PM Abhisit’s talk at Oxford on Saturday 14th March

H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva

Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand

“Taking on the Challenges of Democracy”

at St. John’s College, Oxford University

14 March 2009

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Dr. John Hood, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford,

Sir Michael Scholar, President of St. John’s College,

President of the International Relations Society,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. First of all let me say what a great pleasure it is to be back here, although actually in very unfamiliar surroundings. The one this that has been conferred during my return is that nobody can accuse me of being too young anymore. First because this auditorium was not here when I was here, and secondly, when I asked about all the tutors who have taught me, in philosophy, politics or economics, I learned that most of them had retired or passed away. So it is with pleasure that I do return here. I hope that later on I will be able to look at the more familiar surroundings where I spent possibly the best three years of my life. I shall also get the difficult part out of the way. First, I was introduced as a Thai Geordie : references were made to the greatest football club in the world. Just to reaffirm that we are the best, we just need to win sometime.

2. Now on to the serious topic which I’ve been asked to speak on, which are the challenges of democracy. Well I will first start by saying that when I was here– roughly the same time as my finance minister, also an ex-St. John’s student, he’s actually a year above me although we are roughly the same age— when we were here we were the minority. Possibly very few Thais in Oxford University. These days I think things are rather different, many more Thais have been given the opportunity to study here. I think that reconfirms what the Vice Chancellor had just said that Oxford has become more international. But the thing was very few people knew where Thailand was. Over the years when we grew through the process of democratic development, Thailand has become better known throughout the years. I remember when we were here, there was not even a Thai restaurant. We had to do with an Indonesian one which is now closed. But now Thai food is very much here, many of my friends have been to Thailand and enjoyed the sun, the sea, the sand and what not. But what made me most proud throughout the years was that Thailand was becoming a country known where democracy was taking its roots, especially on certain aspects like freedom of expression. We were once ranked very high in terms of media freedom. Indeed, the last time my party was in government, Thailand ranked in the top thirty of countries in terms of media freedom and political stability. But look at the rankings now, over a decade after what was supposed to be the best period in Thai democracy, we found that global media now ranked us only in the bottom thirty for media freedom and even worse in terms of political stability. And for those of you who have been following the news on Thailand, you clearly saw disturbing images over the last few years.

3. So the real question that must be posed is, is Thai democracy backsliding. After all, has Thailand now lost its reputation and the ability to convince people that we could somehow be a model democratic development in the region, in Asia, or indeed in as far as all developing countries are concerned. What I would like to do today is to take you through the challenges that we have faced, so we can learn some lessons.

4. At the same time, I am here to reaffirm that Thai democracy is alive and well. And I have every determination to make sure that we get on this path. So in discussing political development in Thailand I will share with you some thoughts of the experience in the last decade, and see how we can take on the challenges of democracy.

5. As I said, Thai democracy may have taken some blows of late, but it has survived much worse. We experienced several setbacks before, but after each setback, the people of Thailand have always rebounded more resolute than before to fight for freedom and equality. I am determined to honour the sacrifices of generations past by doing everything in my power to advance and strengthen democracy, no matter what the challenges and obstacles along our way are.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

6. Here in Britain, democracy has for so long been taken for granted. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Britain as anything else. But the path even to British democracy was not strewn with roses. It is perhaps a sign of how completely democracy has triumphed in this country that the struggles to get here – the civil wars, the revolutions – have mostly slipped from popular memory to become dull chapters in dusty history books.

7. In Thailand, such struggles remain vivid in many people’s memories. I was 9 years old in 1973 when the military used violence to suppress pro-democracy demonstrators and students on the streets of Bangkok. The incident, known as the October 14 incident, effectively ended the authoritarian rule over the country.

8. The realisation that the Thai people were willing to lay down their lives for freedom from tyranny made a life-long impression upon me. Democracy may be taken for granted elsewhere, but not for the Thai people. If the political system is more open, if the people in power are willing to listen and accommodate, or if all of us play our parts to strengthen the foundations of democracy, then we may be able to avoid the unnecessary loss of lives in the name of democracy. After the October 14 incident, I realised that the only way for me to help bring democracy to Thailand is through public service as an elected career politician, and through commitment to the ideals that those brave people fought for. And I know that questions have already been asked whether my ambition to become an elected leader was something that was grown from Oxford. I say that the 14 October incident basically made up my mind. I wanted to be a career politician and was the main reason why I decided to take up PPE at Oxford, of course which is well known for professional and career politicians over the world. And indeed, I also recall fondly that my experience of winning elections also began here. In fact, in my first year I ran to become Oxford University’s student representative and in my second year I was elected junior common room president.

