Human rights infringements in thailand

Overview of the Situation

Thailand is recently encountered a political rises among people; Thai citizens have divided into several groups depending on their different political ideas. Nevertheless, there are two big political groups which have had an important influence in Thai politics for a few years. One is called the "People Alliance for Democracy," or PAD, and another one is called the "The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship" or UDD. PAD is led by Sondhi Limthongkul, chairman of televised media called ASTV, and UDD are led by politician teams who used to work with Mr. Thaksin.

Since 2006, during the second term of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, PAD has had a more politically significant function. Mr. Sondhi could gather numerous people to dislodge Mr. Thaksin because he offended General Prem, the president of privy councilors and did business without paying taxes. Meanwhile UDD supported the former Prime Minister and protested against PAD. Finally, the military decided to intervene in the conflict by coup d'tat on 19th September 2007. Military intervention caused diverse feelings among society. Some agreed with the coup d'tat believing a strong and effective intervention, could bring about negative peace for a while. However, some disagreed with the military because it was not a democratic problem solving methodology and moreover, it was a human rights infringement in the view of some scholars and social activists.

A conflict seemed to be in ceasefire after the military revolution, but the political crisis reappeared after the victory of the Population Power Party, or PPP, the party which was informally dominated by Mr. Thaksin. At that time, PAD tried to dispute several government policies, especially the agreement between Thailand and Cambodia in the case of the Phra Viharn Temple, Mr. Sondhi then condemned the PPP government for selling the nation to Cambodia[1], and the PAD leader also aroused people by "Nationalism" idea. Many people agreed with PAD and affected the Minister of Foreign Affair's resignation. Moreover, by royal families support, PAD attacked governmental offices and the national airport but they did not get any law enforcement by the government. Afterwards, UDD, who mostly support Mr. Thaksin, protested and tried to imitate PAD, but, the military assaulted them upon the orders of the government led by the Democrat Party[2], the next government after PPP was dissolved.

The conflict became serious when the Constitutional Court dissolved the PPP and some parties in coalition governments, due to charges of election fraud. Meanwhile, the anti-Thaksin party, known as the Democrat Party, which was accused in the same allegation, was cleared of the charges. Above all, the Democrat Party succeeded in appointing their party to the government. After taking the position, the Democrat Party enhanced the King's idea to be government policies, such as sufficiency economics - the King's idea (Populism and Nationalism in Thailand 2005).

The court verdict and royal families' appearances caused the doubtfulness in jurisdiction fairness and the perception of double standards in Thai society; there are not penalties for anti - Thaksin groups or PAD, even though they attacked government offices, but pro - Thaksin group cannot do that. Currently, together with gradually protests of UDD the Democrat government is establishing the idea of Nationalism and Royalism in Thai society by government policies, and someone who does not follow those policies; will "be condemned as not Thai," or punished by the Les Majesty law - Section 112. These situations have never happened in Thailand before, and some scholars predicted that it might be expanded to a civil war as in some countries in Africa.

According to my analysis, I believe that there are two causes from which the conflict originates: they are Nationalism and Royalism.

Nationalism

According to Giddens, Nationalism is "the affiliation of individuals to a set of symbols and beliefs emphasizing communality among the members of political order" (1987) Nationalism was a significant idea for establishing and protecting the nation-state, especially new nation-states such as Thailand[3].

The idea of Nationalism was strongly found in Thailand in the period of Prime Minister Phibunsongkram (1938 - 1944). At that time, the Thai government promulgated "Thai-ization" policies in order to spread Thai culture and to homogenize ethnicities. Nationalism flourished while Royalism deteriorated. The King was just the kingdom's symbol, but Prime Minister Phibunsongkram had more power than the royal families. After Phibunsongkram's term, Nationalism gradually declined. However, PAD utilized that idea to condemn the PPP government in the case of the Cambodian temple. Mr. Sondhi, the PAD leader, provoked the people by saying that the PPP government will give some part of Thai territory to Cambodia. He then supported the Thai military to fight Cambodia, as he said among PAD protests that "War was the only suitable solution to the temple (Phra Viharn) crisis" (Chachavalpongpun 2009).

Subsequently, there was a conflict between PAD members and villagers living nearby the Cambodian temple, who supported the Thai government. Some villagers were injured by quarrelling. Moreover, the Minister of Foreign Affair, Mr. Kasit Piromya, a member of PAD, also condemned the Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen. Such a statement brought about the military conflict at the Thai-Cambodian boarder. Nowadays, although the overt conflict was stopped, the violence between Thailand and Cambodia might happen at any time.

