Pressure tells: Thaksin calls for
polls By Phoojadkarn Daily
BANGKOK - The ability of a broad spectrum
of disparate sectors of society to unite and
cooperate toward a single goal - in this case,
ousting Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - took a
giant step forward on Friday when the embattled
premier called a general election, three years
before it was due.
parliament," he told reporters after an audience
with King Bhumibol Adulyadej. "No reshuffle," he
added after a senior official had said a cabinet
change was "very likely".
together of a range of people and interests is so
rare in modern Thai politics that activists are
optimistic that Thais have
finally been awakened from
apathy and are once more interested in
participating in grassroots politics. Over the
past several months, anti-Thaksin rallies
organized by media firebrand Sondhi
Limthongkul have drawn large crowds in
Bangkok. The recent multibillion-baht sale of
shares in the telecommunications giant Shin Corp
by Thaksin's family, however, has stirred up
feelings against the prime minister in the
countryside as well, as the sale avoided taxes and
put an important national asset in the hands of
foreigners, namely Singapore's government-run
Emerging from this
popular groundswell is a new consortium known as
the People's Alliance for Democracy, the largest
such entity to be initiated in Thailand in a
decade. The alliance will be the backbone of the
next rally against the premier, set for this
Sunday. Observers and organizers believe the rally
could attract more than 100,000 people from all
walks of life. Interest has been further spurred
by this week's announcement by Chamlong Srimuang,
who led a bloody but ultimately successful
uprising in 1992 against the country's
then-military regime, that he will attend.
Many old and new faces have emerged to
form the People's Alliance. They include farmers,
teachers, state-enterprise officials, senators,
academics, students and businessmen. Many come as
individuals, while others represent organizations
or networks such as the Campaign for Popular
Democracy, the Campaign for Popular Media Reform,
the labor union of EGAT (Thailand's electric-power
authority, facing a bitterly resisted
privatization program initiated by the Thaksin
government), the broader anti-privatization
network, the Network of Artists for Democracy, the
Assembly of the Poor, and the Student Federation
But the birth of the alliance
is not as sudden as it may seem. According to one
of its leaders, Suriyasai Katasila, secretary
general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy,
discussions about setting up the People's Alliance
took place for some time.
"Earlier, we had
regular closed-door meetings between alliance
groups and Sondhi about the political situation.
At first we didn't want to fully join Sondhi as we
wanted him to wrap up his mission first and then
we could launch officially," said Suriyasai.
The alliance has one clear short-term
goal: to oust Thaksin - a mission it says needs to
be accomplished before the alliance's ultimate
objective of political reform can be achieved.
Even though Sondhi's rallies have yet to
precipitate such change, alliance leaders hope
they will at least be able to pressure Thaksin to
"Our ultimate goal is political
reform as the system is problematic. But it can
never happen if Thaksin is still in power. So our
task now is to make him resign," said Suwit
Watnoo, president of the Assembly of the Poor.
Prida Tiasuwan, chairman of the Business
Network for Society and the Environment, said many
businessmen are unhappy with the tax-free sale of
Shin Corp shares, and while they believe foreign
investment is good for the Thai economy, foreign
ownership should be selective and non-threatening
to the country's security.
it: Revenue Department officials are chasing tax
evaders. But when it comes to the country's
biggest share sale, not a single baht goes back to
society. We cannot stand that," said Prida, who is
also the chairman of Pranda Jewelry Plc.
The controversial Shin Corp sale netted
US$1.85 billion, and the avoidance of taxes has
been determined to be legal. But the Shinawatra
family is one of the wealthiest in Asia, and many
ordinary Thais are furious that they have to pay
taxes while the rich get off scot-free, especially
one who is running the country and perhaps should
be setting an example.
feeling has also spread among students whose
movements have been inactive for a decade. While
many people feel that today's youth, who have been
raised in an era of consumerism, care nothing for
politics, a stance against the prime minister has
been revived in student movements nationwide.
