Two Prime Ministers of Thailand On The Same Crisis
( Last edit 2010-06-10 )
One Hour Special Interview with Former PM Anand Panyarachun
on TAN Network, with Sarocha Porn-u-domsak
Sarocha interviewd the Former PM of Thailand between 1991 and 1992 and 1992, for TAN Network satellite television program "Headliners", titled "How Thailand Moves Forward" on June 9, 2010.
In May 1992 incidence Anand was the civilian PM who successfully brought the country forward after the crisis for Thailand to embark upon a major political reform and the resultant 1997 Constitution, the first-ever one which passed a national referendum.
The former PM Anand said that we could easily understand the past crises. We knew very well who were the actors in the plays. There always were two sides. In October 14, 1973 the scholars rose up to protest a military government. They called for a newer constitution which would guarantee citizen's basic rights and freedom. Similarly, in October 1976 and May 1992, obviously there were two sides. One side wanted democratic constitutions and elected governments.
At present, there are complex issues and several actors. We may tell who are the head of the gangs but the actual actors are numerous. Moreover, they do not really stand for ideologies for people. They do not possess clear ideologies. Although, some of them said they would struggle to reach a civil war as in France, Russia and China.
How The Former PM Anand Panyarachun Sees Sustainable Democracry
How The Former PM Anand Panyarachun Sees Thai Monarchy
First part of the interview with Former PM Anand Panyarachun
Second part of the interview with Former PM Anand Panyarachun
Remarks by H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand at the briefing with Diplomatic Corps, Saturday, 29 May 2010 at 13.00 hrs Santi Maitree Building, Government House
Excellencies, Ambassadors, and members of the diplomatic community, Presidents of foreign chambers of commerce, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, allow me to thank all of you for attending this session. I believe that you were given quite a short notice. But your presence here, I think, is very important as the country moves back to normalcy and we’re in the process of rehabilitation and reconciliation---to which, I think, you can make very vital contributions. And therefore, this is an opportunity for us to meet and exchange ideas.
Let me also take this opportunity to thank all of you because over the past couple of months there had been many concerns voiced and statements made concerning the political situation, and in particular the situation concerning the protests. Your commitment to non-interference, in what is a domestic affair in our country, is very much appreciated. At the same time your support for a democratic and peaceful resolution to the problems, as well as calls for a dialogue are also very much appreciated by the government and also by me personally. And I can reassure you that during these very difficult months, those were the approaches that we’ve tried our best to follow, through the very difficult situation amongst the very strong conflicts and divisions that occurred. And of course, as we look forward in terms of the reconciliation process, your views will be very valuable to our thinking also in trying to achieve peace and stability and prosperity in the country. But let me just take a little bit of your time before I open up the floor to make some initial comments. First of all, on what have been happening although I know that many of you would have followed the situation closely. What we are doing right now to stabilize the situation, and our short-term measures to help and assist those who have been affected by the protests. And then finally, of course, the longer-term plans in terms of reconciliation and reconstruction.
Let me go back to when I first took office, I recalled when I met many of you that the government wanted to achieve a period of stability and national reconciliation. And that our approach would be one that we would try our best to avoid confrontation, refrain from using violence, and allow all sides to speak.
Even today, just as we had hoped when we assumed office, we still hope for democracy to move forward, for reconciliation to be achieved though justice and for the principle of moderation to be maintained. And through thick and thin, this is what the government had tried to do over the last one and a half years. Many would have been aware that the differences, political or otherwise, the divisions that have occurred, had roots that existed long before the government assumed office. But over the last year and a half, despite situations which are very very sensitive and hard to handle, the government has always maintained that we wanted to solve everything through democratic means. Many people would offer solutions, for instance, on the issue of constitutional amendments, the government had agreed to holding a referendum on some of the key points that had been agreed upon by a parliamentary commission. But times and again we were disappointed that the opposition parties were the ones that called off any possible agreement.
Likewise when the protest began in mid-March as peaceful protests, we tried our best to avoid confrontation and again if you can recall by the end of March, I personally sat down with the leaders of the protest to try to negotiate a possible resolution. We did that over 5 hours, I think, over 2 days---televised for a national audience for everybody to see. And on both occasions, again, it was the leaders of the protests who decided to call off those negotiations. And the after April the 10th, it also became clear that while the protests began as peaceful demonstrations, we had a group of people who were armed, who were prepared to use violence against security officers and also against innocent people, which made it extremely difficult for us to deal with the situation.
