More importantly, it is not requested conditions that torpedoed the possibility of dialogue, it is the bad faith with which this marionette government and its master have been conducting their negotiations. No one now trusts the government’s words.
For months, Thailand has had no functioning government. The political conflict has turned into economic calamity for the country and its people. Worst of all, the social divide has deepened and will be much harder to reverse for years to come.
None of this matters much to the government, for whom only a misguided will to survive counts.
History provides us with an interesting comparison.
Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, following its invasion of Phnom Penh in 1975, declared “Year Zero” for Cambodia. The term originated in France in 1792 during that country’s revolution. The Year Zeroes in France and Cambodia were followed by unspeakable acts carried out under reigns of terror.
The Year Zero policy commands that all previous cultures and traditions be destroyed and replaced by a new social order dictated by the revolution. Was this term the inspiration for the Thai government’s declaration of “Set Zero” as it pushed the ill-fated amnesty bill that ignited a public outcry and brought the country to this desperate juncture?
BP: Set Zero and Year Zero are different concepts. Just like pushing the reset button on relations with Russia wasn’t Obama looking to Pol Pot for inspiration. Also, it is the PDRC who publicly say they won’t negotiate and not the government. Suthep even now states publicly for the government to stop sending representatives to negotiate. As blogged last month:
However, just look at what has taken place. Eventually, after opposition to the Amnesty Bill became so strong, Yingluck signalled the government would accept if the Senate rejected the Bill which the Senate did with pro-government Senators also voting against the Bill. Then, as protests continued in early December, Yingluck offered the dissolution option (which the protesters rejected) and a referendum option as well (which they also rejected). Back then Abhisit stated he welcomed a dissolution and it was a way of the government showing responsibility and that it does not have the intention of clinging to power. Yingluck dissolved parliament, but the Democrats refused to contest the election.
Since then we have had Suthep say that a government representative offered to postpone the election until May 4 if they stop protesting, but Suthep and the protesters have refused all government offers and refused to negotiate. Abhisit has previously indicated privately that the Democrats would participate if the rules are strengthened and regulations are issued to make the election process fairer. Abhisit has not indicated what these rules are.
The op-ed continues:
That term obviously backfired. The caretaker government is running from place to place to hold meetings which are becoming fewer and farther in between. Our caretaker premier has become more like a phantom presence, as she leaves all the dirty jobs to be handled by her deputies. Gone is the dignity of the holder of the highest office of government.
January 29, 2009, in Iceland saw the “Pots and Pans Revolution” succeed in obtaining the resignation of the prime minister. It happened only after six days of intense street protests and clashes with the police, after the government’s privatisation of banks put them in the hands of the few with close ties to the government and caused a financial-sector meltdown. The protesters threw snowballs and eggs at the prime minister’s car, and banged pots and pans in front of the parliament and government house. After one Icelander had kicked things off a year earlier by standing up against the government’s corruption and mismanagement, the Kitchenware Revolution was followed by citizens’ forums and constitutional change. In 2010, the new parliament voted to indict the former prime minister (but not his Cabinet) for neglecting his duties. That fits the old dignified motto drawn from Franklin D Roosevelt’s undelivered speech in 1945 (he died one day before giving it) – “With great power comes great responsibility”, and also the Bible’s “To whom much has been given, much will be expected.”
It is said that self-inflicted tragedy is sadder than uncontrollable tragedy. In Jean Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”, a character named Garcin cannot leave the room even though the door is open because he cannot face the responsibility that comes with his decisions and actions. Our caretaker premier could have chosen to gracefully leave office in order to demonstrate her responsibility to the country. She did not.
It’s now a question of who will make the decision for her. Sadly, the heavy price of her dithering will be paid by all of us.
On 22 January 2009, police used tear gas to disperse people on Austurvöllur (the square in front of the Althing), the first such use since the 1949 anti-NATO protest. Around 2,000 protesters had surrounded the building since the day before and they hurled fireworks, shoes, toilet paper, rocks, and paving stones at the building and its police guard. Reykjavík police chief Stefán Eiríksson said that they tried to disperse a “hard core” of a “few hundred” with pepper spray before using the tear gas. Eiríksson also commented that the protests were expected to continue, and that this represented a new situation for Iceland.
Despite the announcement on 23 January 2009 of early Parliamentary elections (to be held on 25 April 2009) and the announcement of Prime Minister Geir Haarde that he was withdrawing from politics due to esophageal cancer and would not be a candidate in those elections, protesters continued to fill the streets, calling for a new political scene and for immediate elections; Haarde (Independence Party) announced on 26 January 2009 that he would hand in his resignation as PM shortly, after talks with the Social Democratic Alliance on keeping the government intact had failed earlier the same day.