Actually, behind the propaganda, PAD focused on attacking Thaksin and his associations, because Mr. Thaksin and Prime Minister Hun Sen have personal business connections in natural resources (Walker 2008), PAD believed that Mr. Thaksin earns a big income from the business and he gave Phra Viharn temple to Cambodia as compensation. PAD distorted the historical truth that Phra Viharn temple should be part of Cambodia by the idea of misrepresenting Nationalism. PAD aroused people to believe that the government agreed to give Thai territory to Cambodia, and they also asserted that if someone agreed with this, it meant they were not Thai. The behavior of PAD, in my opinion, brought about social conflict and violence, because they tried to stimulate people to fighting each other unreasonably.

Royalism

Royalism means "the belief that society has two classes, one is the King and another one is population, all people will be controlled by the King" (Suparot and Kamelaniya 2007). Such an explanation enhanced the King's position to be an absolute monarchy. However, by exploiting to the king, Royalism was utilized to control the people's behavior, as it has emerged in Thailand.

Royalism was reestablished in the time of Prime Minister Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. He revived the motto "Nation - Religion - King" as a political slogan, as there were many projects and policies related to royal families in his time, such as Royal Projects and Royal Tours (U.S. Library of Congress 2009). The reason behind Sarit's policy was to exploit the King to support his military dictatorship. Since Sarit's term, Royalist propaganda was applied to government policies. Those policies generated many invented traditions related to royal families, and they caused people to have more respect for royal families and privy councilors (Champhapan 2002).

The situation was changed when Thaksin complained about the speech of General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of privy councilors, who criticized Thaksin's policies (Hewison 2009). Many royalists and PAD denounced Thaksin as an anti-royalist who disrespected royal families because they respect General Prem the same as the King. Besides, King Bhumibol declared a policy of "Sufficiency Economics" with details which contradict the policy of "Getting Ahead Economics" announced by Mr. Thaksin.

Meanwhile, the royalist stream in Thailand was stimulated powerfully due to books written by some royalists to support the King and royal families (Winichakul 2005). This situation has created an extreme form of Royalism; the King is good, Thaksin is bad, the King does not like Thaksin, if you support Thaksin, it mean you disrespect the King, therefore, you are not Thai, because all Thai people must respect and believe in the King. Such haphazard discourse is popular nowadays under policies promoted by the Democrat government, especially, the Les Majesty law promulgated in section 112 which imprisons someone who disrespects and criticizes the King and privy councilors.

Situation Analysis

For more understanding in the Nationalism and Royalism miscopception, I would like to present my analysis by adapting the nationalist triangle of Dahbour and Ishay (1995, cited in Brown 2000)

The model divided people into three groups depending on the concepts of Royalism and Nationalism; they are primordialists, situationalists and constructivists.

Primodialists focus on emotional loyalty provided by constructivists; they appreciate to acquiesce in the King and royal families wholeheartedly. Primodialists initiate fixed identity in order to respect and believe in the King and royal families. Fixed identity is their instinct, which cannot be changed. People in rural areas are the most effective example in explaining primodialism.

Situationalists respect and obey the King and royal families because of rational perception. Situationalists will follow the King and royal families whenever they can gain advantage from those people. For example, in Thailand, privy councilors and politicians will refer to disloyalty when they want to eliminate opponents. On the other hand, situationists will stop their behavior whenever they cannot get any benefit from the King and royal families; therefore, situationalists' respectfulness is fluid and changeable. Besides, situationalists can change to primodialists and vice versa if they change their way of thinking.

Constructivists create the ideas of Nationalism and Royalism in primodialists and situationists' mind through policies, campaigns, and even the education system, overtly and covertly. Therefore, constructivists are usually the King or royal families. For Thailand, the King announced "Sufficiency Economics" to resist Thaksin's economic ideology, and General Prem criticized the policy of Mr. Thaksin even though he does not have the political position.

Eventually, Thai society created "Thai Style Democracy," or TSD, which combines the King and Democracy together. By political intervention, the King was assumed to be the one who brought democracy back to the people. TSD also believes that they sometimes need military intervention to eliminate corrupt governments and immoral politicians (Hewison 2009). On the other hand, King Bhumibol will become a charismatic leader who "tends to merge with the spirit of nationalism and to become identified with or symbolic of the state itself (Ziring et al 1995). In my opinion, such an idea was so dangerous because an absolute monarchy cannot exist simultaneously with democracy, and Thailand will be brought back to the past.

