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Udd-head-to ‘Ammart’ (អាមាត្យ): You didn’t destroy thaksin, You built thaksin

UDD leader

Tida Tawornseth, the chairperson of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, answers the tough questions on the return of the former prime minister, where the red shirt movement ends and the Pheu Thai begins, and bilateral politics played out on a football pitch

Bangkokpost,25/09/2011

 

Why did the red shirts play a football friendly match in Phnom Penh yesterday with a foreign government, one that has been in conflict with the Thai government in recent years to the point of bloodshed?

The truth is the Thai people do not want war. People everywhere want love and friendship. We want to visit one another and trade. Conservatives make war with neighbours to cover up internal dissent. We are not conservatives. We are ordinary Thais who want a better life. You can call us liberals.

Shouldn’t relations with neighbouring countries be the purview of the government? Why are the red shirts assuming that role? Are the red shirts acting as representatives of the Thai government?

We speak only for the red shirts, who comprise a sizeable number of the population. This is a good thing, promoting positive relations. They honoured us in the meetings to prepare [for the match]. Premier Hun Sen, [Deputy Prime Minister] Sok An, [Deputy Prime Minister] Tia Banh and other ministers were all there. On our side, we had Jatuporn [Prompan], Natthawut [Saikua], Weng [Tojirakarn, husband of Mrs Tida] and Korkaew Pikulthong. This is a good opportunity for the people to forge better bilateral relations. We do it in the name of the people.

Speaking of good relations, the red shirts have enjoyed them with the Cambodian government. Do you collaborate politically?

I don’t know about other people, but this is the first time that I have met and talked with them in a somewhat official capacity. I know that our neighbours watch us via satellite TV and that they are very interested in the people’s movement in our country. They see the conservatives wanting to provoke nation alistic conflicts to cover up internal problems. But we [the red shirts] only want friendship. They cheer for us.

Let’s go back to Sept 17, the party held in Cambodia. According to reports, Thaksin was there. So were Premier Hun Sen, Mr Arisman and Jakrapob Penkair. You were also there. What did you discuss with each of them?

I didn’t speak with them. The party was held in a big room. It’s strange, but in Cambodia they put the VIP table way in the back. I didn’t get to go on stage. We [red shirts] were able to have an exchange with the leader of Cambodia and that was good enough for me. I sat at the table with Premier Hun Sen’s son [Hun Manet], we talked. I don’t know what was happening on stage. Thaksin was at Premier Hun Sen’s table. I found out later that Mr Arisman played guitar and sang a couple of songs on stage. I didn’t see him or greet him. But I talked to ‘Khun Too’ [Jatuporn] and asked about ‘Khun Kee’ [Arisman]. He said Khun Kee said he wanted to see his friends, to see the people, and that there are many people who wanted to see Thaksin.

Do you think Arisman should return and turn himself in?

Yes, but it’s his right, his business. I can only speak sincerely according to what I believe. I don’t want to pretend or sugar coat.

His guilt or innocence and whether he has been the victim of injustice is one issue, but are you saying he has the right to flee from the law?

It’s not that he has the right, but we can’t force others to do things. You must understand that we are liberals. The red shirts are liberals. I am the chairwoman. I can’t order others. We believe it’s a personal issue. We won’t interfere. But we can offer our opinions. The media shouldn’t ask us to condemn our friends. We will not say things to make the conservatives happy.

As a friend, I understand, but, as a good citizen, if we find a fugitive on the run, shouldn’t we be obliged to inform the authorities?

If you look at it that way, then we have to talk about the justice process. Is it right that we are charged with terrorism? If [Arisman] refuses to turn himself in, perhaps he’s taking a stance to say that he refuses to accept the judicial process. The most important thing to remember is that without justice, there can be no reconciliation. If we talk about surrendering to the judicial process, If we talk about surrendering to the process of justice, why don’t we ask if the [2006] coup was wrong? Where did the Constitution Court come from if not the Council for National Security? We have been abused for five years. You shouldn’t ask this question to those who have been victimised.