9. But the victory that followed the October 14 incident was short-lived. Only three years later, in 1976, the military staged another coup following a massacre of supposedly leftist students at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. Again, students and pro-democracy leaders who were against the military lost their lives. Thai society was deeply divided on the question of how democratic principles should be implemented. Many students left university and joined the Communist insurgency in rural areas. It cost the country long hard decades of struggle to win over those who were disoriented, to achieve stability and to restore democratic rule. Though the authoritarian regime put in place after the coup lasted only one year, Thailand was to be under what was dubbed “semi-democratic rule” for over a decade.

10. I spent many of those years as a student in Britain absorbing the culture of democracy. I became more convinced that democratic rule is absolutely essential for every country, including Thailand. When I returned to Thailand and entered politics in 1992, democracy in Thailand was yet again at a critical juncture. This time around, as a newcomer to politics, being elected to Parliament for the first time in March 1992, I witnessed an uprising largely by the middle-class against another military strongman in May 1992. I should say that that strongman was supported by the majority of the members of Parliament then. There was a crackdown that resulted in a lot of deaths and injuries. This sad chapter in political history also led to new elections, and the Thai people eventually rebounded and pooled together to push for one of the most comprehensive political reform process, which led to what was called the People’s Constitution of 1997. The Constitution ambitiously sought to strengthen our weak political party system while putting in place checks and balances in the form of unelected and independent organisations.

11. The drafters of the Constitution underestimated the ability to abuse power by politicians, even elected ones. They did not anticipate that a strong parliamentary majority and executive power could undermine transparency and accountability. Sustained by populist policies, that majority came to be the basis for an authoritarian approach by the government. With such approach came rampant corruption on a massive scale and a casual contempt for the rule of law, borne out in such incidents as the massacre of Thai Muslims at Krue Se Mosque in the South of Thailand and Takbai, a ruthless and no-questions-asked crackdown on drug dealers involving extra-judicial killings leading to the large loss of lives of over 2,000 Thais, as well as torture and forced disappearances like the case of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit. The opposition was harassed, the press was subjected to intimidation, and independent organisations faced political interference. It is indeed ironic and hard to believe that a democratically-elected government would engage in such practices. It also raised the question about democratic forms and functions, and where we should go from there.

12. The upside to all this was that, for the first time, Thailand’s rural poor was awoken by the populist elements of democracy. Schemes such as village funds, the marketing of community products, and cheap health care became instrumental in retaining rural support. These measures had the effect of empowering the rural poor, at least politically.

13. Despite the upside, widespread abuse of power inevitably bred a reaction, as demonstrators took to the streets condemning cronyism, conflicts of interest and mega-scale corruption. There was a real fear that a government would use its absolute majority in Parliament for its own self-interest, and even put themselves above the law.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

14. This is why, when the military staged a coup in September 2006, it was met with a sense of relief among the majority of people, and I regret to say that. It was a reflection of increasing democracy when the coup makers had to quickly announce that power would return to the people in one year.

15. The 2006 coup proved that, despite the military’s intervention, power ultimately rests in the hands of the people. Democracy prevailed. Firstly because even the coup leaders had to subject the new Constitution to a referendum which was passed by a narrow margin, suggesting of course, that there has to be further amendments to the Constitution. Secondly, although democracy took a step back, free and fair elections did take place in one year. The majority of voters, largely from the rural areas, decided to vote to support the policies of the party that was overthrown by the coup in the first place. The bottom line is that the military will be even more reluctant now to force their way into power again.

16. This is the nature of democratic development in Thailand, for every stepback, we make a relaunch, taking more steps forward.

17. Unfortunately, democratic elections and majority rule, last year, again, ran into some problems. Without respecting the other principles of democracy, it proved to be drastically inadequate to avoid the impending political turmoil. Once again there was chaos. In the end, after the courts ruled against the government for abuse of power and electoral fraud, democratically-elected Parliamentarians decided to end the deadlock by to put in change and voted openly for my party to form a coalition government. The decision was subsequently vindicated by by-election results a month later, when we won 21 out of 27 seats.

18. Today, Thailand is back on track towards democracy. I consider it the duty of my government to ensure that Thailand’s progress towards democracy continues apace.

