November 17, 2011 · 0 Comments
By Andrew Spooner:
The Bangkok-based Thomas Fuller has just written a piece for the New York Times on the possible pardon of former Thai PM, Thaksin Shinawatra.
In the article Fuller gives a round-up of the situation as it stands now, the back story to Thaksin’s conviction in the Ratchadapisek land-sale case and the anger that has been expressed by many about his possible pardon and then likely return.
(I don’t want to get into the merits or not of Thaksin’s pardon or return here, except to say that I would like to see all political and lese majeste prisoners released before there is any consideration of Thaksin’s case. I would also like to see a full and proper investigation into the War on Drugs and Tak Bai, two events that occurred during Thaksin’s period of government).
In my view there are some very serious omissions from Fuller’s story that could be construed as misleading. Let’s start with his account of the notorious Sondhi Lim and the PAD and how Thaksin was “removed” from power.
As a measure of the passions surrounding Mr. Thaksin, one of the leaders of a protest group known as the yellow shirts, which helped push Mr. Thaksin from office in 2006 through mass demonstrations, called the proposed amnesty decree “disgusting and vicious.”
Sondhi Limthongkul, the protest leader, accused the government of disrespecting King Bhumibol Adulyadej because the amnesty, if it is passed, will be officially issued by the king on his birthday, on Dec. 5, as is tradition. The king turns 84 this year, an important milestone in Thai culture, because it represents the completion of his seventh 12-year cycle.
On Wednesday, Mr. Sondhi seemed to threaten more civil disobedience, saying, “We will certainly not remain passive.”
So, no mention of the 2006 coup which illegally removed Prime Minister Thaksin, the democratically elected leader? With a stroke of a keyboard Fuller and the NYT have removed from their account the single most damaging event against Thai democracy since 1992 (the Asian Human Rights’ Commission’s damning report on the 2006 coup can be found here). This is a very serious omission and does nothing to present the facts in a proper fashion. Of course we could also ask why Fuller fails to mention that not one single person connected to that illegal coup has ever been prosecuted or even investigated.
And what about those “yellow shirts”? Once again there is a massive omission of important context that could be construed as being misleading. Why is there no mention that Sondhi Lim is the leader of a violent extreme right wing movement, the PAD, that was dubbed neo-fascist by the Asian Human Rights Commission and whose political platform is decidedly anti-democratic? Why no mention of the PAD’s violent storming of Bangkok’s airports in 2008? Or that senior members of Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party were supporters of the PAD? If Fuller and the Western press in Thailand are going to attack Thaksin they should at least do so by presenting an accurate reflection of the context, not by omitting the bits of the story that harm their narrative.
Fuller also states that
The government already faces major discontent over the handling of the country’s worst flooding in decades. The authorities tried to protect the economy and the capital, Bangkok, channeling waters away from industrial sites and parts of the city but often increasing the damage to the rural areas that form Mr. Thaksin’s main support base.
Major discontent? There certainly seems to be some anger but major discontent seems to be very wide of the mark. The polls reveal something more akin to people being disgruntled rather than “major discontent” and there is a huge question mark whether such disgruntlement would translate into the government being defeated if an election was called tomorrow.
Bangkok Pundit get its spot on by pointing out
The Yingluck government rates higher with 4.78 than the [previous] Abhisit government did in December 2010 which received 4.61 (and higher than any Abhisit government did throughout its term).
And while any anger towards the government’s mishandling of the floods shouldn’t be ignored, Fuller has omitted some quite credible analysis that suggests that the flood has presented an opportunity for anti-democratic forces to mobilise and undermine PM Yingluck’s democratically elected government.
Noted Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun in the Wall Street Journal wrote that
The problem is that many officials are not obeying that law or Ms. Yingluck. The military, like the Bangkok governor, is functioning independently from the government. At the same time, former Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, also a privy councillor to the king, has come out to play a significant role in the flood relief.
The government’s rivals are playing politics with the crisis and preventing a coordinated response. Ms. Yingluck’s supporters interpret such competition and efforts to destroy confidence in the government as part of a “water coup.”
Once again I would suggest Fuller’s omission of proper context is misleading.
In my view there is simply no excuse for Fuller’s inexplicable omissions of important facts and context. He lives in Thailand and writes for one of the largest and best-resourced English language newspapers on earth. He is not blogging his opinions on a regional website but is writing for a newspaper that is considered by many as a source of record in the English speaking world. Both him and the New York Times have to do better than this.