Sunday, October 08, 2006

Professor Bonura on Thailand in London

This from Professor Bonura. He is currently in the UK in advance of his research trip to Thailand which, as you can imagine, has been complicated by the recent coup.

This weekend I attended "Thailand under CEO Thaksin: a debate on events leading up to the coup and the future prospects for democracy in Thailand" at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). This event was designed to shed some light on the incredibly complex politics behind the recent coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra. Taksin was remarkably both popular, in his ability to win large majorities in three elections, and popularly embattled, as he faced mounting public protest to his rule for the last thirteen months. The talk featured Sondhi Limthongkul and Kraisak Choonhavan, two outspoken critics of Thaksin. More than any other individual Sondhi was responsible for organizing massive public demonstrations against Thaksin, highlighting the numerous allegations of corruption that plagued Thaksin's administration since its beginnings in 2001.


Readers of the blog can see Sondhi and Kraisak's arguments against Thaksin and for the coup at SOAS's website which has the entire event on streaming video: [note: to launch the video click on the event poster on the right of the screen--the actual presentations begin at minute 13 of the video and the sound quality gets increasingly better over time especially around minute 20].

Sondhi and Kraisak outline the corruption, human rights abuses, and violations of Thailand's famed "people's constitution" under Thaksin's rule. They also, toward the end of the video, provide a justification of royal authority in Thailand. This is where the current politics of the coup get very complicated as the conflict is not really between Thaksin and the Military, but rather between Thaksin and a number of different interests including very strong royalist forces who can be found in political parties, the military, and in civil society. Sondhi is by far one of the strongest voices in support of the King's influence in politics.

The event was, however, not without controversy. A letter by Prof. Patrick Jory described how, in fact, the SOAS lectures did not represent a "debate" at all, since Thaksin, who is in fact in London, was not invited and there the two speakers were in total agreement on the legitimacy of the coup.

I've attached this letter and the photo's show Sondhi (in the brown suit with glasses) with some of the audience (which was well over 100) after the talk.