September 9, 2010 3:01 pm

Interview transcript: Thaksin Shinawatra

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Robin Wigglesworth, Gulf correspondent, interviewed Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand, in Dubai on April 16 2009.

Do you think your supporters, the red-shirts, have been defeated?

Thaksin: The movement’s aim is to get true democracy for all. Thailand has been telling the whole world that we are a democracy, but we are not really a democracy for all. It is a democracy for a few: for the political elites in Bangkok who still have a very big influence over Thai politics.

But is the best way to encourage democracy through a “people’s revolution”?

The revolution means peaceful revolution. I emphasise peaceful revolution every time I use it. I even quote Martin Luther King.

Do you support the red-shirts financially?

Thaksin: No. If you watch them you see a very lovely culture. The fishermen came out from fishing, take some fish and share them. They help each other. The street vendors bring some food with them. It is very lovely because they are helping each other.

But we have been told that you are supplying money.

Thaksin: No way, no money at all. In one speech I made, I jokingly said that the government is now paying senior citizens B500 a month which I am going to be entitled to – if I want to – after my birthday on July 26. On July 27 I will be 60 so I am entitled to that B500 a month, so I jokingly told them after July 27 I have to queue up for my B500, and then they believed I am paying them B500.

Even if you say you didn’t want violence, violence was the result.

Thaksin: This is why the red shirts are rising up, because they get no justice. It is double standards all along. Three years after I left it is double standards all along the way.

You see how they treat the yellow shirts and how the treat the red shirts. For the red shirts they use brutal suppression. For the yellow shirts, the military asked for the prime minister to resign, but for the red shirts, the military joined the government and say they are going to use force.

It is very brutal suppression, and why is it so brutal? Because they have been instigated by government-sponsored militias. They use both police and military dressed in blue shirts and red shirts and mingled and try to create riots. Why do the military carry M-16s? Why don’t they use the riot control steps according to international practice?

The current prime minister used military force with true ammunition and shot at the people. So many people died, they dragged the dead bodies away, and tried to destroy the dead bodies. This is the same as what happened in October 1996 when there was a student uprising. There were so many missing, but you couldn’t find the corpses because they destroyed the corpses.

We have 17 coups, 10 of them successful, and we have 22 elections. That means that every two elections we have a coup. What kind of democracy is this?

Is putting a mob on the streets the best way to improve democracy?

Thaksin: Even though the majority of the red shirts are my supporters, not all of them are. Many joined because they hate the injustice that has plagued Thailand for three years, and the double standards that are all over. That is the injustice.

Secondly, those that understand democracy know very well that in the past Thailand was not a democracy. We look like a democracy but we are not a democracy. What kind of democracy is it when all the political power is not connected to the people?

If you trace back what is happening in Thailand you would see that my administration the first that came from the result of the very liberal constitution. I have been successful because of the policy platform I laid out. It was the first time in elections that we had a policy platform, the people liked it and we won more than 50 per cent of the vote. That is the first time in Thai history. I am trying to act in a very democratic way to help the poor.

Are there any negotiations about you coming back to Thailand?

Thaksin: No. In Thailand they play politics to harass you, to embarrass you, to get popularity but without real action.

Would you be open to a compromise?

Thaksin: At this point Thailand cannot be more divided. But you cannot crush them all, because you will have to kill millions. If you cannot kill millions reconciliation is the only solution.

What kind of solution do you see?

Thaksin: Reconciliation. Reconciliation is like a clapping hand. You need two hands to clap, you cannot use one hand. You need to reconcile between the divisions. But if instead of talking you try to punch them, hit them, and then you kill them, is that going to work?

The red shirt leaders are there (in Thailand). If they want to talk, then talk. If they want to jail them, then no way will they be able to end the conflict.

Do you feel that the courts are too politicised?

Thaksin: They pushed me into a corner every day. They bullied me. After I had been ousted, I called the generals and I called prime minister Surayud and I said I am happy to be ousted so I can spend time with family. I could relax because I have been working hard for many years already. But I said, don’t bully me politically. If you bully me politically I have to fight back politically. I had done nothing wrong, they just arranged it by using all my political opponents on the committee to investigate me.

The court is based on the allegations of the investigating committee, which is my opponent. In normal times, if you think the judge on the bench is not fair you can ask for a change. But this time they just put some judge on even though they are my opponents and the investigative team are all my opponents.

Can you see yourself as a permanent expatriate?

Thaksin: I don’t think so. I have the aspiration to go back. But I prefer to go back as a normal citizen.

S o no return to politics?

Thaksin: If the country does not need me, or if by going back to politics it would create more division, I would not. But if I go back and it would benefit the people, I will.

The police, the military work according to what the political elite in Bangkok instruct them to do. They don’t have to be responsible to the people. That is the reason why the pro-democracy movement is there, and they will keep on one after another because they have not had true democracy for many decades.