19. So this is what I have promised to the Thai people: transparency, good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, equal treatment and reconciliation with those with opposing views, especially by providing them with political space. We need not trade off majority rule for transparency and good governance, and in order to move forward, these principles must go hand-in-hand. In doing so, a new kind of political reform, a political “New Deal”, must take place— a process that creates long-lasting liberal democracy under a constitutional Monarchy, where powers of the political leadership are used to provide national policy direction for the better lives of the people, rather than simply to accumulate and exercise unlimited power, including interference with the law for personal gain.

20. We also recognise that, for most ordinary, hard-working people, democracy would be useless if it does not respond to their basic needs. Democracy must be conducive to economic development if it is to be sustainable.

21. Our commitment to freedom therefore extends to our economic policies, where the need for growth, driven by competition and entrepreneurship, must be balanced by public sector intervention to ensure fairness and to help the least fortunate. Regardless of who is in power, Thailand has always favoured a liberal economy, as reflected in our commitment to open markets and close integration into the global economy. Our strong agricultural base means that Thailand will continue to play a key part in feeding the world. We must therefore make sure that the global economic crisis will not result in increased protectionist measures, since such steps would close us off from one another and impoverish us all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

22. There is no question how much we value democracy. We have learned the hard way how to build democratic rule, and how tough it is to do so. I believe that our political experiences are valuable to the countries now pursuing democratization. Therefore, we are also working to promote democracy in the Southeast Asian region. In our capacity as ASEAN Chair and host of the 14th ASEAN Summit, we have been working with our fellow member countries to advance the cause of freedom and democracy in the region, even though we full well recognize the constraints we are under.

23. The ten Southeast Asian nations—ASEAN, now has a firm foot in the door in areas which were once considered too sensitive to be discussed even within the ASEAN family. First and foremost, our goal of realizing the ASEAN Community will result in this organization becoming more rules-based and effective. Second, the setting up of an ASEAN Human Rights body will finally mean that human rights are given due priority within the region. Thirdly, we are encouraging public participation within ASEAN by making ASEAN more people-centred, a step towards reducing the participation deficit which plagues many international organisations and regions. Indeed, two weeks ago, when I chaired the ASEAN Summit meeting, for the first time, we invited representatives of civil society to address the ten leaders of the ten Southeast Asian nations.

24. These steps are designed not only to make ASEAN more effective and to enhance cooperation among its members, but also to play an indirect role in making ASEAN and its members relatively more ‘democratic’, or at least more rules-based and heedful of good governance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

25. I cannot say with certainty how fast Thai democracy will evolve and at what pace. But in the experience of the West, it took more than a century before democracy was fully consolidated. Much of its maturity will depend on a combination of complex factors within the country. But, most importantly, for Thai democracy, I am convinced that there cannot be a slowing down in pace.

26. Still, experience has taught us that the thirst for freedom, be it political or economic, is universal. The Thai people have experienced the essence of democracy and freedom throughout the 75 years since our first constitution. It is highly unlikely that they will settle for less. Thailand, after all, means Land of the Free.

27. To be sure, it will be a long road ahead. But I have every intention of working for all the people of Thailand, so that the noble ideals people have fought for and died for – the ideals that sparked a nine-year-old boy’s career choice – are more than just words on a piece of paper. Thailand is at a crossroads. I intend to make sure that the country makes the correct choice and continues, with as little disruption as possible, on the path to greater democracy.

28. I remember that the motto of Oxford is “Dominus Illuminatio Mea”. At Oxford, there is indeed a light which shines on me, and guides me not only to do things right, but also to do the right thing —for myself, for my country and beyond—and that includes more democratic progress in Thailand.

29. Thank you.

11 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you Yajai for this post na krub.🙂

    Reply

  2. […] Read the original here: PM Abhisit’s talk at Oxford on Saturday 14th March « ## the … […]

    Reply

  3. […] Oxford University, 14 March 2009 is posted at the government’s website and is also available here. The home page for all of his speeches in English can be found here. Variable quality audio of the […]

    Reply

  4. Posted by K. on March 18, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Where’s the part on LM?

    Reply

  5. Posted by Harmonybear on March 18, 2009 at 8:31 am

    LM is shorthand for lese majeste. Please see the part about LM in the YouTube video of Khun Abhisit’s response to Ajarn Giles na ka, which was part of the Q&A session🙂

    Reply

  6. Posted by K. on March 19, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    How Abhisit came into power wasn;t democartic anyway and so to give equal weight for the readers to read and think, kindly post the Q and A session of his talk too.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Harmonybear on March 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I would if I had attended the talk, or had the minutes to the Q&A at hand na ka. However, I was unable to attend the talk because I was recovering from a cold and only received the minutes of the actual speech from a friend of mine. If you would like the minutes to the Q&A session as well, maybe you could try asking about it on TSAM or through other channels na ka🙂

    Reply

  8. Here’s one of the many available parts of Abhisit’s talk as to give a more complete insight of what he was saying.

    Reply

  9. Abhisit’s talk in Oxford: From the inside
    March 16th, 2009 by Thorn Pitidol, Guest Contributor · 13 Comments
    On the morning of Saturday, 14 March 2009, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, spoke to an audience at St.John’s College Auditorium, University of Oxford.

