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Entering a new phase

Rodion Ebbighausen
March 6, 2014

Tensions have eased in Bangkok after anti-government protesters recently withdrew from key intersections of the capital. But in a DW interview experts say the conflict has only shifted from the streets to the court room.

Thailand Antiregierungsproteste in Bangkok 25. November 2013
Image: Holger Grafen

DW: The opposition in Thailand ended its blockade of some intersections in the capital Bangkok. Is this a sign that the political stalemate is coming to an end?

Pravit Rojanaphruk: I think we are entering a new phase of the conflict. First, the opposition headed by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) realized that it would be more effective to concentrate the demonstrations in one area, as the number of protesters willing to camp on the streets has been declining over the past few weeks.

Second, the leader of the anti-government PDRC made clear that they are confident that the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) will be successful in impeaching caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

At the same time, they are still pushing for the army to stage a coup. Hence I don't think the crisis will be over anytime soon. In fact, this struggle has been going on for years.

Marc Saxer: I agree with Pravit. The opposition has changed its strategy and street protests have now shifted to the court rooms.

Do you think the parties will accept the results of the recent by-elections?

Saxer: The Election Commission has said it might take up to six months for the results to be announced. Besides, as long as there is no agreement between the parties, the conflict will continue. The opposition Democratic Party has already challenged the poll once at the Constitutional Court and has threatened to do so again.

Portrait - Marc Saxer
Saxer says the Thai opposition has changed its strategyImage: privat

Are elections still a respected political mechanism for the people of Thailand?

Pravit: The people are well aware that the international community expects Thailand to elect its government through democratic elections. Even the protest leaders are in favor of elections, but only after reforms by a so-called "People's Council."Once the reform process is complete, they say they want to return power to the people.

But I hope that the PDRC realizes that they have to share power. The same could be said about government supporters, who also think they can have everything their way.

Will there be a stable and effective government in Thailand in the near future?

Saxer: I'm very optimistic in the long run. I think the country has the ability to master this transformational crisis, like many other societies have done before. Thailand is in the process of shifting from the old feudalist system to a more democratic politcal order. But what Thailand needs is a new social contract based on social compromise.

The elites have to accept that democracy is the only game in town and that they have to fight to win this game by reaching out to the majority of the population. But at the same time, the masses have to accept that the elites will remain a power to reckon with. Many other societies have been able to reach agreements to stabilize the political situation. Unfortunately, this is yet to happen in Thailand.

Are you optimistic about the prospects of a new social contract?

Pravit: Yes and no. Thailand will definitely find a new framework for doing politics. But the question is, at what price? The US and many European countries went through a lot of bloodshed before they learned to settle political differences in a nonviolent way.

I am worried that both sides in Thailand look at politics in a very moralistic way: as a fight between good and evil, thus leaving in very little room for negotiations.

What role does the international community play in Thai politics?

Pravit: It is really important that the international community sends a strong message to Thailand and makes clear to both sides of the conflict that they should try to resolve their differences by peaceful means and that another military coup won't be accepted.

Portrait - Pravit Rojanaphruk
Pravit says the opposition is confident of PM Yingluck's impeachment by the anti-corruption commissionImage: privat

It is also worth pointing out that the opposition mistrusts Western media outlets, as they claim they are being influenced by Yingluck's brother and former Thai PM Thaksin.

Saxer: Major powers such as the US, the EU, Japan and China have continuously stressed that the constitutional process has to be carried forward. They have also opposed the use of violence as a means to solve the conflict.

The international community exercises significant amount of influence and it has sought to discourage those trying to use extra-constitutional means to reach their goals. But foreign nations also have a very pragmatic stance and are basically waiting for Thailand to get out of this mess.

Pravit Rojanaphruk is a famous Thai journalist, writing for different media outlets. Marc Saxer is the head of Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Bangkok.

The interview was conducted by Rodion Ebbighausen.

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