Thursday, January 9, 2014

Op-Ed: Appeasement is Never the Answer to Festering Despotism

Thailand has those who support the regime, others who boldly oppose it, and there is another group - those who believe appeasement, idealism, and denial will solve everything. History disagrees.  

January 9, 2014 (ATN) - Bangkok Post's column writer Voranai Vanijaka is sharp. He is well informed and a skillful writer. He has demonstrated an astute awareness of the criminality of Thaksin Shianwatra and the danger he poses to Thailand as a democracy and as a free, functioning society. However, like all of us, Voranai is also human. For him, like many people throughout history when faced with festering despotism, he occasionally defers to denial, idealism, and appeasement, rather than courage. 

Image: Lest we forget where unchecked despotism leads. The appeasement, idealism, and denial of the German and Cambodian people allowed overt despotism to fester for years until it reached its only and inevitable conclusion - national tragedy. Many Thais have decided not to add their nation to the list of those that litter history's graveyard. Others have failed to learn the lessons of history and by doing so, invite disaster. 

This does not make Voranai bad - and in fact his approach might help the more zealous among Thais temper their views when they swing too far in the opposite direction. However, Voranai has ignored the lessons of history, and should others join him, will seal the fate of Thailand like so many other nations who have fallen after preventable national tragedies led by unchecked despotism.  

His latest column titled, "Suthep should be shut down, not Bangkok," argues: 

Rally and protest as you will, it is your democratic right, as well as a sound strategy in employing a democratic tool to check Thaksin's power. The success against the amnesty bill is a fine example of democracy in action. 
But if your aim is to shut down the capital, taking everyone hostage and making us collateral damage in your fight for power, then you need to be shut down. Just like the red-shirts and Thaksin needed to be shut down three years ago. 
Reform before an election? Reform is not done overnight. It takes years, three to five to be optimistic, to see any kind of results. Who's going to run the country, however poorly, in the meantime?  
Suthep proposes setting up a people's council and to have a royally bestowed prime minister run the country, however poorly. But it is Pheu Thai that won the general election and the King has already endorsed a prime minister, her name is Yingluck.
So who is Suthep to change what the people have voted for and what the King has endorsed?
Voranai doesn't make excuses for Thaksin Shinawatra and his hereditary regime - he admits they are power hungry and bent on changing the system for their own benefit. However he, like many others in the "other" category - neither for nor boldly against the current regime - insists that the alternative is just as bad.

Voranai finally fumbles where most others do as well: 

Want to remove her? There are legal and democratic procedures. 
What Voranai and Many Others are Missing
However, the entrenched power of Thaksin Shinawatra and his regime, along with the impunity granted to him both because of his immense wealth and his influential Western backers, make it all but impossible to remove him (or his nepotist-appointed proxy sister) through at least "democratic procedures" (i.e. voting). Legal procedures are in motion - several critical blows have already been dealt to Thaksin's regime by the courts - but each ruling has been declared "void" and part of a "judicial coup" by Thaksin and his followers. Does Voranai and others believe a "government" that refuses to respect the authority of the courts can be removed through legal or democratic procedures? 

Thaksin Shinawatra's regime is also not, "just as bad," as the opposition. It has crossed many lines the opposition hasn't dared to and has made unprecedented inroads into corruption, despotism, and human rights abuses that have made it intolerable, even by Thai standards: 

  • Thaksin was Thailand's prime minister from 2001-2006. Has since dominated the various reincarnations of his political party - and still to this day runs the country by proxy, via his nepotist appointed sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. 
  • In 2004, he oversaw the killing of 85 protesters in a single day during his mishandled, heavy-handed policy in the country's troubled deep south. The atrocity is now referred to as the "Tak Bai incident." 
  • Throughout his administration he was notorious for intimidating the press, and crushing dissent. According to  Amnesty International, 18 human rights defenders were either assassinated or disappeared during his first term in office. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) claimed in its report, "Attacks on the Press 2004: Thailand" that the regime was guilty of financial interference, legal intimidation, and coercion of the press. 
  • During the recent political unrest, Thaksin Shinwatra has deployed his Hitleresque "red shirt" enforcers to attack and intimidate the growing number of dissenters against his regime. In Chiang Mai and Udon Thani in particular there have been men armed with clubs and spears that have threatened and/or attacked peaceful protesters.
  • Thailand's Constitutional Court overturned Thaksin Shinawatra regime's amendment to article 190 which would have undermined the elected parliament's ability to scrutinize foreign treaties. The amendment would have shifted power to the prime minister's office allowing them to unilaterally sign deals with foreign nations. This is just the latest in a long series of attempts by Thaksin and his regime to dismantle checks and balances and further shift the country toward despotism under his hereditary dictatorship.
Far from trivial "corruption" or a mere "nuisance," Thaksin Shinawatra is an unprecedented human rights offender and has demonstrably proven his contempt for the rule of law, democracy, and Thai sovereignty. He is currently, by admission of his own party, the defacto leader of Thailand. Being unelected, therefore makes him a dictator, and his "government" a regime however cleverly they try to dress it up otherwise