    Abhisit’s arrival was greeted by Red Shirt protesters who were waiting for him in front of St.John’s. However, most of the Red Shirts were not allowed to go inside. This is because everyone needed to reserve their place. It was Oxford students (most of them Thai), Thai students from other UK universities, and guests invited by the the Thai Embassy in London, who composed the majority of the audience.

    St.John’s College Auditorium is not large. It contains fewer than 200 seats. In addition to the above audience, there were also some Oxford professors and non-Thai students who attended the talk. The auditorium was full even before the talk started. There were numbers of people who reserved seats but could not attend the talk (like this New Mandala contributor). Most of them were Thai students who helped organise the event.

    Abhisit was introduced by John Hood, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and Sir Michael Scholar, President of St. John’s College. The two introduced Abhisit as Oxford’s proud alumni. Abhisit’s background as both the ex-President of Oxford Student Union and ex-President of St.John’s College Junior Common Room, was mentioned.

    Abhisit started his talk by arguing that a few decades since his time at Oxford, Thailand has become well known for her flourishing development and democracy. He said, “what made me proud through the years (since he left Oxford) was Thailand becoming known as a country where democracy has taken root”. He cited the fact that media freedom was high the last time his Democrat Party was in power. However, media freedom had declined during the years when his party was not in power. He then posed the question “is Thai democracy backsliding”. He responded to this question by saying that the objective of his talk was to convince the audience that, despite the various blows Thai democracy has experienced, “Thai democracy is alive and well”.

    He then reflected on the difficult route Thai democracy has taken. He argued that Thais always responded strongly to democratic setbacks. He then followed this by announcing his commitment to “doing everything in his (my) power to advance and strengthen democracy, no matter what the challenges and obstacles are along the way”.

    He talked about the struggle of Thai democracy in relation to his own experiences. He said that his experience of the 14 October 1973 incident, when he was only a nine year old kid, gave him a life-long understanding of the Thais’ willingness to sacrifice their lives in fighting against tyranny; “democracy may be taken for granted elsewhere, but not for Thai people”, he argued. He also said that the 14 October incident inspired him to be a politician, as he believes that path was the only way for him to bring democracy to Thailand.

    He continued by arguing that the victory of 14 October was short-lived, as three years after, it was followed by the 6 October 1976 incident, when the military was able to made a comeback to their power. He said that he spent time during those years as a student in Britain, where the experiences convinced him that democracy is “essential to every country in the world, including Thailand”.

    He then jumped to reflect on his experience as a young politician during the May 1992 uprising. He argued that the 1992 uprising sparked the Thais to unite and push through the most comprehensive democratic reform in Thai history. The outcome was the 1997 Constitution, the so-called People’s Constitution. However, the 1997 Constitution’s intentions, such as the aim to build a strong executive power, underestimated the ability of elected politicians to abuse their power. The 1997 Constitution did not anticipate that “the strong parliamentary majority and executive power will undermine transparency and accountability. Sustained by populist policies, that majority came to be the basis of (the) authoritarian approach taken by the government. With such approach, came rampant corruption on a massive scale and a casual contempt to the rule of law”. He then went on to criticize the past government for the killings in the South and the drug war. He said that the only up side of that period was the empowerment, at least politically, of the rural poor through populist policies.

    He followed that the tendencies of the past government caused the dissatisfaction of the people, who then went on to stage protests against the former government on the streets. These protests were followed by anxious feelings among people since the government continued to put themselves above the rule of law by holding on to their claim for a majority. He said that was the reason why when the military stage a coup in September 2006, it was met with “relief among the majority of people”. He, however, argued that the existing democracy pressured the military to promise to hold an election within one year. He cited this and the fact that the military had to subject the 2007 Constitution to a referendum as a reflection that democracy had still prevailed despite the military intervention. He then argued that, from now on, the military would be more reluctant to force their way to power again.

