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King Prajadhipok's Institute: executive summary of research on reconciliation

The aim of the present research was to investigate concrete steps to bring about sustainable reconciliation in Thailand in the present context. Research findings are based on the following components:

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(1) Literature review of conflict resolution theories, reconciliation processes and transitional justice, as well as conflict resolution tools used in Thailand and in foreign countries;

(2) Conclusions of public forums held in all regions of Thailand between December 2010 and June 2011;

(3) Review of transitional justice experiences in 10 foreign countries, namely Indonesia (Aceh), South Korea, South Africa, Rwanda, Morocco, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, United Kingdom
(Northern Ireland) and Germany;

(4) Analysis of past political conflicts in Thai society from the 1932 revolution onwards;

(5) In-depth semi-structured interviews with experienced politicians, leaders of current social movements, actors in reconciliation efforts and other relevant stakeholders.

Research findings (1) identify the root causes of the Thai current political conflict and (2) issue recommendations for bringing about reconciliation.

1. Root causes of the Thai current political conflict

At the core of the current political conflict lies the existence, in Thai society, of conflicting views on democracy, with regard to power and resource allocation. The first view places emphasis on the electoral process with the executive deriving its legitimacy from “the majority rule”. The opposing view considers “morality and ethical behavior” of the executive more important than its representativeness.

Both views are being held by a variety of groups for different reasons, be it convictions or personal interest. In the context of a society characterized by strong socio-economic inequalities, the conflict between opposing views on democracy has gained in intensity and scope, investing the social and the psychological domains. Both parties consider that the use of power by the other one is not legitimate, for instance, the intervention of the executive in the work of the public scrutiny bodies or the use of coup d’états. The conflict has invaded all sectors of society, as a result of grassroots mobilization and bias media.

2. Recommendations for bringing about reconciliation

In the context of a deep bipolarized society like Thailand, there is no possible answer relying on the identification of who is “right” and who is “wrong”. Both sides being most likely to maintain their current positions in the short run, what is now urgently needed is to build a “reconciliation climate” by opening up a space for public debate so that all parties can exchange about possible solutions to the conflict and create better mutual understanding. This will in turn enable the parties to reach a common position and achieve sustainable peace.

Conclusions presented here are drawn from the confrontation of experiences and opinions that are still revolving around a bipolar axis; therefore they do not represent readymade instant solutions for Thailand. Instead, they insist on the need for cooperation between all parties by engaging in a genuine dialogue.

The reconciliation process should indeed be inclusive of public dialogues at two levels: (1) dialogue between political representatives and direct stakeholders (such dialogue could adopt several forms); (2) the people, by participating in “Thailand’s forums” to allow people from all sectors to exchange and debate about possible solutions for Thailand and to imagine and build the future of Thai democracy and the common political rules it will entail.

Public debate and dialogue are essential elements of reconciliation. It should focus on at least six issues, detailed below. The four short-term issues to be subject to public debate aim at returning Thailand to a normal state; the two long-term issues aim at preventing the re-occurrence of violence to move the country forward.

Short-term issues to be subject to public debate

(1) Truth about past violence

The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) should be encouraged. Its investigation of the violent events that occurred in 2010 and 2011 should be completed within the next six months and the findings, which should not name perpetrators, should be made public when deemed appropriate according to the social and political context. The objective of this dissemination is for Thai society to learn from its past violent events to prevent their reoccurrence in the future.

(2) Amnesty in relation to participation in mass protests

An amnesty for participants in protests, including demonstrators, security officials and their supervisors as well as state officials in charge of implementation of the Emergency Decree should be granted. There are two options to be further deliberated upon: (1) issue an amnesty bill covering both charges related to the infringement of the Emergency Decree B.E 2548 (2005) and regular criminal law when motivated by political aims such as damage to State or private property or life, or (2) issue an amnesty bill covering charges related to the infringement of the Emergency Decree B.E 2548 (2005) only.

Hence, both alternatives exclude the issuance of an amnesty for cases related to defamation of the monarchy, which shall still be subject to the regular judicial process.

(3) Restore confidence in the judicial process in accordance with the rule of law : cases
initiated by the defunct Assets Examination Committee (AEC)

With regard to judicial cases initiated by the Assets Examination Committee (AEC), there are three possible options: (1) process cases within the existing regular judicial framework by transferring the cases from the AEC to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for further processing, excluding cases that have already reached their final verdicts; (2) nullify all legal decisions stemming from the work of the AEC and transfer all cases to the regular judicial system without consideration of possible time prescriptions; (3) nullify all legal decisions stemming from the work of the AEC but do not allow for re-judgment of ongoing or finalized cases.