In the end, we were faced with the violent provocation by a few people of the most radical protesters, possibly acting on behalf of the interest of one man. And we had few options. Doing nothing was certainly not an option, as far as the government was concerned. After weeks again of patient negotiation which only yielded changing and escalating demands on the side of the protesters, and especially after an offer for an early election, one year early, and a Five-Point Reconciliation plan presented by myself was superficially accepted by the leaders of the protests, but effectively ignored in the end because they decided not to call off the rallies. It became clear that we could not allow Thailand’s political system and economy, and you could all argue that even the vast majority of the protesters themselves, to be held hostage by extremists with no genuine desire to compromise.
We have to take steps to restore law and order, as the prolonged occupation of the Ratchaprasong area had increasingly disrupted the people’s normal life with worsening impact, of course, on the economy. We intended to achieve this by putting an end to the protest with as little loss as possible. The government regrets the losses that have occurred, and we were dismayed by the readiness of some individuals and groups to use lethal weapons to harm fellow Thais – be they demonstrators, bystanders or security officers – only to worsen the situation and instigate further violence. And from the evidence in terms of video footages taken by local and international media, I think it is now clear that there were armed elements infiltrating among the demonstrators, who were prepared to use these weapons indiscriminately that led to losses of lives and injuries on both sides. You would have seen photographs and video footages that show tear gas launchers, M67 hand grenades, M79 grenade launchers, AK47 machine guns as well as improvised weapons that were used during that the last month or so.
And when I say armed elements, I know that some of you are still not comfortable with the term “terrorist” that we have used over this last month. Let me just mention that this definition of terrorist is according to our Criminal Code which is in line with the UN charter, UN convention, and UN resolutions and that this definition was put in after the 9/11 event occurred in 2001.
During the peak of the events where most losses were suffered, what the government was doing was that our security officers worked to set up checkpoints. That is because after we decided to restore law and order, we knew that if we had military officers move in to disperse the rallies, there would be many many more losses. So, our strategy was to seal the area off. And therefore, these checkpoints were set up. In setting up these checkpoints, our instructions to the officers were clear that live bullets would only be used as a warning, in self defense, or only when the attackers or targets have lethal weapons and were in clear site.
I would emphasize, once again, that setting up these checkpoints and defending these checkpoints were intended to minimize losses in our attempt to pressure to end the protests. These were set up roughly on the morning of May the 14th and after about 3 or 4 days, it became clear that the strategy was paying off in terms of reducing the number of demonstrators from numbers of around over 10,000, the numbers in Ratchaprasong intersection was reduced to roughly around 3-4 thousand. But armed groups continued to attack these checkpoints and also innocent people along the way. Some groups were specially targeted such as journalists and volunteer workers.
And so, this in mind, we decided to undertake to tighten the perimeters and to cordon off the protest areas further. That’s what took place on May the 19th, by moving to areas around Lumpini Park and the Sarasin Intersection, again without the intention of going into Ratchaprasong intersection as such. We needed to that because it was also clear that from mid-May or early-May onwards, weapons were being store in that area and also that a number of grenades that were launched, particularly the M79 grenades were launched from around Lumpini area. Once we had successfully reclaimed that area, the leaders of the demonstrations decided to call off the rally.
After they dispersed, we halted the cordoning operation to allow demonstrators to go home. But unfortunately, the armed extremists continued to go on an attack.
As you know they set building on fire in numerous locations, not just in the protest area, but other areas in Bangkok. I think as more and more evidence surfaced, you can see that those violent actions were premeditated and coordinated in advance. There weren’t merely outbursts of emotion. And of course in the evening, tragically a number of people, innocent people, at Pathumwanaram Temple were shot. I would point out that there will have to be a full investigation into the Temple incident. But only to point out at this stage, that the military operation as I have said, had already ceased because the demonstration was called off at around 1-2 o’clock in the afternoon and the shooting incident took place at around 7 o’clock in the evening. That is just the quick summary of what we’ve tried to do, especially after the reconciliation plan was rejected by the protesters and leaders of the UDD.
And I would just make one further point concerning what had happened that there are reports that on the night of the 18th of May, there were attempts of mediation by the Senate which was rejected by the government. I would just like to recall that I was contacted by the President of the Senate in the afternoon of May the 18th. And, the only concrete proposal that I had from this group of Senators was that there would be what they called a ceasefire after 6 o’clock in the evening.