    He said the government who came to power after the democratic election last year, however, ran into problems. This is, to him, the outcome of their (the People Power Party government) lack of respect for principles of democracy, which made political turmoil inevitable. He stated that, “in the end, after the court ruled against the government for abuse of power and electoral fraud, democratically elected parliament decided to end the deadlock, to put in change and voted in my party to power to form the coalition government”. He subsequently argued that “Today, Thailand is back on track toward democracy, and I consider it my duty to ensure that Thailand progress toward democracy continues”.

    Abhisit stated his commitment to democracy, highlighting his commitment to transparency, good governance, respect for human rights, and rule of law. He argued, “We need not trade-off majority rule for transparency and good governance”. He then stated his intention to lead political reform to create long lasting liberal democracy under constitutional monarchy. Such reform shall only allow the power of a political leadership to provide national policy direction for improved quality of life. He also argued that Thai democracy must respond to people’s economic needs, stating his commitment to economic development that supports fairness and assistance to the least fortunate.

    He spoke about ASEAN, arguing that Thailand’s democratic experience will be valuable to other countries. He talked about several initiatives that Thailand and other ASEAN countries are now taking to advance democratic development in the region.

    He then said his famous phase that was quoted in many Thai newspapers, “I cannot say with certainty how far Thai democracy has moved forward and at what pace. But in the experiences of the West, it took more than a century before democracy was fully developed…Thai people have experienced the essence of democracy and freedom throughout the seventy-five years since our first constitution, it is highly unlikely that they will settle for less”. He argued he has “every intention of working for the people of Thailand so that the noble ideal (democracy) that people have fought for and died for, the ideal that sparked a nine year old boy’s career choice, are more than just words on the piece of paper”. He then concluded by quoting Oxford’s motto “at Oxford there is the light that shines on me”, and stated the final words “to be noble means not just do things right but do the right things, for myself, for my country, and beyond, and that include more democratic progress for Thailand”.

    The talk was followed by the Q&A session, when many in the audience asked the PM questions that mostly related to the current situation including lese majeste.

    The first member of the audience who asked a question was Associate Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn. Giles began by saying that he faced a lese majeste charge from the Abhisit government for writing an academic book, and there are several people in Thailand are also facing the same charge unjustifiably. He then went on to criticise Abhisit’s government for relying on the military intervention (in lobbying the faction of MPs to support them) to get into power, for having members of the cabinet that participated in the closing down of the airport, and for neglecting to charge the army general who ordered the Takbai massacre. He ended by asking Abhisit to have a debate with him live on national television on the topic of democracy. Abhisit responded to Giles by saying that the fact that he agreed to answer questions (like Giles’ questions) is a testament that he is a democratic politician, and he would be surprised if the people whom Giles admired when they were PM would accept such questions from the audience. He then argued that Giles’ facts were not right, a number of lese majeste charges were not made when his party is in power, it was made during the time when Thaksin or his followers ran the government. He also faced the lese majeste charge during Thaksin’s government but the police dropped the charge. He argued that people who are democrats must respect and not run away from the law, and he believes that Giles’ charge was legitimate because he made an allegation that the monarchy backed the coup (which is something that Giles has to prove, he said). Giles asked Abhisit to clarify which part of the book said that. Abhisit said he has not seen the details, but he read Giles book, and he has been told that Giles made specific allegations.

    Abhisit then defended the lese majeste by saying that there are similar laws in some European countries that have constitutional monarchies. There was a person in one European country who has been imprisoned by a similar law. The law itself is not necessarily undemocratic, “if you say the same thing or made the same allegation against ordinary people, you will also be taken to court…what the law does is to give protection to the royal family in the same way that libel laws protect ordinary people”. Abhisit then argued that some difference between the two laws (lese majeste charges can be filed to the police by anyone) exist because the Thai royal family is a neutral institution – above partisanship, above conflict, revered by the Thais, and a key pillar of national security – and therefore the law does not want the monarchy to take legal action against people. Abhisit said that there are number of people who are still fighting this charge, and a number of charges have been dropped. Abhisit then played his trump card; “there are number of people who stay there (in the country) and fight the charge because they believe they are innocent, and they don’t run away from being charged”. Giles responded; “I am not running away from the charge”. Abhisit said; “I did not say you did”. This was met by a big round of applause.

    Giles then asked Abhisit to debate with him on television. Abhisit responded by saying that he would only have a debate with Giles back in Thailand, because Giles needs to be under Thai law like any other Thai citizen.