Nationalism and Royalism: Important Causes of Human Right Infringement in Thailand

There are many people who have been affected by misrepresentation of Nationalism and Royalism. The obvious case is the coup d'tat in 2007, in the evening of revolution day, when King Bhumibol appointed revolutionist leaders to work instead of government employees. It implied he secretly supported the military even if it commits human rights infringements in social activists' vision, because people cannot do political activities liberally during a revolution. Additionally, according to Vatikiotis, the King's intervention brought about paternalistic leadership more than real democracy (Vatikiotis 1996).

Although PAD used distorted Nationalism in order to seduce people to fight against Cambodia and the PPP government irrationally, Queen Sirikit supported them by attending a PAD member's funeral. She also donated money for PAD activities but she was disinterested when a UDD member was killed by PAD (Thai Queen Supports PAD 2009). PAD infringed upon human rights directly, and there were many people who died and were injured since the conflicts have appeared in several part of Thailand. Besides, Thailand lost a significant income after PAD hijacked Suwarnabhumi, Thailand's national airport. However, due to royal families' support, the government could not enforce law effectively to control PAD and solve the conflict. Saneh Jamarik, President of the National Human Rights Commission, who supported PAD and the military revolution, said "Coup d'tat is the most suitable solution for political crisis in Thailand" ("Thitinob" 2007)

Additionally, the most significant infringement of human rights of Thai people is Section 112 or the Les Majesty law, which identified that "Whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years" ("FACT" 2009). Since the Democrat government has taken the power, there are at least three people who were arrested by section 112, and some of them were imprisoned for ten to twenty years.

Conclusion

In the position of an insider, I expect King Bhumibol and royal families to stop their improper behaviors and stay as Thai symbols as identified in the constitution. Meanwhile the Democrat government should promulgate the transparent policies which benefit all people equally. Otherwise, their actions will increasingly bring about social inequality and according to relative deprivation, people who suffer from double standards in society might struggle against the king and government to eliminate unfairness. Thailand needs a democratic way to solve political crisis.

References

Brown, David. (2000). Contemporary Nationalism: Civic, Ethnocultural and Multicultural politics. London: Routldege.

Chachavalpongpun, Pavin. (2009). Nationalism is a Dangerous Poison. Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://www.irrawaddymedia.com/opinion_story.php?art_id=15468

Champhapan, Kumpol. (2002). (Public Holiday: Meaning, Power and Politics). Retrieved September 4, 2009 from http://www.midnightuniv.org/midnight2545/document989.html

"FACT" (2009). First verdict under Computer Crimes Act April 3-ThaiNetizen. Retrieved September 4, 2009 from http://facthai.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/first-verdict-under-computer-crimes-act-april-3-thai-netizen/

Giddens, Anthony. (1987). The Nation - State and Violence: Volume Two of a Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism. United States: University of California Press.

Hewison, Kevin (2009). Thai - Style Democracy: A conservative Struggle for Thailand's Politics. Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://www.prachatai.com/english/node/1292

Populism and Nationalism in Thailand (2005). Retrieved September 2, 2009 from http://sanpaworn.vissaventure.com/?id=207

Suparot, Vilasini and Kamelaniya, Sudarat. (2007). (Siam or Thai: is name important?). Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://blog.weblog.in.th/node/289

Thai Queen Supports PAD (2009). Retrieved September 4, 2009 from http://www.asiafinest.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=177252&mode=threaded&pid=3972946

"Thitinob" (2007). (Military Revolution in 19th September 2007: is Democratic way in Thailand? Vision of Civil Society in Thailand). Retrieved September 4, 2009 from http://www.thitinob.com/node/44

U.S. Library Congress. (2009). Sarit's Return. Retrieved September 2, 2009 from http://countrystudies.us/thailand/28.htm

Vatikiotis, Michael R.J. (1996). Political Change in Southeast Asia: Trimming the Banyan Tree. London: Routhledge.

Walker, Andrew. (2008). Phra Viharn: the Dividing Line of Thailand. Retrieved September 4, 2009 from http://rspas.anu.edu.au/rmap/newmandala/2008/08/25/phra-viharn-the-dividing-line-in-thailand/

Winichakul, Thongchai. (2005). Same Old Royalism Hatches Again. Retrieved September 2, 2009 from http://pinporamet.blogspot.com/2005/09/blog-post_10.html

Ziring, Lawrence et al. (1995). International Relations: a Political Dictionary. California: ABC - CLIO.

[1] because Thai might have lost some land around the temple according to such an agreement

[2] Democrat Party is the particular name of one political party in Thailand. It does not refer to authoritarian regime or democracy.

[3] Thailand was changed to be completely nation - state country in the authoritarian regime change, from absolute monarchy to democracy in 1932.

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