But on the night of 18th, there continued to be grenades launched at military checkpoints, so I told the President of the Senate that this was clearly not working. And that other proposals that I received through NGOs and groups who acted as mediators were impractical suggestions, such as saying that we should try to get the troops to retreat from their checkpoints and ask all the people who were causing trouble in the Klong Toei area, Din Daeng area to join the demonstrations at Ratchaprasong which would clearly be counterproductive to what we were trying to do, which is to end the protest by putting pressure on minimum of losses.
As far as the current situation is concerned, today we still have the State of Emergency still in place, although last night was the last as far as curfew was concerned. We are not going to extend curfew as of tonight. Ratchaprasong and the city of Bangkok are returning to normalcy. You will have seen the Big Cleanup Day where volunteers, Thai and foreign, helped officials of the BMA to clean up streets in the aftermath.
Let me express my thanks and appreciation to any of you and people who have joined in that activity. Again, I think, it pretty much reflects how Thais are resilient and willing to come together to try to move our country forward. And I can say that on that day when we returned the Ratchaprasong intersection into the BMA, it can be said that we have reclaimed Bangkok back for the people.
As I said before, there will be independent investigations on the events that took place over these last 2 months. Due process of law in terms of criminal prosecution and court cases will proceed without any interference. And of course, we will need all the help we can, in terms of the gathering facts and evidence. We would do it in an open and transparent manner as possible as far as information on all the events is concerned.
As far as helping compensate victims and those affected by the protests, earlier this week, the Cabinet has already approved emergency measures to compensate victims over the last couple of months, authorize aid to individuals, provide grants, low-cost loans to businesses, and funds to help pay for employee wages and leases, among other initiatives. Assistance will be for employees working in both small and large businesses. There have also been arrangements and continue consultation among those affected by the events, and a special committee that has been set up by the Cabinet headed by the Secretary General Kobsak Sapavasu. We have moved swiftly putting as our priority those who have been laid off, those who have lost their shops and locations to do their businesses. A numbers of initiatives have also been taken. Yesterday and today, we closed off the intersection of the Silom road so that people who have lost their shops have an opportunity to do their business with the help, of course, of Bangkok and various people who are shopping there right now.
But much more important than this short-term relief measure is the process of reconciliation and reconstruction itself. We need to rebuild the social and economic compact between people and the government. We recognize that psychological rehabilitation must be done nation-wide, and we intend to do this with as much participation as possible. We will be convening assemblies, asking people about their needs and wishes. All sectors of society and all networks of people at all levels, we are inviting to join in, whether at the village level, whether local authorities, NGOs, volunteers, civil society, and of course all machinery of the government as well. The entire nation will have to go through this painful learning process together, and we recognize that its success will very much depend on the degree of participation, which we are encouraging from all sides.
But in any case, when I look around the country today, whether on the streets or even in Parliament---where, of course, a censure debate against the government will take place on Monday and Tuesday--- I still see so many potential partners who are ready to embrace a common future for the country. So no matter what their political views may be, I’m still confident that the vast majority of our people are peaceful and moderate, and they were stunned and dismayed by the recent violence. We recognize the grievances of our rural poor—there are legitimate grievances. They need a stronger and independent voice. This is clear that the most important mission of this government, which is to resolve the fundamental problems, social justice in a systematic way with participation by all sectors of this society. The Five-Point Reconciliation plan that I’ve proposed would be that basis of this exercise.
Finally, I wish to emphasize that the Royal Thai Government has always attached the utmost importance to the safety and well-being of foreign nationals and members of the diplomatic corps in Thailand. We will continue to do our utmost to provide security and stand ready to extend any necessary assistance which may be needed. I invite and urge you again to take part in this process of rebuilding confidence in Thailand and in bringing back the strength to this country, one that you know very well has great potential and opportunity. Our people, kind and compassionate, and full of “Nam Jai” remain your true friends as you are ours. With your support, I believe that your valuable contributions will help us achieve the common objectives of peace and prosperity. That is what I would like to say at first. My Ministers and I will be happy to hear your views and will answer any questions that you may have. Thank you and once again Sawasdee krub.
Q1: Dr Hanns H. Schumacher, Ambassador of Germany: Thank you very much Prime Minister. First of all I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the step you have taken today. This is very much appreciated and very much respected. I do believe that not many of your colleagues within the ASEAN community would have had the courage to face such an open such a transparent manner, the international community. Thank you very much.
