the sides can agree on the need to avoid violence and for a national dialogue built on a shared agenda, a solution might just possibly be found. It is a slim reed on which to float hopes, but in Bangkok there is little else available.”

BP: As you can see the ICG have not endorsed the PDRC position of reform before elections. If anything, you would say that the ICG statement is critical of the PDRC position on the unelected People’s Council and the Democrats for not contesting the election. ICG views – as does BP – what should have happened is that there should have been a deal to postpone the election would allow time for negotiation over the rules of the game, but the Democrats have not committed themselves to rejoin the electoral process and the PDRC have refused all negotiations.

After Somkiat’s statement he was criticized by some people online – for example’s Pipop’s Facebook post here – and in response Somkiat is quoted by Isra News as stating that “…there are some thinkers who latched onto the thinking of the International Crisis Group who are not wrong; just that one person said that he distorted ICG’s information; this is just a matter of technique (“…จะมีนักคิดบางคนมาจับคิดเรื่ององค์กร International Crisis Group (ICG) ที่จริงมันก็ไม่ผิด เพียงแค่มีคนหนึ่งบอกว่าตนเอา ICG มาบิดเบือนข้อมูล แต่มันก็เป็นเรื่องเทคนิค”).

“ICG talked about that there is no hope left and must rely on this protest only especially about the slim reed but I think that the language that foreigners use is very beautiful/brilliant and that it was the last line, but the introduction concluded that there must be reform before election is true, but just must negotiate, but just I don’t talk about negotiations (“ ICG บอกว่าพูดเรื่องไม่มีความหวังอะไรอีกแล้ว และต้องพึ่งการชุมนุมครั้งนี้เท่านั้น เช่น เรื่องหญ้าปล้องน้อย แต่ตนก็คิดว่าโดยภาษาที่คนต่างประเทศเขาเขียนงดงามมาก ซึ่งมันเป็นประโยคตอนท้าย แต่ทีนี้มันมีประโยคเกริ่นนำสรุปว่า ต้องปฏิรูปก่อนการเลือกตั้งก็จริงอยู่ แต่มันต้องเจรจากัน แต่ตนไม่ได้พูดเรื่องเจรจา”)

BP: Again, the ICG statement does not endorse the PDRC position of reform before election. It endorses a negotiated outcome to the conflict, but it doesn’t hold up much hope it will happen. Somkiat completely misrepresents the ICG statement….

NOTE: Now, you may ask was Somkiat referring to the above conflict report? It is hard to say 100% as Somkiat doesn’t say what ICG statement he was referring too, but note the last line about slim reed and hope which matches what he is quoting on stage and then the subsequent interview where he said it was the last line of the ICG statement so yes, BP feels confident to say there is a very high likelihood this is the ICG statement he is referring too.

*Yes, did criticize Somkiat earlier in the week and well wasn’t going to blog on the above. Had seen Pipop’s Facebook post earlier in the week, but didn’t have time to properly look at everything at the time. However, an e-mail from a reader today who wondered whether what Somkiat said was accurate and partially translated what Somkiat said, piqued BP’s interest again and as found transcript from Post Today, it was fairly easy to blog on…