The Abhisit government has talked a lot about reconciliation since the protests ended in May. And that sounds good when you listen to it on the radio, on TV or read about it in the papers.
One can’t fail to wonder every once in a while though which definition of reconciliation they use. The dictionary defines reconciliation as: “the process of making (oneself or another) no longer opposed” or simply the “settling of a quarrel or difference”.
It is not so obvious where exactly this has happened. As Pavin Chachavalpongpun pointed out:
Reconciliation has now become a vocabulary discursively used to legitimize certain policies and behavior of the power holders.
The quote comes from his article Thailand’s Disheartening Aftermath published on Asia Sentinel.
For example, the “Independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission” is headed by former Attorney General Kanit na Nakhon. Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun and social critic Prawes Wasi lead the national reform panels.
Should the current government, also a party in the political conflict, be given the right to set up a reconciliation commission and national reform panels?
Setting up an “independent truth and reconciliation commission” is of not so much use when one party is unilaterally in charge.
Moreover, none of these handpicked personalities have ever been elected into office. Anand was an appointed prime minister twice without having to go through the democratic process. Clearly, the discourse of “relying on good people [khon dee] in time of crisis” is still a powerful self-legitimization tool. But the so-called khon dee happen to be on the side of the Thai traditional elite.
The fact that they have not been elected into the positions they hold is of course a situation that current prime minister Abhisit is very familiar with.
Some red-shirt members are convinced that the reconciliation roadmap is nothing more than Abhisit’s delaying tactic to postpone the push for real political reform or fresh elections.
It would of course be quite a smart tactic.
Third, the Abhisit government, during the past three months, has been busy indeed, not so much in making peace with its opponents as entrenching itself in political power through a variety of channels. The ruling Democrat Party managed to win a by-election in July, boasting that it had regained the trust of Thai voters and therefore approval of its policy toward the red-shirts. Yet its candidate, Panich Vikitseth, defeated his Puea Thai rival Korkaew Pikulthong, also a core leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), by just 14,000 votes.
It should also mentioned that Korkaew was imprisoned on terrorism charges during the whole election period, and that some of the messages he wanted to share with prospective voters were not allowed to be publicized.
After all, this was a fight within a Bangkok constituency, the Democrat’s stronghold. Only about 50 percent of the voters were enthusiastic enough to turn out.
Disillusioned disinterest was the most common feeling towards the election process among many people here in Bangkok, which I personally noticed.
Prime Minister Abhisit also had his hand firmly on recent reshuffles within the army and the police. He has picked two royalists and pro-government figures, General Prayuth Chan-ocha as a new army chief and Police General Wichean Potephosree as a new police chief. The opposition considered such appointments a part of the establishment’s plot to strengthen its power position, especially in a possible post-election period in which those associated with the red shirts might form a new government.
Along the way, the Abhisit regime has solidified its rule in other ways, such as through the curbing of freedom of expression. More anti-government websites are blocked every day. More have been arrested for insulting certain institutions in Thailand.
It should also be noted that “anti-government websites” is a term that is used quite loosely, and the ministry in charge of censorship really doesn’t need to justify any of it’s decisions.