Two questions; one for clarification, you only briefly mentioned about curfew and having said that this would not be extended. Does this mean that curfew and the emergency decree for Bangkok and the northern provinces will be lifted with immediate effect? The second question is a very direct one, you referred to your Five Point Plan and mentioned the psychological rehabilitation to find out what people do really want. When one goes to the north and the northeastern provinces, many of the farmers there often mention that they do feel betrayed that their democratic vote doesn't count any more; they just want to have new elections. Is the fifth point of the Five Point valid? Would you still consider calling a snap election at a date before the end of the legislative period? Thank you.
PM: Just to clarify the first point, curfew would not be extended, that's nationwide, but the state of emergency that has been declared still stands. So, there will still be some limitations according to the orders that have been issued by the CRES, but the curfew is lifted as of tonight. The second point, about the elections and about your reflection of what people have voted for opposition party may feel. Let me once again reiterate that after the last elections, we had a hung parliament and as with any parliamentary system, the government was put together by a majority of parliamentarian support.
The UK had recently learned about this after not having a coalition government for quite some time. But as far as I know, even in the case of the UK, had the Liberal Democrats decided to join Labour or many other small parties to form a government, that would be seen as a legitimate government. Be that as it may, I'm very aware of the feelings of the supporters of the opposition party and let me reiterate that I have not ruled out early elections. I have only said that if early elections are held and they can contribute to achieving reconciliation, this government will call for it. But before we move to that, since last year, I stated that I wanted to see a strong economic recovery, all political parties agree on the rules, because it would not help to have fresh elections and then have more disputes about the rules, if parties engage in election fraud get disbanded, and so on.
And thirdly, that the environment must be right for the election to be held in a peaceful environment. Obviously, when I proposed the November 14th as a possible date, I was hoping that the protesters would agree. And if they did and called off the rallies, I was quite confident that if we all work together really hard, that date would be possible.
Clearly, given the way things had turned out, over the last couple of weeks, the date of November 14th would now look very unlikely. But it doesn't mean that I have ruled out the possibility of early elections. If we can sort out all the issues that I have mentioned, I think if we hopefully with your help, If our economy can pick up--it had a very good recovery going because the first quarter this year, it was expanding at an annual rate of 12%. But clearly people expect this month, maybe next couple of months to be especially bad given the impact of the events.
But if things pick up and we can achieve something like 4-5% growth this year, I'll be satisfied that we are in the strong footing in terms of economic recovery. I will be setting up a panel of academics to look at constitutional amendment issues and hope to get those resolved within the next two months. And obviously I'm waiting to see if we can achieve a period of stability where politicians of all parties can go about and do their work in a peaceful environment. If that's achieved then clearly the early election is possible.
Q2: Deputy Chief of Mission of Japanese Embassy: Like the German ambassador, I would like to thank Prime Minister and ministers for arranging a meeting like this. It will help us a great deal in understanding your thinking and policy in the future. I have two points; one relates to investigation, the violent clash indeed happened and resulted in a rather high level of casualties, including foreign photographers and journalists. We look forward to the result of an independent investigation and we would also like to expect this investigation to be conducted thoroughly and also expeditiously. I think this is important; it'll form an important base for you to attain the reconciliation of the country.
The second point relates to the assistance that you talked about, to people and business affected. We welcome and appreciate your thinking and your quick response in responding to the appeal coming from people and from business. We would like this assistance to be as generous and as extensive as possible. And it should be covering all elements of people: employers, employees, owners, and tenants. One last point regarding this assistance is related to the deadline of your government that’s been set. There is indeed one more business day before they are supposed to complete the form of application for loss.
I understand the businesses are still in the process, but in assessing the loss, you never know there might be unexpected losses found out later. Will it be possible that the Thai government be a little bit flexible about the deadline so that you can keep the door open for a little while longer? Thank you.
PM: First of all let me express our condolences for the loss of one of your nationals, a reporter, on the 10th of April, and to reassure you once again that there will be thorough investigations on that particular case and also on the events in general. As far as the assistance package is concerned, we are going to be as generous and extensive as possible. Already, the assistance package that we are providing goes beyond the normal criteria, which we normally use for this kind of assistance.
