November 17, 2012 (AltThaiNews) – The current government in Thailand is the result of foreign-backing, two-failed color revolutions in 2009 and 2010, and the building of a substantial populist-based voting bloc that doubles as a bizarre “red shirt” personality cult fashioned out of Communist ideology, but built around a Wall Street-backed billionaire.
The ruling Peua Thai Party (PTP) is currently led by Yingluck Shinawatra, but only symbolically so. PTP’s campaign slogan in 2011 was literally “Thaksin thinks, Peua Thai does,” referring to the real leader of PTP, Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is currently living in self-imposed exile, evading 2 arrest warrants and a 2 year jail sentence for corruption. In true third-world nepotist style, he has been ruling for several years by proxy through a menagerie of siblings, cousins and relatives-in-law.
After a year back in power, infighting within its ranks, growing disappointment over its policies, and suspicion over its real political objectives, it appears that the Thai establishment is preparing for its first attempt to remove the PTP regime from power. To explain the background of this political crisis, and the greater geopolitical implications for both Asia and the Pacific, four questions have been asked and answered.
Image: As mentioned in a myriad of foreign media publications, Thaksin’s proxy party ran with the slogan, “Thaksin thinks, Peua Thai does.” As Peua Thai faces charges that a convicted criminal was directly involved in their election campaign, many of the exhibits used against them in court will be of their own design and impossible to deny.
1. Who Really Leads Thailand’s Current Government?
Thaksin had been prime minister from 2001-2006. Long before Thaksin Shinwatra would become prime minister in Thailand, he was already working his way up the Wall Street-London ladder of opportunity, while simultaneously working his way up in Thai politics. He was appointed by the Carlyle Group as an adviser while holding public office, and attempted to use his connections to boost his political image. Thanong Khanthong of Thailand’s English newspaper “the Nation,” wrote in 2001:
“In April 1998, while Thailand was still mired in a deep economic morass, Thaksin tried to use his American connections to boost his political image just as he was forming his Thai Rak Thai Party. He invited Bush senior to visit Bangkok and his home, saying his own mission was to act as a “national matchmaker” between the US equity fund and Thai businesses. In March, he also played host to James Baker III, the US secretary of state in the senior Bush administration, on his sojourn in Thailand.”
Upon becoming prime minister in 2001, Thaksin would begin paying back the support he received from his Western sponsors. In 2003, he would commit Thai troops to the US invasion of Iraq, despite widespread protests from both the Thai military and the public. Thaksin would also allow the CIA to use Thailand for its abhorrent rendition program.
Also in 2003, starting in February and over the course of 3 months, some 2,800 people (approximately 30 a day) would be extra-judicially murdered in the cities and countrysides of Thailand as part of Thaksin’s “War on Drugs.”
Accused of being “drug dealers,” victims were systematically exterminated based on “hit lists” compiled by police given carte blanche by Thaksin. It would later be determined by official investigations that over half of those killed had nothing to do with the drug trade in any way. Human Rights Watch (HRW) would confirm this in their 2008 report titled, “Thailand’s ‘war on drugs’,” a follow up to the much more extensive 2004 report, “Not Enough Graves.”
Image: “The Thai Gov’ts War on Drugs: Dead Wrong. Stop the Murder of Thai Drug Users.” During Thaksin Shinwatra’s 2003 “War on Drugs” it wasn’t only drug users who were brutally, extra-judicially murdered in the streets, but over 50% of the 2,800 killed during the course of 3 months, were completely innocent, involved in no way with either drug use or trade.
In 2004, Thaksin attempted to ramrod through a US-Thailand Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) without parliamentary approval, backed by the US-ASEAN Business Council who just before last year’s 2011elections that saw Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra brought into power, hosted the leaders of Thaksin’s “red shirt” “United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship” (UDD).
The council in 2004 included 3M, war profiteering Bechtel, Boeing, Cargill, Citigroup, General Electric, IBM, the notorious Monsanto, and currently also includes banking houses Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Chevron, Exxon, BP, Glaxo Smith Kline, Merck, Northrop Grumman, Monsanto’s GMO doppelganger Syngenta, as well as Phillip Morris.
Thaksin would remain in office until September of 2006. On the eve of the military coup that ousted him from power, Thaksin was literally standing before the Fortune 500-funded Council on Foreign Relations giving a progress report in New York City.
Since the 2006 coup that toppled his regime, Thaksin has been represented by US corporate-financier elites via their lobbying firms including, Kenneth Adelman of the Edelman PR firm (Freedom House, International Crisis Group, PNAC), James Baker of Baker Botts (CFR), Robert Blackwill of Barbour Griffith & Rogers (CFR), Kobre & Kim, and currently Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Peroff (Chatham House).
Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Peroff, would also simultaneously represent Thaksin’s “red shirt” UDD movement, and was present for the inaugural meeting of the so-called “academic” Nitirat group, attended mostly by pro-Thaksin red shirts (who literally wore their red shirts to the meeting). Additional support for Thaksin and his UDD street-front is provided by the US State Department via National Endowment for Democracy-funded “NGO” Prachatai.
2. How Did Thaksin Shinawatra Get Back into Power?
Almost as soon as Thaksin was ousted from power in 2006, both his political party in Thailand and his Western backers abroad began a campaign to demonize and destroy the Thai establishment. Kenneth Adelman, working under Edelman created the “USA for Innovation” front to slander the prevailing Thai establishment after ousting Thaksin. Adelman did this in 2007, the same year Edelman registered Thaksin Shinawatra as a lobbying client, under the guise of defending “intellectual property.”
Video: Almost satirical in nature, US Neo-Conservative Kenneth Adelman attacks the Thai government, accusing it of “slouching toward Burma” after his PR firm Edelman took on the ousted despot Thaksin Shinawatra as a lobbying client in 2007.
A myriad of loaded news stories and op-eds in habitually biased publications including the Economist, Time, and Newsweek targeted Thailand for what was called a slide backwards from democracy – all the while Thaksin was praised for his policies aimed at Thailand’s “marginalized poor.”
The next year, elections would be held and easily won by Thaksin’s unassailable populist-built voting bloc. The prime minister very publicly ran as “Thaksin’s nominee” as was described in Time’s article “Thailand’s PM Proxy: Samak.” However, both he and his successor Somchai Wongsawat (Thaksin’s brother-in-law) would be quickly ushered out of power through a combination of corruption charges and “counter-color revolutions” staged by elements within Thailand’s indigenous establishment.
Beginning in 2009, Thaksin’s political front began a campaign of increasingly violent confrontations with the prevailing Thai establishment. During April of 2009, protests staged by Thaksin’s UDD “red shirts” would leave widespread property damage and 2 dead by-standers gunned down while trying defend their property from looting protesters. The Thai military was successful at dispersing the riot without killing a single protester. Thaksin’s political lieutenants would flee to Cambodia after making calls for a “people’s war” that went unheeded by the vast majority of the Thai population.
In 2010, intent on generating enough domestic and international outrage to topple the Thai establishment, some 300 covert militants were brought in to trigger deadly violence that would last weeks, turning parts of Thailand’s capital of Bangkok into a war zone. Over 90 people would die, including soldiers, police, innocent by-standers, as well as protesters themselves cut down by both crossfire between militants and soldiers, and smoke inhalation while looting buildings fellow protesters had lit ablaze.
While the Thai military succeeded in restoring order across the city, Thaksin and his Western backers had the momentum they needed to continue radicalizing the UDD “red shirts” as well as turn international opinion against Thailand – bringing us to the 2011 elections.
Running on a campaign of promising cheap houses and cars, free computers, the eradication of both flooding and droughts, as well as guaranteed prices for rice grown by Thailand’s many rice farmers, Peua Thai easily won yet another election – providing a perfect example of how Western-backed client regimes are more than glad to use populism to co-opt large segments of a targeted nation’s population, if national leaders themselves are not willing to first (e.g. Argentina, Venezuela).
With an accused mass-murderer, convicted criminal hiding abroad to evade multiple arrest warrants, openly running the government through his own sister, and none of his Peua Thai campaign promises being kept after over a year in power, Thailand’s establishment may feel the timing is right to begin apply pressure that will ultimately oust Thaksin from power once again – perhaps once and for all.
3. What Does the West Want With Thailand?
For over two decades the United States has expressed throughout a library of policy papers the need to develop and implement an effective “containment” strategy versus China. In 1997, US policy author Robert Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution penned, “What China Knows That We Don’t: The Case for a New Strategy of Containment,” where he literally states (emphasis added):
The present world order serves the needs of the United States and its allies, which constructed it. And it is poorly suited to the needs of a Chinese dictatorship trying to maintain power at home and increase its clout abroad. Chinese leaders chafe at the constraints on them and worry that they must change the rules of the international system before the international system changes them.
He would continue by saying:
The changes in the external and internal behavior of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s resulted at least in part from an American strategy that might be called “integration through containment and pressure for change.”
Such a strategy needs to be applied to China today. As long as China maintains its present form of government, it cannot be peacefully integrated into the international order. For China’s current leaders, it is too risky to play by our rules — yet our unwillingness to force them to play by our rules is too risky for the health of the international order. The United States cannot and should not be willing to upset the international order in the mistaken belief that accommodation is the best way to avoid a confrontation with China.