Nearly 20,000 signatures were collected by the
Thammasat University Student Union in a bid to
impeach the prime minister, and anti-Thaksin
activism has been set in motion in many other
universities around the country.
demand is to oust Thaksin. He lacks leadership
qualities and requirements," said Kochawan
Chaibut, secretary of the Student Federation of
According to Kochawan, whose
family members were students during an uprising in
October 1973, only political reform will save the
country from Thaksin's system, which she says has
created a wider gap between rich and poor and
which also controls political scrutiny. Critics at
home and abroad charge that Thailand's formerly
lively press has been muzzled by the Thaksin
government's campaign of intimidation and
financial control, including multimillion-baht
Although the apparent unity
among different public groups is a rare
accomplishment in Thai politics, the alliance
believes it faces a long road toward reaching its
goals. It plans to organize meetings and
discussions to set up common strategies to channel
information, which it regarded as the most
important tool in galvanizing the public.
"We will meet to set up strategies to
mobilize the masses. We need to provide
information to every province to point out how bad
the Thaksin system is. We need to raise as much
awareness as we can to expand our alliance," said
Suriyasai said several
platforms will be set up in Bangkok and the
provinces for speeches and discussions to
disseminate information and fuel public action.
Meanwhile, more demonstrators from different
groups will march to Bangkok to join this Sunday's
Kochawan believes the most
effective way to inspire students is to provide
accurate information by setting up platforms at
different universities to talk about the political
"Students are not easily
misguided, so don't worry about us being used.
However, it takes clear and correct information to
mobilize students," said Kochawan.
information is crucial to the alliance's success,
the group is worried the government will release
biased reports into mainstream media channels such
as television, which the alliance fears could
inhibit people's access to other information.
"In my experience with the poor, people in
rural areas don't get the same information as
people in Bangkok. For example, to rural people
who only watched the February 4 rally on
television, it seemed like a small matter. This is
a big problem," said Suwit (see Thailand's
spreading yellow tide, Asia Times Online, February
Supinya Klangnarong, secretary general
of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, who is
facing a 400-million-baht ($10 million) libel suit
filed by Shin Corp, says the problem is hard to
solve as the media are controlled either by
business empires close to the government or by the
administration itself. Supinya believes the only
hope lies in the people who are expected to speak
out when they feel their right to accurate
information has been violated.
the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association is
setting up a group to watch the media. However, it
isn't easy for us to call for media ethics among
reporters as they are dominated by business and
government," said Supinya. "Our demand for reform
hasn't worked and we really don't know what to do.
I guess we can now only promote awareness among
the general public of their right to correct
Whether they achieve the
mission of ousting Thaksin or not, alliance
leaders believe the unity among the different
groups they have established is already a positive
sign of a renewed Thai political conscience.
"I think popular power has lifted up
political morality. It's clear that the
anti-Thaksin sentiment is not about whether or not
he paid tax on the Shin Corp share sale. It is
about political morality; a prime minister
shouldn't have [conflicts of interest]," said
Pipob Thongchai, chairman of the Campaign for
Pipob said the
solidarity of people in the two previous rallies
has changed perceptions of Thai society. In the
West, Thailand is often regarded as an
underdeveloped society that pays little attention
to political ethics.
"It turns out that
the taxation issue in the Shin Corp sale has
created anti-Thaksin attitudes in society. So it
shows that political morality actually does exist
here and people really do pay attention to it,"
The uprising of October 1973
brought about a brief period of democracy in
Thailand; a coup reinstated military rule in 1976.
Nopporn Suwanpanich, who was a student activist
involved in the 1973 event, agrees that by
bringing different groups of citizens together,
the alliance is a good omen for Thai politics,
even if their struggle has a long way to go.
"At least the anti-Thaksin campaign has
alerted the public to politics. I think this fight
could change the whole social system, especially
regarding responsibility and political morality,"
"The more rallies that take
place in the future, the wider the chain reaction
that will spread to the people. It will make
people power stronger in terms of political
awareness and participation."
Phoojadkarn Daily is a Bangkok-based
newspaper published in Thai by the Manager Group.
This translation was provided by Manager's
English-language daily, ThaiDay, with additional
editing by Asia Times Online.