The New York Times admitted in an early 2013 article titled, "In Thailand, Power Comes With Help From Skype," that: 
For the past year and a half, by the party’s own admission, the most important political decisions in this country of 65 million people have been made from abroad, by a former prime minister who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape corruption charges. 
The country’s most famous fugitive,Thaksin Shinawatra, circles the globe in his private jet, chatting with ministers over his dozen cellphones, texting over various social media platforms and reading government documents e-mailed to him from civil servants, party officials say.
The NYT piece would also report:  
“He’s the one who formulates the Pheu Thai policies,” said Noppadon Pattama, a senior official in Mr. Thaksin’s party who also serves as his personal lawyer. “Almost all the policies put forward during the last election came from him.” 
There is no question that an accused mass murderer and convicted criminal hiding abroad from a 2 year jail sentence, multiple arrest warrants, and a long list of pending court cases, is illegally running Thailand by proxy.

For Voranai to suggest we simply "vote" regarding an overt and very dangerous dictator, in Voranai's case is not dishonesty. It is simply the symptom exhibited by good people who want to live and let live when trouble approaches and extraordinary measures are required to meet it. During the rise of Adolf Hitler, there were appeasers, people in denial, and others who believed "the system" could be used to prevent what everyone knew was inevitable - even as Hitler himself was openly and incrementally dismantling that system.

Images: The establishment of politically exclusive zones called "red villages" and "red districts" where Thaksin is literally declaring political monopolies and intimidating opposition from expressing themselves. While the UDD denies this is their intent - there have been (and continue to be) horrific incidents of violence throughout UDD's northeast epicenter of support. 

"Red shirts," "red villages," "red districts," "red political schools" - all are torn straight from the pages of Pol Pot's Cambodia or Mao Zedong's China - we know what road we're on, we know where it leads, and we know what won't work to stop it (sham elections), and what will (legal means, independent courts, police, civil disobedience, and if all else fails, the Thai military).

The German army waited until 1944 to carry out "Operation Valkyrie," long after Adolf Hitler established an absolute dictatorship in Berlin and after years of incrementally eroding the democratic institutions of Germany. It was not suprisingly a failure. Not only because of this failure, but because Germans waited too long to stop what they knew from the very beginning was festering among them, Germany suffered the ultimate price.

Should people like Voranai have their way, Thailand too would wait until it was far too late to ever stop what we already see taking shape today. The time to stop it is now - not with sham elections featuring a dictator who is neither on the ballot nor even in the country - but as protesters are doing now in the streets and judges are doing in the courtroom, and as soldiers may have to begin planning to do in the barracks.

Voranai is only human and the Thaksin regime is frightening. If courage was so commonplace, it would not be so highly valued. While he may lack what is necessary to take a firmer stand against what is unfolding in Thailand, others do not. If he cannot join them, he should at least try not to undermine them. Of course - it is his choice to say what he pleases, but he, and others like him, should scrutinize the genesis of inescapable despotism closer. He should try to realize this is more than a battle between corrupt politicians, it is a battle between a nation for all of its strengths and flaws against a foreign-backed dictator who has, every step of the way, exhibited he will push as far as others will let him go - be it consolidating power, selling off the country, pilfering the people, or even mass murder.

Appeasement, idealism, and denial have never worked when faced with very real despotism. History is littered with broken nations who thought otherwise. Millions of Thais have decided their nation will not join them, and they will fight on Monday, January 13, 2014 - with or without Voranai.