We should hold the line instead and work for political change in Beijing. That means strengthening our military capabilities in the region, improving our security ties with friends and allies, and making clear that we will respond, with force if necessary, when China uses military intimidation or aggression to achieve its regional ambitions. It also means not trading with the Chinese military or doing business with firms the military owns or operates. And it means imposing stiff sanctions when we catch China engaging in nuclear proliferation.
A successful containment strategy will require increasing, not decreasing, our overall defense capabilities. Eyre Crowe warned in 1907 that “the more we talk of the necessity of economising on our armaments, the more firmly will the Germans believe that we are tiring of the struggle, and that they will win by going on.” Today, the perception of our military decline is already shaping Chinese calculations. In 1992, an internal Chinese government document said that America’s “strength is in relative decline and that there are limits to what it can do.” This perception needs to be dispelled as quickly as possible.
Image: Figure 1. From SSI’s 2006 “String of Pearls” report detailing a strategy of containment for China. While “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights” will mask the ascension of Western aligned client regimes into power, it is part of a region-wide campaign to overthrow nationalist elements and install client regimes in order to encircle and contain China. Violence in areas like Sittwe, Rakhine Myanmar, or Gwadar Baluchistan Pakistan, are not coincidences and documented evidence indicates immense Western backing for armed opposition groups.
This would be further expanded on in the Strategic Studies Institute’s 2006 “String of Pearls” report where specific areas of Chinese expansion were identified for disruption and containment. This included the now destabilized Baluchistan region in Pakistan where China’s Gwadar port sits, as well as the destabilized state of Rakhine in Myanmar.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would reiterate this commitment to containing China, as well as touch upon another point made by Kagan in 1997 – that Southeast Asian nations would need to be aligned with the US against China as part of any viable containment strategy – in her 2011 op-ed in Foreign Policy titled, “The American Pacific Century.”
Leading a Thailand fully complicit with the United States and its neo-imperial ambition to sustain another century of American hegemony across Asia is a role Thaksin Shinawatra was groomed for decades to fulfill, and it is precisely for this reason that so much money, time, and effort has been poured into both propping him up, while tearing down Thailand’s existing indigenous institutions.
4. Who is Protesting the Current Government?
Undoubtedly opposition political parties will benefit from any protest and are most likely involved to one degree or another. Additionally, Thai business conglomerates, Thai media moguls, and the military at the very least tacitly approve upcoming demonstrations. Many across the silent majority are opposed to the disruptive street demonstrations conducted by both Thaksin and his Western backers, as well as his opponents in Thailand and support neither political party – but find Thaksin and the acute instability and division he has created unacceptable.
Image: October 28, 2012, an initial gathering of anti-government protesters assembled in a stadium to call on PTP to step down from power. Despite the “spring” theme of 2011-2012, the rally failed to make any international headlines – most likely because this movement seeks to unseat a Western client-regime, not install one.
The rank and file of the protests themselves may include political opposition party supporters, groups aligned to media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul’s “People’s Alliance for Democracy” (PAD), as well as many from across the silent majority, both lower and middle working class, who would like to see an end to Thaksin’s corrosive influence on the country once and for all.
It remains to be seen who actually attends, and who joins later on if and when the protests expand. Similar protests in 2007 were initiated by Sondhi’s PAD movement, but later joined by labor unions who cooperated in closing down Thailand’s airports in an act of noncompliance against Thaksin’s proxy government. In 2011, major protests were anticipated from both sides pending the results of the election, yet none materialized.
While it is claimed that there is a distinct divide between the middle class and poor in Thailand, and that the latter fully support Thaksin Shinawatra and his populist policies, in reality his party won the 2011 elections with a mere 32% of all eligible voters, and failed to achieve even a popular majority of those who did bother to vote – this even with fantastical campaign promises, rampant vote buying, and organized transportation provided on polling day by Peua Thai’s vast upcountry political machine.
Ultimately, the Thais who come out to protest Wall Street-proxy Thaksin Shinawatra are not protesting him because they approve of the alternative. On the contrary – whoever takes his and his political machine’s place will have an equally indefensible mandate to do as they will with the nation, its resources, and its people as Thaksin has. If and when Thaksin and the cancerous political machine he has created with foreign funding and expertise is excised from Thailand’s political landscape, something entirely new will have to be put in its place if progress it to be made.
Fortunately, the silent majority already understands this and are slowly progressing toward various, more pragmatic alternatives, and even more fortunately, many people on both sides of the political bickering are beginning to realize this as well.