Thailand’s Redshirt protests in 2010 will be in focus this week as the Progressive Movement launch their documentary ‘The Look of Silence’ from Indonesia. Academics have their say on what 2010 means. Opinions are mixed but Dr Somjai Phagaphasvivat of Thammasat University feels that the kingdom is stuck in a vicious cycle which will inevitably mean further coups.

The former Chairman of a government commission that spent two years preparing a nearly 400-page report on the causes of the May 2010 Redshirt protests, violence and possible solutions, has this week admitted that it appears that ‘we haven’t learned a thing.’ It follows last weekend’s laser light show by the Progressive Movement in Bangkok and plans to launch a new documentary from Indonesia on Tuesday. A Thammasat University political science expert went further and predicted that Thailand was stuck in a ‘vicious cycle’ which will lead to further military coups unless the general public was educated on a wider definition of democracy than just winning elections.

thailand-vicious-cycle-further-military-coups-says-academic-somjai- phagaphasvivat
The Chairman of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission Kanit Nanakorn (left) this week expressed his frustration as the spectre of the 2010 Bangkok protests was raised this week on the 10th anniversary and Thailand’s Progressive Movement launched a new documentary following a controversial, politically inspired laser show in Bangkok last weekend. ‘We haven’t learned a thing,’ he said as Thammasat University’s Dr Somjai Phagaphasvivat (right) warns that Thailand is trapped in a vicious circle of coups, quasi-democracy and majority dictatorships which will not end until people are educated and realise there is more to democracy than just winning an election.

On Tuesday, following their laser display across Bangkok last weekend, the Progressive Movement led by former Future Forward leader Thanathorn, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Pannika Wanich are due to unveil a new film documentary on the April and May 2010 Redshirt protests in Bangkok entitled ‘The Look of Silence’ which searches for the explanation behind those dramatic events and subsequent bloody crackdown.

Political scientists have speculated that the campaign, now being mounted by this movement, is, on one hand, to galvanise awareness and bolster support for the Move Forward Party in parliament which is the successor to the Future Forward Party disbanded by the constitutional court at the end of February for accepting illicit financial support.

The second reason is to spark new protests and a move against the current Palang Pracharat Party government led by Prayut Chan ocha. This is according to Professor Chaiyan Chaiyaporn of Chulalongkorn University.

Former Commission Chairman strikes weary and beleaguered tone about the future for Thai politics

This week, Kanit Nanakorn, who was the former Chairman of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission which was set up in 2010 by then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to investigate the events surrounded the 2010 protest and its roots, struck a weary and beleaguered tone as he commented on what these latest developments and the events of 2010.

Report published by Commission in September 2012

His commission produced a report, 2 years afterwards, in September 2012 while the Pheu Thai government of Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was in power following a landslide general election win for Pheu Thai in 2011 with over 48% of the national vote. 

The commission was tasked with probing the root causes of the 2010 disturbance and to make recommendations on how to prevent a recurrence.

It did not have the power to subpoena witnesses and as its Chairman Kanit Nanakorn highlighted, its remit was not to assign blame or identify wrongdoers.

Nonetheless, it did an exceptional job.

Final report was 392 pages long with exhaustive detail and wide-ranging preventative recommendations

The final report produced was 392 pages long in its English version and criticised both sides of the political divide. 

The report attempted to explain what exactly happened having analysed the events of April and May in exhaustive detail, and just what went wrong during those heady months.

It looked at the background and spoke of Thailand having entered a new globalist era where ‘the government proceeded with policies aimed at leading the country into an era of full capitalism which gave rise to groups of ‘new capitalists’ and ‘old capitalists’.

It criticised the media but also questioned the use of Thailand’s draconian Lèse-majesté laws under Article 112 of the criminal code.

It called for the Thai police to be trained in crowd control and for international standards of human rights to be observed at all levels.

In addition, it suggested that there should be reparations for those who suffered loss during the protests on all sides.

The report called for better education of democracy so that the voting public could understand the laws while finally calling for the military to commit to keeping out of Thai politics.

95-page summary sent to the junta government 

This week, Mr Kanit observed that he had written a 95-page report clarifying the final report of 2012 to the military government after the 2014 coup when he declined to participate in a reconciliation initiative on the grounds that he believed that his report laid out the basis for this already. 