    Abhisit went on to say he is actually the first prime minister in Thailand to state that the lese majeste law can be abused. He already expressed his concern with the police and indicated that they have to be fair and sensitive to this issue. He is also in the process of getting together some academics to work out how best to enforce the law, so that the purpose of the law will not be defeated. Moreover, he is doing the same with the Computer Crime Act. He is the first prime minister to invite the group called Netizen to work out how best to deal with illegal content on the web. He said, in the end, “so please stop trying to drag the monarchy to the political conflict, the monarchy is above political conflict, and we should keep the institution, which is highly revered by the Thais, neutral and non-partisan and stay above all other conflict in Thailand…If you have problems with me, debate with me, but don’t drag the monarchy into the conflict”. This was also met with another round of applause from the audience.

    Abhisit then argued that he is determined to bring back justice by bringing other cases, such as that of Somchai Nilabhihit, back to investigation. He said that his intention is also to bring back the charge to the army general who is associated with the Takbai incident. Regarding the coup, he said that he was the first politician who condemned the September 2006 coup. Regarding the media freedom, he is also the first prime minister in more than a decade that opened television time for the opposition, the problem is that the opposition still cannot find a leader. This was also met with another round of applause by the audience.

    The question and answer with Giles ended there. Other members of the audience subsequently voiced their questions to Abhisit. One Thai man pointed out that it’s misleading to say lese majeste is just a royal version of the libel law, as it is more comprehensive than the libel law. He also asked how far Abhisit is willing to trade-off freedom with national security. Abhisit responded by saying that it was him who stopped members of his party from their initiative to tighten up the law. He conceded that the law can be interpreted to cover wide a range of activities, but he said he is willing to accept the problem in terms of how the law should be better enforced and interpreted for protecting the monarchy.

    Then, he talked about the charge against the Thai Foreign Minister. He explained that the charge occurred only after he became the Foreign Minister not after the airport closure took place. Therefore, he believes the allegation was politically motivated. However, he said that everybody has to be treated justly regardless of the color of his/her shirt.

    One Thai female then asked why the PAD leaders are still free even though they broke every rule of law in shutting down the airport. Abhisit said that he already instructed the police to proceed as quickly as possible. He said, “they (the police) are now in the process of issuing the warrant for the case of occupying Government House. I have the police report regularly to me and I report to the parliament concerning the airport case. As of the last time, they reported to me a couple of weeks ago, 90 percent of the report was completed. So I expect the action to be taken very soon”. The woman asked him to give a timeframe, and he responded that the police said that they will take a few more weeks.

    Few questions about the ASEAN came up from the crowd regarding the future of relationships between ASEAN countries, and the issue of human rights. Abhisit said that he and other national leaders had already set up the Asian human rights body, and hope that they will be in charge of promoting the awareness of human rights.

    A young Thai female in a yellow shirt then asked how Abhisit would convince the rural people that democracy is the best way forward. Abhisit responded by saying that he thinks the majority of Thai people now appreciate the value of democracy. Political parties are now competing on many dimensions to be elected. “I’m not worried about people wanting to protect democracy”, he said. He argued that although democracy in terms of majority rule is well-understood; “what is not understood is that in true liberal democracy, all governments have limited power. The idea of democracy is just the majority rule means unlimited power is misleading”. He also explained that the elected power and the courts should work on the right balance for stable democracy.

    A young foreign female asked whether she would be arrested if she was in Thailand and was to write an article saying the monarchy are a feudal monarchy. Abhisit said that it depends on whether she also make allegations against the monarchy, and said that he also wants to work on the clarification of what the lese majeste law covers. The same young female then asked what would happen if there is no clarification. Abhisit said that if he made fair criticism, then he can defend that in the court. “The freedom of expression should be given as long as you protect the key institution. There is such kind of law in every country”, he said.

    One of the audience members then asked about the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya by the Thai army. Abhisit said that he is now working on the investigation of the matter. He said that he and the other agencies who are investigating did not find cases of specific abuse which are alleged by the media. “I asked the media who asked about these allegations for evidence so I can investigate further. They have not responded”, he said.

    Finally, one man from Taiwan asked how Abhisit would ensure that the military role and power is reduced and ensure that there will not be a coup again. Abhisit responded to this by saying that he thinks military power in Thai politics has already been declining. He said that the military only staged the last coup because the Thaksin government had abused so much of their power. It is, therefore, important for the democratically elected government not to “set up the conditions for the military to come in”. He ended his response and his talk by arguing that he believes the military has now learned their hard lesson and it is now “really up to the politicians to not only [be] running democracy, but also protecting democracy”.

    Reply

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