They need justice. They come and beg for justice, they come and beg for democracy, but they go home with lost life, with injuries and a bitter feeling that society, the government doesn’t give them fair treatment.

I would urge the whole world to listen to the poor they are the majority and they have been treated badly so they need to be treated fairly and the place they have been given in Thailand is unfair to them.

What can King Bhumibol do?

I urge his majesty humbly that, please, it is time for his majesty to step in, to intervene because otherwise there will be more division and he is the only person who can reconcile the whole country. The Thai people feel like he is a God. Now the people around him stir up everything, and the poor, even though they have more numbers, their voice is very soft. It cannot be heard.

Could a government of national unity ease the divisions?

Thaksin: This gesture should be discussed, but they try to squeeze us, every party that sided with me. Every party that sided with me is a bad guy, is a betrayer of the royal family or something.

Would you be open to negotiating with the government?

Thaksin: I am not in a position to negotiate: I think the red shirt leaders should be in the position to negotiate, not me, because I am outside. I can give them advice but I cannot direct them to do this to do that, because it is not just only my supporters.

I have been told that you are looking at re-entering the telecommunications business, in Africa. Can you tell me about this?

Thaksin: I am looking for business to do. I’m not going to waste my time waiting here, I should do something because life isn’t that long. I have set up a company to help turnaround telecoms. Many companies are losing money. If we can get a good licence we will do the operations as well, otherwise we do turnaround advice.

So you would be interested in acquiring licenses as well?

Thaksin: I think it will be too much money. I don’t have money. The money has been frozen in Thailand, even the money I declared before entering politics.

Looking back, do you feel that the red shirt demonstrations have changed anything?

Thaksin: I don’t know. The pro-democracy movement will be there regardless. But I can assure you that they are very peaceful. The riots that happened have been instigated by the government-sponsored militias: it is not the work of the red shirt people. Killing is not their style: many of them are housewives, many are elderly people. They just came with bare hands, they just want to beg for justice.

But Molotov cocktails were used?

Thaksin: I don’t know, that’s probably the primitive way, they may protect themselves, they may defend themselves. I don’t know but when they started, violence is not the true red shirts.

When they attacked the resort in Pattaya, that was not a peaceful demonstration?

Thaksin: They wanted to go peacefully, but if you look at the news, you are going to see the blue shirts, that’s what we call government-sponsored militias. It is being controlled by Suthep and Newin, the cabinet told them to command those forces.

So who is behind the government forces?

Thaksin: The military and the political elites in Bangkok.

Such as privy councillor Prem?

Thaksin: Yes. Prem was prime minister without election for eight years.

Why does the king trust the privy councillors?

Thaksin: I don’t know. I don’t say the king trusts or not. In Thailand no one can check with his majesty.

Why are there such sharp divisions in Thailand?

Thaksin: Instead of bringing reconciliation, they try to be divisive. They get more brutal suppression, more law enforcement. But they enforce the law on an unjust basis, with double standards between the yellow and the red shirts, so more and more they bring more people to join the red shirts because of the injustice they employ.

But you are encouraging the red shirts?

Thaksin: I am encouraging them to ask for justice and democracy. Equality, liberty and fraternity: that is what we need in Thailand. And I urge them to do it peacefully. We cannot win with violence. I say violence begets violence, so any victory attained by violence is tantamount to fall.

So if they use violence, you would tell them to stand down?

Thaksin: I would not tell them to stand down or stand up, it would depend on their leaders. But the feeling of eagerness to get real justice in Thailand, democracy in Thailand, is there, is in the heart, and this brutal suppression from the military and the government will be a scar in the heart of the people.

This is a very fraught time economically, don’t you think encouraging division is exacerbating this?

Thaksin: No one is encouraging division, but without justice no peace, without peace no stability without stability no prosperity. So you have to provide justice first. Why do they keep double standards all the time, the way they treat the red shirts and the yellow shirts is totally different. It is like heaven and hell.

Do you think you will be able to return to Thailand any time soon?

Thaksin: It depends on the situation. I would like to go back to Thailand as long as it benefits the country, but if I would add to more chaos I would not go back.

Do you think your return would improve the situation?

Thaksin: I would say this: War can never be ended by war, war can be ended only by negotiation. I think it is time for Thailand to reconcile, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be me, it can be the red shirt leaders and the government. But Thailand really needs reconciliation. But if you think you are so powerful that you want to use brutal suppression against them, you are only adding to division in the country.

So you are open to negotiation with the yellow shirts?

Thaksin: I am always (open). But I have never seen anyone come to negotiate with me. They just talk to make them look good.

They are not serious with their intentions?

Thaksin: They are never serious because they think they are so powerful.

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