He suggested this week that he doubted that anyone had read the report or the thousands of copies sent to libraries throughout Thailand.

‘Those who search for truth should read it. It seems we haven’t learned a thing,’ he concluded.

Top Thai political science professor sees further political struggles and coups – ‘A coup is here to stay’

His doubts are amplified by Dr Somjai Phagaphasvivat of Thammasat University. 

The political scientist predicted this week that Thailand will see further coups.

He said that, unfortunately, the country was stuck in a vicious circle.

‘We’ve gone through this several times. The vicious cycle will go on. A coup is here to stay. That is because a majority dictatorship will always claim they are elected,’ said the academic.

Currently, a loose alliance between the Progressive and Redshirt movements against current government

He suggested that, at present, there is a loose alignment between the Progressive and Redshirt movements but he felt that the Progressive movement has more momentum for the future. 

His view was that little has changed and that Thai politics and society is still divided and polarised.

In parliament, the Redshirts are represented by the Pheu Thai Party while the Progressive movement is represented by the regenerated Move Forward Party led by the energetic Bangkok MP, Pita Limjaroenrat.

Redshirts must understand that democracy is more than just winning elections at the ballot box

He suggested that the Redshirt side of the political divide needs to understand that democracy is more than just winning elections.

‘In politics, facts don’t matter as much as what people believe. The people see a dictatorial government. They don’t understand that democracy also includes legitimacy to run the country. They don’t care about the process and for them, an election is as good as democracy,’ he said.

Mr Somchai said that Thailand has yet to see the Progressive movement move out on its own, beyond its alliance with the Redshirts, in opposition to the government led by Prayut Chan ocha. 

Similar debate about elections and democracy now raging in the western world with the rise in populism

Curiously, this debate about elections and democracy in Thailand has also now turned up in western countries where populist movements, ironically, see progressive politics as the new elite. 

This directly contrasts with Thailand where the elite is seen as the country’s traditional rulers and commercial ascendancy.

In fact, in western countries, academia itself has become the target of the populists who see the ballot box or elections as the ultimate arbiter of a country’s political fate subject to rule of law but one that is minimal and does not, in any way, restrict free speech according to US constitutional principles.

Indeed, this has been the practice in the West since democracy was born and took hold in the 18th and 19th centuries subject to the rule of law which had been strictly limited in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

The political conflicts in the West now stem from academic or progressive principles which have been incorporated into an increasing level of legislation since the late 1960s.

Rise of the Labour party and transformation of British society achieved through the ballot box and elections but guided by an unwritten constitution

A classic example of this would be the rise of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom from the 1920s to the 1960s which had radical implications for the UK’s aristocratic class.

 In that period in the UK, the votes at the ballot box guided by the UK’s unwritten constitution, based on precedent and tradition, transformed British society and elevated the working class.

Thailand, however, does not have similar precedents or such a constitution.

It also, by way of an explanation, does not have the same culture or history which are important factors that must be respected.

The Thai government and conservatives have often raised this point with international bodies such as the UN and it is undoubtedly a valid one.

Chulalongkorn University expert sees signs of hope

Professor Chaiyan Chaiyapor of the political science department of Chulalongkorn University sees the actions this week by the progressive movement in a more hopeful light. 

He has called on the Move Forward Party in parliament to raise a debate on the issue of the April and May 2010 protests.

‘The TRC’s (Truth for Reconciliation Commission) report is available and can be used as a base to seek further information for the unanswered questions,’ he explained.

‘If doubts about this event are cleared, no one will dare do something reckless like this again, no matter if it’s the conflict parties or a third party who wants to instigate the situation,’ he told the Bangkok Post, optimistically, this week.

Further reading:

Political conflict beamed back into public focus as the kingdom struggles to find its economic legs during crisis

Police considering action against former Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich over startling claims

Future Forward Party dissolved – leadership banned from politics by Constitutional Court order

‘New normal’ life and economy could be here for 9 months warns Thai Prime Minister on Tuesday at briefing

Emergency decree extended by Thai government but politics behind the scenes abuzz with PPP party heave

Thai health boss strongly warns against public protests or political gatherings at this critical time

Constitutional court sets the real D-Day for the Future Forward Party as Friday, February 21st on loans case

Court ruling on Thanathorn shares opens other MPs to scrutiny and possible electoral law legal action