I believe that on the deadline that you talked about in terms of registering for the assistance, there will be flexibility. The reason we set this deadline is that we are trying to target small businesses in particular who have lost their shops in the fires. So, we can quickly set up and work on where we might relocate them for at least on a temporary basis. As you know we have a package approved already for all the shops in Siam Square, we are consulting with Central Group for those people in Central World shopping mall, and also the Center One shops, we are trying to find a location to provide for them temporarily so that they can continue their business. We need the numbers so that we can identify those people fast. That is what 31st of May deadline is intended to achieve. As for people who need assistance in general, we'll of course be flexible, the committee that I mentioned head by Khun Kobsak who will look into this matter. I should mention in this stage also that assistance would also be given also to foreign companies, not confined to just Thai companies.
Q3: Thank you very much Prime Minister for the briefing. I have two questions; on the 11th of April after clashes took place on Saturday the 10th , we were briefed that the committee was established to look into the causes of death that occurred that night. Is there any result you can share with us? The second question is: what is the timeframe that you would like to come up with the results of the independent investigations for this two month incident? Thank you very much.
PM: Just to clarify, after 10th April, the PM's office set up a committee to collect information and evidence concerning various events. But I was very mindful that this committee would not be seen as an independent committee as such. Their job was just to collect evidence and data as headed by the permanent secretary of PM's office. But now we are approaching people to comprise an independent commission to investigate the various events.
At the same time, I should also point out that the Human Rights Commission of Thailand, which is an independent organization, I believe has set up sub-committee, a special commission to look in to these events. The opposition has also committed and lodged their complaints to the National Counter-corruption Commission, also an independent organization on these matters. We will set up another one. I can't tell you the timeframe right now, but when that commission is set up, I will ask for their views. Of course, we want this as quickly as possible and at the same time we shouldn’t make time too much of a constraint. We have to strike the right balance and it’s best to hear people who conduct the investigation themselves.
Q4: Ambassador of Italy: We very much look forward to the results of the investigation, and you very well know that an Italian photo reporter was killed on the 19th of May. What you said about striking the right balance between a thorough and timely investigation is of paramount importance. Investigations of this kind tend to be longer than what one would want. You asked our cooperation on our contribution to moving the country forward. The best way to do this is to promote trade and investment and economic relations and to do that we need to be able to tell our governments so. I have listened with much attention to the process of the reconciliation that you plan to put in place.
But there is one point that can be of some worry which is investors and businessmen may look at stable countries and countries are stable not because of the color of its government, but because the next government, the people who get into the government, are accepted by the opposition and vice versa, which has not been the case in this country for some years now. So what are your plans and measures in regards to this and what are the signs you are getting from various sides that this might be the case in the future?
PM: To rebuild the confidence in the economy and the country, I'm very mindful that the situation not only has to be stabilized, but we have to have a clear idea about the future, particularly about political environment. And I know many of you who have been here in the recent years would have been very worried by the divisions that have occurred in the country.
I would just like to point out a few points that might help you see what we are trying to achieve and how far we've come also. First, I think if something like this had happened in the past, people would probably immediately think of a coup d'état around the corner. Clearly this time around, I think everybody is determined that the situation should and could be resolved through normal parliamentary and democratic process. I think that's very important, at the very least, despite instability of governments, you now have a clear process written down in the constitution as to how political changes might occur.
Secondly, tough and regrettable as it was, as far as losses are concerned, we do see the process of law enforcement taking shape. That's what the government had in mind that we have to make sure that we can uphold the rule of law. And third, as already mentioned by one of your colleagues already, despite the controversy, we are going to go through this in an open and transparent manner.
This is an important foundation as far as future changes are concerned in this country. If we can stick to this path, difficult though the situation may be, people can have a good idea of how political changes might take shape in the country. This is important for building confidence as far as the economic relations are concerned. My final point would be that, despite the differences and division, you rarely see differences as far as policy towards trade and investment is concerned. You don't hear any political parties not supporting the idea that the Thai economy should continue to be an open economy, and that the exports, tourism income, and foreign investments will continue to be a vital part of our growth.
Q5: Ambassador of Egypt: I have three questions; the first is I'd like to know where the hardcore UDD got their weapons from; second, concerning the terrorist charge against the former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, do you also believe that some of the UDD leaders should be charged as terrorists, and is Thailand willing to declare the UDD as a terrorist organization?
PM: As far as weapons are concerned, some of those were taken from security forces on 10 April and various clashes, but many were not. It does bring up the issue of how we should deal with illegal weapons also, which my government is considering in terms of tightening up laws on illegal weapons. A number of weapons, I suppose, can come from the borders, as I'm sure you recognize there continues to be fighting along the border of Thailand in neighboring countries.
