Thaksin Shinawatra: the full transcript of his interview with The Times November 11, 2009Posted by chandrapong007 in Politics.
Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor of The Times, spoke to the ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at his home in Dubai
Ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra
Thaksin Shinawatra: [My election victory in 2001] was the first time in Thai history that one party won half of parliament’s seats. We won a landslide — half of parliament’s seats — and we formed a coalition government. And it was the first time in Thai history we stayed for a four-year term without the House being dissolved. And it’s the first time in Thai history that the prime minister was re-elected for a second term. And the first time in Thai history that we won 377 seats so that we could form a government without needing a coalition — 76 per cent of the parliament’s seats at that time.
That became my problem — because I was too popular, being loved by the people too much. That’s where my problem comes from.
I was told by some of my people that the media would start to attack me – because the opposition is so weak so the media would become the opposition. I didn’t believe that at that time. And finally I saw the media attack me with unreasonable things. One day I came across the son of the owner of a daily newspaper. I asked him: ‘Ask your dad, why does your newspaper attack me unreasonably?’ He said, ‘Uncle [a general term of respect], there’s nothing I can do because my father has been lobbied by two Privy Councillors. They came to have dinner with my father and they said the King doesn’t want you anymore.’ I said I don’t believe that — His Majesty never wants to become involved in politics. Maybe it’s because of their own prejudice against me.
Why are they prejudiced against you?
They spread rumours that I wanted to turn Thailand into a republic and that I wanted to be president, which is something I never thought. I’m very loyal to the monarchy. You know, when I first became prime minister I went to an audience with His Majesty. I said, ‘Your Majesty, I’m very loyal to you. I’m the first prime minister born in your reign. I’m humbly saying – not that I consider myself as your child – but my age is about the age of your children. So please consider me and teach me as though I’m your children’s age, even though I’m prime minister. Your Majesty has been reigning for three generations – the generation of my grandfather, the generation of my father and then my generation. So I very much respect Your Majesty. Whatever I need to do properly, please teach me.’ This is how I present myself. And, ‘Your Majesty has been working hard for the Thai people for many years and you may be tired and you’re getting old. Please use me. I will shoulder all the burdens and I will work hard for you to solve the problems of your citizens.’ That is the very first thing … I told His Majesty.
And I worked hard until I got more and more popular, and the popularity became my problem. The opposition Democrats are very good at alleging things about people. They start rumours and attacking me. Even when they are in power, they still allege that I want to be president. This is a very sensitive issue for Thai people because Thais love His Majesty, and Thais will not allow anyone who dare to topple the monarchy…
Was it because people thought you were more popular than the King?
When you have a son, he loves the wife and he loves the mother … It’s a different kind of love. The people love me because they can touch me. They can use me to improve their well-being. But the King, they respect him very much like God. It’s a different kind of love. But the people are trying to make it the same love. That’s really the whole problem.
In Thai politics the King is one of the most powerful people. Is that a good thing?
The King is the most respected person. He’s become god in the feelings of the Thai people. Thais don’t obey one another. They need someone they really respect – that is the King. But the people who surround the King and the Queen, what I call the palace circle, they try to make influence.
Most privy councillors are retired government officials… they have their subordinates so they want to have some kind of influence. Let’s say like General Prem [Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council] – he wants someone to be army commander-in-chief. But if you appoint someone else he may not be happy. That is the exercise of power without the intention or anything of the monarch. It’s the palace circle who are playing the games.
So General Prem and people like him are manipulating the King?
The Privy Councillors are. Not only Prem but others like ladies-in-waiting, and whatever, of the Queen. Thai society looks big, but it is very narrow in terms of the elite in Bangkok. So the influence, the network is there. That’s what makes politics complicated. It’s not like the UK or Japan, where people are not allowed to influence things.
That’s the problem in Thailand. The monarchy is not the problem. The monarchy is good for Thailand. Thailand needs to have a monarchy but it should not be abused or played by the palace circles.
So the monarchy is a good thing but the royal institution needs reform – is that right?
What kind of reform?
