Last week we pointed out the unflattering article the Washington Post featured about Thaksin ('Our Man in Bangkok', full text also below) which portrays Thaksin as an undemocratic leader tolerated only because he does what the U.S. orders. Today the Post has a rebuttal to this article by Thailand's Ambassador in Washington:
Man in Bangkok': Thailand's Response - Washington Post, January 1, 2004
The Dec. 26 editorial "Our Man in Bangkok" made troubling assertions.
First, the general election three years ago that gave Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's party a landslide was conducted freely and fairly, with the results endorsed by the Election Commission of Thailand, an independent body mandated by the kingdom's 1997 Constitution.
Second, while Mr. Thaksin may have been accused of not fully disclosing his assets, The Post did not inform readers that he was subsequently cleared by the Constitutional Court, an independent national body created by our new Constitution.
Third, Thailand's economic recovery is the result of many factors, including the government's dual development policy of opening our market to foreign trade and investment while strengthening the domestic economy.
Fourth, Thailand has long had one of the freest presses in the region, if not the world.
Fifth, while several deaths occurred during the government's campaign against narcotic drugs, most of the alleged extrajudicial killings were murders committed by criminals trying to avoid arrest. Extrajudicial killings have never been and are not sanctioned by the government.
Last, ties between our two countries have continued to strengthen not solely because of the security issues The Post cited, but because of a maturing partnership on all fronts -- political, economic and social.
Embassy of Thailand
The original article from the Post: Our Man in Bangkok - Washington Post, December 25, 2003
The Bush administration has been strongly criticized for the gratuitous damage it has done to U.S. relationships with a number of foreign governments in the past year. Less attention has been paid to the friends the administration has been making -- but here, too, there is reason for concern. Though he has delivered several speeches promising to put democracy promotion at the center of U.S. foreign policy, President Bush has been building relationships with several leaders who appear to be moving their countries in the opposite direction. The best-known of these is Russia's Vladimir Putin. But another disturbing case is emerging in Thailand, where a populist prime minister's steady accumulation of power has come in tandem with steadily warming relations with Washington.
Thaksin Shinawatra came to office under a shadow just under three years ago: The election was marked by allegations of vote-buying, and Mr. Thaksin, then Thailand's richest man, was accused of illegally hiding assets. Now, thanks partly to a flood of state spending that has pushed the economy into overdrive, Mr. Thaksin is very popular. He is expected to win reelection in the coming year by an overwhelming margin. But a clear majority in a pluralist system does not seem to satisfy the Thai prime minister, who aspires to succeed the retired authoritarian leaders of Singapore and Malaysia as a regional leader. Through the state or his own companies, he has taken over all of Thailand's television channels and has used legal and commercial levers, including numerous lawsuits, to intimidate critics in the press and parliament.
This year Mr. Thaksin launched a "war on drugs" that led to the killings of some 2,500 suspected dealers; human rights groups charge that many were the victims of extrajudicial assassinations by officially sponsored death squads. Rejecting proposals for constitutional reforms meant to prevent him from accumulating too much power, he recently declared that "democracy is only a tool" for achieving other ends.
A U.S. administration intent on promoting democracy might be expected to quickly distance itself from such a leader. Instead, the Bush administration has embraced Mr. Thaksin. Thailand was recently designated a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States, entitling it to enhanced military cooperation, and invited to follow Singapore in negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement. Not only did Mr. Bush heap praise on Mr. Thaksin's government during a visit this fall to Bangkok but the regional director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, William J. Snipes, recently endorsed the brutal anti-drug campaign, saying that "we look at it as successful."
It's not hard to understand how Mr. Thaksin won this treatment. After distancing himself at first from Thailand's longstanding alliance with the United States, he abruptly reversed course. According to press reports, he has permitted the Pentagon to use Thai bases and allowed the CIA to transport high-level al Qaeda prisoners to Thailand for interrogation. He sent several hundred Thai troops to Iraq, and last August his security forces captured the most wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia, the Indonesian native Hambali, and delivered him to U.S. custody.
The day before Hambali's arrest, Mr. Thaksin pushed two tough anti-terrorist measures into law by decree, prompting widespread protests from parliament. The rapidly weakening opposition warned that the laws should have been subject to a democratic decision and could be used, as in Singapore and Malaysia, as a pretext for suppressing internal dissent. Mr. Thaksin ignored the objections. His new friends in Washington, after all, were entirely supportive.