There were also reports that a neighboring government was involved; we have no evidence of that and we think that is not the case at all. Around end of March I think you can still recall that we found out there were a number of factories producing these weapons and we successfully stopped their production.
As for a terrorism charge, it's a matter of individuals. The way the DSI looks at the case in the overall picture, people who were charged will be individuals. My personal belief is that not all UDD leaders will be charged, as each has different beliefs and behaviors as well during these events.
As for UDD as an organization, I believe that many people who have joined are not terrorists. And as I've mentioned before they have legitimate grievances or political beliefs, who were dissatisfied with the disparity that continued to exist. So, I don't think UDD as a terrorist organization.
As for my reconciliation plan, it has to reach out the vast majority of people who either joined the protest or are supporters of the opposition party. I have to work with them. But clearly those who've engaged in terrorism who've broken the law, they have to be prosecuted. But I believe they are few individuals who need to be dealt with by the law.
Q6: Eric G. John, US Ambassador: All of us, I think, want to be a very good partner with Thailand as we go forward helping Thailand's economic and democratic growth. One thing is that investors look for stability of rule of law, and what we've seen in the last couple of year the institutional flaw where the government have been forced to use emergency decree, to have military step in for security purposes, when I think ideally would be the police who would be able to do so without an emergency decree. It is of course something that can't be resolved in a short term but it is an institutional challenge that needs to be overcome in the long term. And I was just wondering what your thoughts were about how Thailand could go about overcoming that very difficult challenge.
PM: The Cabinet has already approved and is going to table a draft law on public demonstrations to parliament. I think that's something close to Public Order Act in the UK. I hope that with that legislation in place - how we can deal with mass demonstrations, without having to resort to a special powers and special laws - will be an issue that can be dealt with more effectively.
You can see that we've tried our best to use normal powers; apart from the emergency decree, we have the Internal Security Act, which we used before things became more violent. Certainly, this is our intention and also in the future, we can try to deal with situations with appropriate set of laws. As well, we need to equip our police force to deal with this kind of situation better.
If you recall when there were 2 mass demonstrations during the previous two governments. Police were given the more prominent role, I would say there they also had problems and didn't achieve much in terms of either clearing demonstration or actually avoiding violence. So this is something we need to work on; we need better law and also better-equipped police force.
Q7: Douglas Gibson, Ambassador of South Africa: Thank you very much for this opportunity. We are all friends of Thailand and want to see a democratic solution. Most of us from developing countries know very well about the need to close the huge economic gap. Tourism is a very large generator of income and economic growth and Thailand could easily cope with 20 million tourists. Many countries have issued travel advisories.
In any event, I'd like to suggest that as part of reconciliation, there should be specific focus on tourism, that every party in the Thai parliament has the same policy to maximize and promote tourism. Is it possible to have some sort of national conference and focus on tourism, and involve all the political parties, all color shirts, NGOs, to get the idea across that there is a huge potential is in terms of income and growth from tourism? Or have them pledge that, irrespective of any protest, they should not harm tourism in the country?
PM: The tourism sector not only brings income, but the nature and structure of the industry is able to spread the income very well. I take note of your suggestions, thank you.
Q8: Alberto Yoacham, Ambassador of Chile: One particular issue that is close to us and very dear to Chile is human rights. We faced sorrowful situation some years ago. The situation like the one that we have here---one of the first victims is human rights. My question is how the government working or planning to work with human rights organizations at this time?
PM: During the early stages of the protest, the Human Rights Commission of Thailand actually offered itself as a mediator; they went to see the protest leaders and they came to see me at CRES, and we had agreed that this will go ahead. Unfortunately, two days after that the former PM Thaksin, for some reason or for no reason, strongly criticized the Human Rights Commission for being partisan, which was quite a mystery to me why he believed that, to cut off that channel.
Not only is there a Human Rights Commission in Thailand, but a number of NGOs who work on human rights are quite willing to have dialogue with them. I do so regularly so that I can address their concerns. There are certainly a number of issues that we need to discuss, especially the issue of demonstrations, freedom of expression, of press freedom, and so on, and how we can deal with these situations. I'm always open to deal with human rights bodies---our own human rights commission as an independent organization and also NGOs. We are always open to criticisms and open to their concerns. I’m in regular touch with these groups.