The constitutional monarchy must be strictly abided by. All the institutions must function according to the rule of law and the political rules, but sometimes they’ve been influenced. The justice system can be intervened in by the palace circle.
Thai democracy is not really mature. It looks mature but it’s not mature, because of the intervention of the military which should not be allowed. Every time you stage a coup you take control of sovereignty — that should not be allowed. Democracy should be through elections only — you have to give the power to the people. But power is not with the people. The election has become just a rubber stamp for democracy. You have to care for the people, you have to respond to their needs.
It’s been a plot to shift the power. Actually there are two camps, the Democrats [the Democrat Party of the current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva] and my supporters. They want to shift from my supporters to Democrats. Democrats wanted power twice — not by people power, it’s from defection of MPs from some other party.
In Thailand we call them cobra — because people don’t trust the cobra. The cobra can bite the owner.
In April you made an appeal to the King [Bhumibol Adulyadej] to intervene to heal the divisions in Thai society. Do you still hope the King will do that?
The government is engaged in a conflict with my supporters. We are rivals, so the government is not in a position to solve the problems. The government is not in a position to be trusted because they steal the power, they rob the power from the people.
The only way the government can be involved is that they have to rethink being antagonistic to others. But they’re not generous enough, because they’re afraid that if they have an election again they will lose. I can assure you that the government will lose in the election. We [the Pua Thai party of Thaksin’s supporters] are going to win a landslide again. So that’s the reason they want to hang on in power regardless – they never want to dissolve parliament. I don’t care, but the people are now suffering, the country is suffering – you can see it. Thailand is now heading to more problems.
What can the King do in this situation?
You have to bring the two parties together and then start it over again. That is, forgive every party involved.
What would you say to the King?
I would say, ‘Your Majesty, it’s time for Your Majesty to be kind to the Thai citizens, by giving them peace. Let them stay together peacefully through the blanket amnesty and pardons. So let everyone go back to their normal life and draft the new constitution.’
They [the enemies of Mr Thaksin] tried to kill me. They had a meeting in the house of Mr Pi [Malakul], who is close to Her Majesty… General Surayud [Chulanont, former Thai army commander, and prime minister after Thaksin was ousted by the military coup] asked General Panlop [Pinmanee] to assassinate me.
Did His Majesty know about this?
I don’t think so. I can assure you His Majesty is above [politics], but those in the circle have a network. They stay together, they talk together, they try to give the impression that they are very loyal so they have to get rid of the one who is not loyal, who might turn Thailand into a republic. They want to get rid of me because they say I am trying to turn Thailand into a republic and topple the monarchy. That’s not true. I have a very high respect for the monarchy and royal family.
The Queen attended the funeral of one of the Yellow Shirt supporters [the ‘Yellow Shirts’, Mr Thaksin’s opponents]. You must have been very surprised about that.
Everybody, the whole of Thailand, was surprised. But I know Her Majesty. Her Majesty is very kind when someone gives her wrong information [such as] ‘That lady’s dying because she tried to protect the monarchy.’ I think she was lied to. People around her circles try to give her the wrong impression, to give wrong information to Their Majesties.
You’ve made your appeal to the King to intervene and your supporters have presented a petition for your pardon. Why has the King ignored them?
I think His Majesty maybe now feels unwell because he’s been in and out of hospital. I hope after His Majesty gets stronger he will find a way for the country to be back to unity. We cannot let the country go on like this. We will be getting worse and worse and the division will be getting deeper and stronger.
The King seems to be recovering from his latest illness now. But there will eventually be a change of monarch. What will that mean for Thai politics and Thai society?
Thailand’s been governed by… this dynasty more than 200 years. There’s going to be a smooth transition but Thais need to reconcile their differences first, before the reign change. The reign change will be smooth.
One day the Crown Prince will become King. How will his style be different from that of the current King?
It may be different, but I think it will go smoothly because he’s a constitutional monarch. The people around the Crown Prince will be new, and the palace circle will not be that big because he will be new.