Whichever solution is to be chosen, there should not be any prosecution of the AEC considering that its actions were in line with its announced mandate at that time.

(4) Common political rules to be agreed upon by all parties

All parties should participate in searching for solutions to improve the country’s level of democratization and abidance by the rule of law while cautiously avoiding imposing “the justice of the winners”. This could include amendments to important laws and the Constitution, such as measures related to the dissolution of political parties, the selection of personnel serving in independent public organizations, and the process of scrutinizing their work, as well as those specifying the balance of powers between the executive, the legislature and the independent public organizations.

Long-term issues to be subject to public debate

(1) Reflect on the future of the Thai “democratic regime with the King as Head of State”

The Thai “democratic regime with the King as Head of State” is the rationale to which all Thais adhere. The Thai public should engage in a dialogue on the features of Thai democracy in the context of persistent opposing views.

(2) Lay the foundations for creating social justice

Particular efforts should be concentrated on reducing socio-economic inequalities and civic education inclusive of values of tolerance.

All parties should cooperate to build the conditions for reconciliation.

The government should (1) affirm its political will by announcing concrete measures conducive to reconciliation in the short-term; (2) raise awareness of all parties as to the importance of the process; (3) offer explanation about the violence and offer compensation to victims of violent events, both financial and psychological; for the latter, memorialization efforts should be made attempting at restoring the dignity of victims through, for example, the construction of a memorial.

All stakeholders should refrain from actions leading to (1) a climate of defiance towards the law and the existence of a rule of law, such as using the masses to stage unlawful protests; (2) mistrust and suspicion among Thai people, such as political and social movements that could be seen as attempting to bring about changes to the royal institution.

Also, mass media should be supportive of the reconciliation process and refrain from stirring up new conflicts, especially through one-sided media. Meanwhile, Thai society should not revive the debate about the right- or wrongfulness of the coup d’état and instead focus on ways to prevent reoccurrence of coup d’états in the future; the definition of the offence of coup d’état together with a penalty for committing such offence should be incorporated in criminal law.

At least three factors are crucial in assuring the success of the reconciliation process:

(1) The political will of power-holders dedicated to achieving public interest;

(2) The degree of inclusiveness of the process;

(3) The core question from which the entire conflict stems should be addressed and solved to act as a driving force for democratization.

In addition, the research team recommends, as a first step towards national reconciliation, that the parliamentary subcommittee on national reconciliation launches its own internal debate and, without using majority vote, reaches its preliminary conclusions. The preliminary conclusions should be reported by MPs to their parties, as well as to constituents and society as a whole for further deliberation. The aim is to lead Thai society to come to the realization that reconciliation can only be achieved when all parties agree to take part in a dialogue about possible solutions. An inclusive dialogue is the sole process likely to bring about solutions acceptable to all.

Finally, the success of the recommended process will depend on the scope and content of the public debate in Thai society. Not only must legal and judicial aspects of the conflict be discussed, but also its root causes, including a reflection on power relations in Thai society. The reconciliation process must engage all parties within a democratic context allocating space for all parties to express their opinions and debate about the future of the country, the common destination for all.

Building reconciliation in Thailand

Who are the parties to the conflict? 

  • Conflicting views on democracy (focus on majority rule versus focus on morality and ethical behavior)

What are they fighting for?

  • Beliefs – Conflicting beliefs related to power and resource allocation in society Interests – Conflicting attitudes in relation to the pursuit of conflicting interests

How did the conflict turn violent?

  • Use of power by ‘both parties’ for the pursuit of the above-mentioned interests and/or beliefs through means considered illegitimate by the other party

How to initiate a reconciliation process?

  • Dialogue engaging all parties in a debate about possible solutions to the conflict, the future of Thai democracy including its common political rules

Set of issues to be discussed

  • 1) Truth about past violence
  • 2) Amnesty for cases related to participation in mass protests
  • 3) Restore confidence in the judicial process in accordance with the rule of law:
    cases initiated by the defunct Assets Examination Committee (AEC)
  • 4) Common political rules to be agreed upon
  • 5) Reflect on the future of the Thai “democratic regime with the King as Head of State”
  • 6) Lay the foundations for creating social justice

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