Commentary: 'To Return to a Democratic Thailand' by Thaksin Shinawatra - WSJ, September 19, 2007
...One year before, I had been overwhelmingly re-elected
as prime minister of Thailand. Thanks to the people of my nation, I was
the first leader in the near 100-year history of Thailand to be not
just democratically elected, but democratically re-elected. Under my
administration, we had cut poverty almost in half, provided universal
access to affordable health care for the first time, balanced the
budget and paid off our debts to the International Monetary Fund. In
addressing the United Nations, I intended to emphasize to the world the
success and maturity of our democracy.
I was never able to deliver my remarks, however, because I awoke on the
morning of Sept. 19 to the news that my government -- and Thailand's
democratic constitution -- had been overthrown in a military coup.
The coup came as a shock to me and to most Thais. Democracy appeared to
have become well entrenched in Thailand following adoption of the
Constitution of 1997. Also known as the "People's Constitution," this
charter was universally acclaimed as the most democratic constitution
in the history of Thailand...
[2015 note: Like many newspaper articles from just a few years ago, this article is no longer online. Below is the complete text of the original article.]
To Return to a Democratic Thailand
By THAKSIN SHINAWATRA
September 19, 2007
One year ago today I was in New York, preparing to address the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of my nation. I was filled with pride as I looked forward to delivering my remarks.
One year before, I had been overwhelmingly re-elected as prime minister of Thailand. Thanks to the people of my nation, I was the first leader in the near 100-year history of Thailand to be not just democratically elected, but democratically re-elected. Under my administration, we had cut poverty almost in half, provided universal access to affordable health care for the first time, balanced the budget and paid off our debts to the International Monetary Fund. In addressing the United Nations, I intended to emphasize to the world the success and maturity of our democracy.
I was never able to deliver my remarks, however, because I awoke on the morning of Sept. 19 to the news that my government — and Thailand’s democratic constitution — had been overthrown in a military coup.
The coup came as a shock to me and to most Thais. Democracy appeared to have become well entrenched in Thailand following adoption of the Constitution of 1997. Also known as the “People’s Constitution,” this charter was universally acclaimed as the most democratic constitution in the history of Thailand.
The people of Thailand have the same democratic aspirations and expectations as the people of other mature nations, and they will not rest until these are restored to them. Regrettably, the military rulers in Bangkok have spent most of the past year worrying not about promoting our nation’s economic development or restoring basic rights to the Thai people, but rather about preventing me or anyone sharing my political philosophy from returning to political power.
In reflecting on the past year, I am appalled by the suffering that has been inflicted on the Thai people by the junta’s misplaced priorities. I have made clear to all who will listen that I have no desire to again hold political office in Thailand. As a patriot whose first loyalty is to my King and country, I wish only to return to a democratic Thailand to live in peace with my family.
The junta justified the coup in part on the assertion that my administration was corrupt. Once in power, they created a government agency whose sole purpose was to validate this claim by finding me and my family guilty of some form of financial malfeasance. After investigating me for a year, none of the original charges has been sustained, so they have concocted new ones. In so doing, they have had to invent new interpretations of Thai law with respect to investment and taxation.
These new legal interpretations cannot be applied only to me, however, which has jeopardized Thailand’s hard-earned reputation for predictability and respect for the rule of law. As a result, foreign investment — long a principal engine of Thailand’s economic growth — has begun to dry up.
To try to stop me or anyone sharing my enthusiasm for free markets and democracy from ever regaining power in a free election, the junta has banned my former political party, forbidden over 100 of the most prominent political figures in Thailand from running for political office, and frozen my financial assets in Thailand. For most of the past year, Thailand has been under martial law, with freedom of the press restricted and activity by political parties severely limited.
The junta appointed a committee to draft a new constitution for Thailand, stacking it with hand-picked bureaucrats. The committee’s top priority was to reduce the role of the Thai people and their elected representatives in national decision making. The constitution they produced needlessly reduces the size of the lower house of parliament to 480 from 500 members, the size of the Senate to 160 from 200 members, and redraws parliamentary districts in a manner designed to diminish the voting strength of the 35 provinces in northern and northeastern Thailand that have been most strongly opposed to the coup.
In addition, the new constitution strips the Thai people of the power to elect the Senate. Instead, senators will henceforth be appointed by unelected selection committees. The antidemocratic role of the Senate and the judiciary is amplified by features empowering the Senate to appoint heads of independent agencies and to remove the publicly elected prime minister.
In a referendum last month, an unexpectedly large number of Thais voted against adoption of the constitution, despite severe restrictions on organized opposition to the referendum imposed by the junta during the campaign.
There will now be a national election on Dec. 23, which the junta wants the world to accept as free and fair. As campaigning begins, however, the junta continues to apply martial law in the 35 northern and northeastern provinces. In those provinces, it remains illegal for more than 10 persons to gather for political purposes — though this rule and others are rarely enforced against political parties favored by the junta. To ensure itself a free hand, the junta is resisting efforts by the European Union and others to deploy election monitors.
The world appears inclined to accept all these departures from democratic norms. The explanation is as simple as it is troubling. The international community is so disgusted by the junta’s mismanagement that it wants it to pass from the scene as soon as possible. Rather than quarrel over the details of democracy, the world appears ready to look the other way so as to provide no reason for the junta to delay the Dec. 23 election. In a bizarre twist, the junta’s greatest weaknesses — its incompetence and unpopularity — have been transformed into its greatest short-term strengths.
The world is miscalculating, however, if it thinks there can be stability in Thailand without true democracy. The voters of northern and northeastern Thailand who the junta wants to disenfranchise may be poor, but they will not be denied their voice — nor will the millions of other Thais whose rights are being restricted.
We will not have stability, democracy and development in Thailand until we have genuine national reconciliation. Needless to say, national reconciliation will not be achieved at gunpoint or through rigged elections, but rather when our generals and politicians finally put the national interest above their own narrow interests.
Mr. Thaksin is a former prime minister of Thailand.
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