The Crown Prince, because he will be new, may not be as popular as His Majesty the King. However, he will have less problem because the palace circle will be smaller, because of being new in the reign.
How would you describe the Crown Prince’s character?
He’s the newer generation, modern.
What kind of personality does he have?
He has a very strong determination to do what he really wants to achieve. He has a strong determination.
What does he want to achieve?
He’s not the King yet, he may not be shining. But after he becomes the King I’m confident he can be shining to perform Kingship, because he has observed His Majesty, his father, for many years. He learns a lot from His Majesty. It’s not his time yet. But when the time comes I think he will be able to perform.
Sometimes even in a constitutional monarchy when a new monarch succeeds to the throne there is a new spirit in the country. Do you expect that will happen in Thailand?
I think His Royal Highness the Crown Prince – he has grown up abroad, he had education abroad and he’s young. I think he understands the modern world. For a constitutional monarch the world is changing. The monarchy is evolving according to the changing world anyway.
How do you think the Thai monarchy needs to evolve in the next generation?
Being a constitutional monarch and understanding the changing world – that is enough to be a change.
You were elected three times in Thailand. You were never defeated and you were ousted in a military coup. What is your position? Are you still the prime minister of Thailand in exile?
Now I consider myself as ex-prime minister of Thailand and in exile. I was asked to lead a government in exile. I didn’t do that because I don’t want to hurt the monarchy. So after the King signed the decree accepting the coup, I said then ‘I am finished’.
I am now just trying to fight for justice, not for myself but for the people of Thailand, especially the poor. They’d been provided with opportunities and they started to see light at the end of the tunnel. But they staged a coup and destroyed their hopes and now the country has got worse for three years. So I fight for their justice. They deserve to be provided with opportunities.
Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen compared you to Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. Is that a good comparison?
There are some similarities there, but not really everything. The similarity is we won elections, we rule the countries. We’ve been ousted by the coup d’etat and we come from the people. We are democratically elected leaders and we come from the majority of the people – a big majority, not just a small majority.
She’s under house arrest, I’ve been kicked out of the country. They know that if I am in the country it’ll be worse [for them] than Aung San Suu Kyi.
You’re meeting Cambodia’s Hun Sen this week. Are you going to relocate to Cambodia?
No, I can work online. I can work through email, but I want to thank Hun Sen in person.
After he announced the royal decree I rang him to thank him and he invited me to go to Cambodia.
The government of Thailand reacted very strongly, by withdrawing their ambassador. Why did they react so strongly?
This government’s trying to protect its power by every means. They’re afraid that if I were staying there it might be too close. I’m not going to stay, anyway, but I have to travel there.
The whole government is just in a panic about me and doing nothing for the country. They over-protect their power. They don’t have power easily, so when they managed to gain power with the help of the military and the president of the privy council they have to protect it very well – like the cobra protects the eggs.
They are very childish. They’re afraid if I were there my supporters would be more upbeat, because I stay close. I’m not going to stay, I know it’s too close, but I will visit from time to time.
In March you said: ‘If there is the sound of gunfire, of soldiers shooting the people, I’ll return immediately to lead you to march on Bangkok’. Would Cambodia be a good place to start that march?
f I were to start the march I would start from the north-eastern part of Thailand, on the soil of Thailand, but I will have to enter Thailand from the border. I can enter Thailand from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar. I can find a way.
Under what circumstances would you do that?
I try not to. I have the steps [to take before doing that]. Win the next election – that’s crucial, but it doesn’t really solve the problems of Thailand. It may solve my problem but not the problem of Thailand. The problem of Thailand must be solved by bringing both sides together and make them bury the hatchet for national reconciliation’s sake.
Who can do that?
The King. Normally the president of the Privy Council should be able to do it but now the president of the Privy Council has got involved, and will be attacked strongly by Red Shirts [the supporters of Thaksin], and there is nobody left. There is nobody left to make this thing happen. It can be the King or the Crown Prince, who is going to be the next King.
The government want to keep me out of Thailand. They don’t want me to go back to Thailand. They want to keep me out of politics. It’s really politically motivated.