Q9: Stephen Graham, British Chamber of Commerce: On the state of emergency, have you any idea what the timeframe is, when that will be lifted in the provinces, that are effecting tourism at the moment, which will then go to assist the embassies to lift their travel advisors?
PM: What we do is we have our provincial governors, the local police, and the military to give us to give us regular assessments of how the situation is in various provinces. I believe that it is possible to lift the state of emergency in some provinces before others, rather than lifting them all at the same time. It all depends on how those people on the ground assess the situation, just as our decision on the curfew, where they report back to us. Actually last night, they now felt confident that this could be lifted. So if they say they are ready to handle the situation without these special powers, then we'll lift the state of emergency in various provinces also.
Q10: Chairman of Joint Chambers of Commerce: Over the past couple of years, Thailand has been through a lot of upheavals. Nevertheless, looking at the economic data, Thailand has shown that it is very resilient and recovered very fast. But we can't verify that Thailand will recover every time very fast and a lot of businessmen are asking, when is the next breakdown going to happen? How does your government want to ensure that we don’t see a next breakdown, hopefully, you don't have one, but what does your government say for this one?
PM: I'm sure nobody wants to see any kind of breakdown. And much will depend on the success of the process of reconciliation, which is why this is our number one priority as far as the government work is concerned. Its success will depend on the degree of participation; we'll do what we can to embrace and invite all the stakeholders to join in and your own contribution will be very important for us. It is the number one priority and we want to make sure the situation stabilizes and we don't want to repeat the events of what we had last month or at end of 2008 or other events before that.
Q11: Thai-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce: The impact of the events effected strongly. My Chinese colleagues were asking what was happening. I find that communication in Thailand very difficult. I feel that the government must try to communicate effectively. I have a business in Central World, even in my small workforce of a few thousands, there was always the difficulty in communication and always there was mistrust.
How do we remove mistrust, I'm still not sure. I think this should be the focus: how to build trust in the long term. My business is a car industry. Last year one million cars were sold in Thailand, this year there will be 1.6 million cars. It is the fastest growing industry in this part of the world. The government policy has been good; it has sustained for 20 years. My concern is if something happens to one car factory in Thailand, the whole car industry stops. So I think while the government is focusing on all of these measures, please focus on some of your 'golden gooses'. Don't forget the car industry. I hope the government will remember industries that are the stars of Thailand. Despite the troubles, many cars have been exported throughout 130 countries.
PM: Apart from the political divisions, we're also very aware of the need to preserve the good labour and industrial relations. During the last couple of months at least I can tell you that I appreciate that the labour leaders, the unions had been very helpful in helping us in trying to stabilize the situation also. Your point about communications is very important and very valid.
The need to overcome mistrust is extremely important, which is why in implementing our reconciliation plan, it is important for the government to do all it can to push for the plan. But it shouldn't be seen as dominating the plan itself. What we really need is for the state owners to really work together. Some line of communications might be more effective than others, particularly among the people who may disagree with the government.
I think we should use all possible channels and that would also include, employers communicating with employees, local leaders talking to their own people, and so on, which is why I think all the contributions are very valuable and I hope that you yourself would play an important role in the Thai economy and also the contacts with Thais, whether with the employers or employees, which will also help us in achieving reconciliation in Thailand.
Q12: "Golden gooses" from the last question brought me to a question, which is not directly related to the recent incident. I've learned only a few weeks ago during the unrest that a major German investment here in Thailand has again been put on hold by the courts in Map Ta Put. Before the unrest started when the first court junction was issued, the government publicly declared that you are deciding to solve this at the shortest possible time, yet I don't see concrete action to help investors to come together over this point. Are there any plans to solve the problem?
PM: A number of projects have already had the junction lifted, that is, through working with us and also presenting the case before courts. In any case, all the projects are now undergoing a procedure so that the court can be satisfied, that they are in compliance with the new provisions of the Constitution. I believe that all the projects are under this process and it should be in a few more months before that is completed. But individual projects that feel they have a strong case to be released from the court order can also appeal. I believe two are about to submit that request, and two more after that. So everything is moving ahead and the government is putting in place mechanisms, and regulations that are necessary to resolve this problem.
PM: I think we've had a fairly comprehensive exchange of views and ideas so it just remains me to thank you for your understanding and for your commitment to Thailand. I look forward to working closely with you during this process of reconciliation and I continue to welcome all the contributions that you may make, which I will emphasize again that is very valuable for Thailand and for our good relations. Thank you very much.