The Social Democratic Alliance formed a new government on minority coalition with the Left-Green Movement, with the support of the Progressive Party and the Liberal Party, which was sworn in on 1 February. Former Social Affairs Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became Prime Minister. The three parties also agree to convene a constitutional assembly to discuss changes to the Constitution. There was no agreement on the question of an early referendum on prospective EU and euro membership.
The parliamentary election was finally held in Iceland on 25 April 2009 following strong pressure from the public as a result of the Icelandic financial crisis. The Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement, which formed the outgoing coalition government under Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, both made gains and an overall majority of seats in the Althing (Iceland’s parliament). The Progressive Party also made gains, and the new Citizens’ Movement, formed after the January 2009 protests, gained four seats. The big loser was the Independence Party, which had been in power for 18 years until January 2009: it lost a third of its support and nine seats in the Althing.
2009–2010: Citizen forums and Constitutional changing
Taking its cue from nation-wide protests and lobbying efforts by civil organisations, the new governing parties decided that Iceland’s citizens should be involved in creating a new constitution and started to debate a bill on 4 November 2009 about that purpose. Parallel to the protests and parliament deliverance, citizens started to unite in grassroots-based think-tanks. A National Forum was organised on 14 November 2009 (Icelandic: Þjóðfundur 2009), in the form of an assembly of Icelandic citizens at the Laugardalshöll in Reykjavík, by a group of grassroots citizen movements such as Anthill. The Forum would settle the ground for the 2011 Constitutional Assembly and was streamed by the Internet to the public.
1.500 people were invited to participate in the assembly; of these, 1.200 were chosen at random from the national registry, while 300 were representatives of companies, institutions and other groups. Participants represented a cross section of Icelandic society, ranging in age from 18 to 88 and spanning all six constituencies of Iceland, with 73, 77, 89, 365 and 621 people attending from the Northwest, Northeast, South, Southwest and Reykjavík (combined), respectively; 47% of the attendants were women, while 53% were men.
On 16 June 2010 the Constitutional Act was finally accepted by parliament and a new Forum was summoned. The Constitutional Act prescribed that the participants of the Forum had to be randomly sampled from the National Population Register, “with due regard to a reasonable distribution of participants across the country and an equal division between genders, to the extent possible”. The National Forum 2010 was initiated by the government on 6 November 2010 and had 950 random participants, organized in subcommisions, which would present a 700 page document that would be the basis for constitutional changes, which would debate a future Constitutional Assembly. The Forum 2010 came into being due to the efforts of both governing parties and the Anthill group. A seven-headed Constitutional Committee, appointed by the parliament, was charged with the supervision of the forum and the presentation of its results, while the organization and facilitation of the National Forum 2010 was done by the Anthill group that had organized the first Forum 2009.
2010–2011: Constitutional Assembly and Council
The process continued in the election of 25 people of no political affiliation on 26 October 2010. The Supreme Court of Iceland later invalidated the results of the election on 25 January 2011 following complaints about several faults in how the election was conducted, but the Parliament decided that it was the way, and not the elects, that had been questioned, and also that those 25 elects would be a part of a Constitutional Council and thus the Constitutional change went on. On 29 July 2011 the draft was presented to the Parliament.
2012: Referendum on the new Constitution
After the draft of the Constitution was presented on 29 July 2011, the Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, finally agreed in a vote in 24 May 2012, with 35 in favor and 15 against, to organize an advisory referendum on the Constitutional Council’s proposal for a new constitution no later than 20 October 2012.
BP: The key thing is that the protesters wanted an election. Before the election, the parties agreed the need to amend the constitution. There was an election and the parties won enough seats to form a new democratically elected government. You can say there are some general similarities between the citizen’s forum and what some government opponents are calling for, but you will also see that they even had a process to elect the 25 people (although this was later invalidated). Then parliament voted on the draft before sending it to a referendum. The entire process revolved around elected representatives deciding. Yes, they gave up some of their power temporarily for the drafting of the constitution, but they gave up the power and then voted on the draft. This is a normal function of a democratic process. Raising it as an example for Thailand and excluding the key faction that the multiple elections played when the PDRC not only don’t want an election, they obstructed the election called is ridiculous. Distorting facts to suit the narrative is back to its absurd best at The Nation.