Interview with Suriyasai Katasila

by Chairit Yonpiam and Cholthicha Lermthong, Post Today

Numbers were not the point of the latest yellow-shirt rally, because the rally was aimed at exposing the Abhisit government’s hidden agenda in amending the constitution, to show the public that this government could not be trusted, said Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), in an interview with Post Today about the low turnout of PAD supporters in front of Parliament on 23-25 Nov.

Not many people came out because the rally was not an all-out battle to oust the government and the issue of charter amendments did not appeal to the mass as much as the ouster of the ‘Thaksin regime’.  The important point is that the PAD and the Democrat Party share a common support base.  This was not about Thaksin, and directly involved the Democrat Party, so PAD supporters were reluctant as they wanted to give the party a chance, Suriyasai said.

The lesson would lead to reorganizing the PAD, reassessing its real strength to build a new politics.  The New Politics Party currently has 15 thousand members, and is at the stage of proving that it can be a ‘new home’ for the people, as it is clearly distinct from the Democrat Party.  Both parties had the same stand against the Thaksin regime, but are very different on many issues in the post-Thaksin era, including, for example, police reform, or the reform of state enterprises.  If the New Politics Party were not really different, it would have merged with the Democrat Party long ago, the secretary general of the New Politics Party said.    

‘Now many PAD supporters may be reluctant and feel uncomfortable about why [the PAD and the Democrat Party] have to fight each other.  Some said that they wanted to stay with the Prime Minister, not with us.  I don’t mind.  But one day if they find out that what they cling to is not the real thing, they will, we believe, come back to us,’ he said.

He said that the PAD leaders had discussed this and come to the conclusion that circumstances forced them to stick together, and did not allow them to disband.  They have to continue, and no one knows for how long, as long as Thaksin still tries to reclaim power and the Phuea Thai Party still tries to change the charter to bring him back.  And, most importantly, if the monarchy is threatened, the PAD will fight to the end because they have had a clear stand on the issue since the beginning.

However, he believed that Thaksin had already lost for good the chance to come back, as the fugitive Prime Minister had destroyed himself through his past moves including the riots and the burnings.

The New Politics Party’s strategy to secure votes, according to Suriyasai, will focus on those ‘in the middle’ who are neither yellow nor red, who have no objection to the PAD forming the New Politics Party, and who are not really Democrat supporters.  He believed that these accounted for about 40% of the people.  And the New Politics Party will have to prove that it is not just a party for yellow shirts, and has more to offer society than dealing with Thaksin, including reforms to reduce social inequalities.

Suriyasai said that his political activities had cost him one of the most important opportunities in his life, which was PhD study abroad.  He had applied to the University of Hawaii and the University of Columbia, and had even visited both places, but the anti-Thaksin rallies in 2006 aborted his plan.

‘Now I’ve lost all chance to study abroad, because I’ve been prosecuted in 16 court cases, for all kinds of crimes ranging from defamation to terrorism.  Now I can’t go abroad,’ he said.

However, he is now pursuing a PhD at Rangsit University in Bangkok.

When asked whether it was a case of double standards that leaders of the red shirts have been put behind bars on charges of terrorism, while their yellow-shirt counterparts are free, Suriyasai, after a long pause to think, said, ‘I don’t know.’

But he went on to say that he and other yellow shirts had also been prosecuted, and the government had not helped them.

‘OK.  To be frank, what they did and what we did were different.  What the red shirts did was much more severe than what the PAD did.  We never fired at the authorities with weapons.  Let’s imagine if the red shirts had seized Suvarnabhumi Airport, would the airport have been spared?  But no damage was done when the PAD rallied there, as the airport was able to get back in service within three hours after we left,’ he said.

There was a lot of violence in the red shirts’ protests.  They carried weapons and openly killed the authorities, resulting in the many deaths at Ratchaprasong, for which the red-shirt leaders cannot deny their responsibility.  This is the red shirts’ ‘standard’ which is very different from that of the PAD.  So they deserve a different set of laws for different crimes, Suriyasai said.

He said that the red shirts had often referred to the PAD as ‘well-connected’.  

‘That’s because those who support us reckon that we are loyal [to the monarchy], never challenging the Ammat like the red shirts do, like throwing stones at [Gen Prem’s Si Sao Thewes] residence, ridiculing someone’s sexuality, and cruelly violating other people’s human dignity.  […]  So [the red shirts] have to bear the fact that one day the Ammat will strike back, because everyone has to protect oneself, no matter if one is rich or poor, high or low, Prai or Ammat, and that’s human instinct.’

He said that the red shirts should form a political party to prove that they did not fight for Thaksin, but for justice.  He challenged those who considered themselves to be ‘genuinely red’ to liberate themselves from Thaksin and the Phuea Thai Party like the PAD had done.  The PAD used to be criticized for being a tool of the Democrat Party, and now the PAD fought against the party.  The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship has never fought with or scrutinized the Phuea Thai Party even once.

He believed that the ‘genuine reds’ who fought for justice accounted for about 10% of all the reds, but these people could not form an organization of their own, as they were overwhelmed by the remaining 90% who fought for Thaksin.  He dismissed Sombat Boonngam-anong, the leader of the Red Sunday group, as not a genuine red, but an attention grabber who invested little for a high return.

‘If the genuine reds liberate themselves from Thaksin, this can be a rebirth of the red shirts, and they can eventually join hands with the PAD.  All 5 core leaders of the PAD have always had this idea.  Mr Sondhi has said in numerous interviews that he never sees the red shirts as enemies.  Uncle Chamlong [Srimuang] has also said so.  [The PAD and the red shirts] share the same views, particularly on the issues of double standards and injustice.’



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