We have only won legislative power. Justice is a different issue. In Thailand, court power, judicial power and others are subject to the patronage system.

It’s likely that the military reshuffle will see high-ranking offers involved in the [May 19, 2010] crackdown retaining their positions or gaining promotions. What do you think of that as chairwoman of the red shirts?

I don’t quite remember who’s getting which position _ I don’t really care about ranks. I only care about the role they played in the crackdown. As the representative of the red shirts, I believe that those [officers] who stand accused of involvement [in wrongdoings during the crackdown] should be bypassed for promotion for now. Not punished, but bypassed until the truth comes out about, for example, what happened in the operation at Wat Pathum Wanaram [six people were killed at the temple _ which had been designated a safe haven _ during the red shirt crackdown. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand report released in May found that army actions were ”probably” to blame for three of the deaths, although No criminal charges have been laid in connection with the deaths].

So make them stay put, no promotions until the judicial process is complete, correct?

Yes.

By extension, should accused red shirts also stay put instead of becoming MPs and ministry officials until the judicial process is complete?

That’s a different issue.

How?

They were the authorities at the time, we were not. I’m not saying the government is guilty, but the red shirts were imprisoned. What about the authorities who shot at people? Are they in prison? No, they get promoted.

But today, now that we’ve had elections and the Pheu Thai Party is in government, why are the red shirts still in action?

The red shirts are a people’s movement. We want democracy and justice. We are not a movement for the Pheu Thai or Thaksin. The question is with the elections, will there be democracy?

Are you afraid of another coup?

No, but it has happened 20 times. Don’t forget, I’ve been through it for 38 years.

There are accusations that the funding for the red shirts comes from Pheu Thai and Thaksin. During the red shirts’ occupation of Ratchaprasong intersection last year, I saw plenty of banners announcing which Pheu Thai MP helped to bring which group of red shirts from which province. Does that not show that the red shirts are involved with Pheu Thai and Thaksin?

It’s a good question and it’s an ammart [elite] question. Pheu Thai MPs and red shirts are allied because we were both victimised. Look at the yellow shirts and the Democrats, they were allies, and then they bicker.

Will the red shirts and Pheu Thai bicker?

You have to understand that the job of Pheu Thai MPs is politics. We are a people’s movement. They support the red shirts, because those red shirts are people from their districts, from their provinces. If MPs don’t support their constituents, they might fear losing votes the next time around.

Some say the yellow shirts and the Democrats can have a falling out because they draw from two bags of money, while the red shirts and Pheu Thai have the same bag of money.

That’s an insulting question to the people, to say that the mob comes out because of money.

Every mob in this country comes out because of money.

That is not true and unfair to the people who came out, even during heavy rains, the 20 million who voted, those who stayed when shooting began. How much money would it take to hire people to die? This is another ammart question.

No doubt, there are those on the ground who truly believe. I was there talking to them. But the bag of money may be an issue pertaining to the leadership. The leaders are the ones that get the money to rouse the people to come out.

That’s the accusation?

That’s an accusation.

That’s why the ammart will never beat the people. It’s insulting to the people. Where does Thaksin get the money? The ammart robbed him of over 40 billion baht, banned his parties. You think you’ve destroyed him. But what you gave him was more valuable than 40 billion baht _ the hearts of the people. You didn’t destroy Thaksin, you built Thaksin.

Thaksin gave an interview last month saying that he would only return to politics if the people wanted him to. Do the red shirts want him to be prime minister again?

Normally, I only speak about the UDD. If it’s not necessary I don’t speak about Thaksin.

Yes?

But the red shirts and the people have one weapon, and that is the truth. If you ask, do we want Thaksin back? Certainly. Not just the red shirts, but the 15.6 million people [registered voters in the 20 provinces of the Northeast who voted for Pheu Thai in July’s election]. Counting the votes that we were cheated out of, that’s 16 million. I believe everyone wants Thaksin back.

Back, and back as prime minister?

That’s a poor question. There’s a process to become prime minister. Thaksin has charges against him. We can’t speak of the premiership now. Will he return, I do know know. It’s his business, just as Mr Arisman’s business is his own.

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