( Last edit 2009-05-07 )
Excerpts From the Interview With Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand
By THOMAS FULLER and SETH MYDANS Published in New York Times : May 5, 2009
On anxiety surrounding the succession of King Bhumibol Adulyadej:
Of course there’s concern because the king has, throughout six decades of being the king, provided wisdom, has provided guidance, according to the Constitution, and has inspired and gained the utmost respect of people, and people are attached to that, and that’s only natural for any country. People feel this strong sense of attachment, and there will always be anxiety, and that’s always a problem with succession, after such an inspirational leader.
On Thailand’s strict lese majeste law:
The law has been too liberally interpreted, and there has been no good standard for operations, and we’re trying to get that right.
On the timing of the next general elections:
There continues to be threats of violence; we still see certain groups of people not allowing their political opponents to campaign freely, and always threats of clashes between supporters. We need to cool things down. We don’t want elections to be violent; we don’t want elections to be bloody. We want to cool things down before elections are held, that will be good for democracy.
On former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in the September 2006 coup and now wanted by the Thai authorities after being convicted last year of abuse of power in a case involving the purchase of property in Bangkok:
As far as the government is concerned, we have to treat him as we would any other Thai; as any other criminal. So, you know, if you’ve committed a crime, you have to be punished. And so he has to come back and serve his sentence. During the Thaksin years, the error was to think that a political or democratic majority would allow you to break the law, and the mistake after the coup was that you could use the law to fix what are political problems.
On security preparations for an East Asian summit meeting that the Thai government hopes to host in June as a replacement for an April meeting in Pattaya that was canceled when protesters raided the venue:
We’ll have to work very hard to make sure that we learned the lesson of Pattaya, and that we can communicate this to the leaders so they can have the confidence. The military will be given more power to work with the police. That’s the basic change. A number of outside observers, when they saw what happened in either Pattaya or in the Interior Ministry, said they are puzzled by what they call undue restraint, and I think that links up to this basic problem concerning the police.
On stepped up security for the prime minister after the April riots:
I’ve been told to be more careful. I’ve got many more security people around me wherever I go now, and in the functions that I attend now I think there are clearly stricter security measures in terms of checking for weapons and so on.
On the attempted assassination of Sondhi Limthongkul, an activist and media mogul who accuses rogue military officers of plotting to kill him:
Well, there may be people in the armed forces or the police, but maybe a very small minority who are involved in these things.
On the “blue shirts,” a pro-government group that clashed with antigovernment protesters known for their colors as the “red shirts” during the Pattaya summit meeting.
The blue shirts were there for a couple of reasons. First is that I think they saw that the police could not handle the red shirts, and that a number of people, including local people, didn’t want that to happen, so they were actually positioned behind the police line to make sure that the police just don’t allow people to go through. We were trying to say, look, everybody has to be very careful, we don’t want this to generate into violence and bloodshed, and so that’s why the blue shirts were like an organized group to back up the police, but we clearly said that any group involved must not use violence, and anybody who violates that will be prosecuted, so there will be cases brought against both blue and red shirts.
On a proposed amnesty for banned politicians:
It’s political amnesty, on the table, yes, but not for criminal acts.
It’s on the table, again, it remains controversial, and that’s why I say it’s important that the next few months should see a transparent process of either public hearings, or even maybe going towards a referendum on certain issues.
It’s a demand that is being made, and there are some justifications for saying that why should certain politicians who are not involved in violations of the law also be held responsible in very tough punishments. It’s debatable, because on the other side you can see that people also demand collective responsibility of some kind from the executive committee of political parties, and because the problem with the political system here has been, you know — the system has been plagued with money politics and vote buying — people want to see tough punishments, so again, it’s a question of getting the balance right.
There are a number of people in the 111 politicians, who I think are happy to serve the term out, as it were, because they’ve got, what, two, three years, and they’re back.