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Finally, the PAD shows its true colours

Original Published at Bangkok Post

The raid on the headquarters of NBT on the morning of Aug 26 by a group of anti-government protesters alleged to have carried guns and long knives, has struck alarm among human rights and media freedom groups.

The action is one of the few cases of direct harassment of the media in contemporary Thai political history.

The raid conducted by members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on the NBT public television station was among a series of raids on government offices, ministries and roadblock protests across the country.

The raid was seen as an unbelievable act, carried out by an anti-government group which has been quite popular among middle-class Thais and Bangkokians.

While the PAD has always told the public that it is a coalition which supports the use of non-violent acts of civil disobedience, these series of key incidents reveals how far the PAD will go in fighting to achieve its goal: the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his entire cabinet; in other words, an end to this government.

To PAD watchers like Professor Prabhas Pintoptang of Chulalongkorn's faculty of political science, the coalition has been seen as planting structural hatred and division in society on a scale far worse than that ever achieved by the previous government under ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

In his interview with Thai Post last month, Prof Prabhas said the PAD had become ''an ultra-nationalist movement''.

He said the PAD was using the same demonisation tactics employed by the right-wing militia to crush the pro-democracy student movement in the mid-1970s, which ended in the lynching of student activists near Thammasat University on Oct 6, 1976.

Those seen by the PAD as their enemies have been branded as thieves and bandits, and therefore were eligible to be subjected to the worst kind of treatment.

Vulgar words have been used against respected figures in social movements, such as Jon Ungpakorn, a former senator of Bangkok who founded the independent online news source, Prachatai.

Prachatai has been presenting views critical of the PAD's use of acts considered tantamount to lese majeste in their attacks on political enemies.

Just days after Prof Prabhas criticised the PAD through his writings, his name was mentioned on the PAD stage, with the subjective argument that Prof Prabhas had worked for years with the Assembly of the Poor (AOP) as an adviser simply to gain popularity.

In fact, the PAD's tactic of raiding government offices using force has nothing in common with the AOP, the first mass movement organisation known for its non-violent direct action against a government dam project in Ubon Ratchatani province.

Under the Thai constitution and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a state party, freedom of assembly is guaranteed when it is carried out peacefully without the use of force. Human rights defenders see the right to peaceful assembly as a basic right along with the rights to freedom of expression and association, which governments may not tamper with.

However, storming government offices and occupying them with force is definitely contradictory to the stated international human rights standards.

Looking at the composition of the PAD now, you will notice that this movement is no longer a broad-based ''alliance'' as it was during the anti-Thaksin days in 2006. Civil society groups in the PAD now only comprise a few individuals, not of broad-based networks like the Assembly of the Poor, NGO Coordinating Committee on Development, Four Regions Slum Network, or the Students Federation of Thailand (SFT) _ a countrywide network of student unions and student activist groups. Earlier this year, the SFT publicly expressed its dissatisfaction of the PAD's strategies and withdrew from the grouping.

This is because the PAD no longer mentions issues relating to the welfare of the people. Issues such as the government's policies towards trade liberalisation which are affecting the people; human rights violations such as the case of Tak Bai, or the menacing war against drugs under the Thaksin administration; or issues relating to an attempt to push policy towards the creation of an economic system similar to that of a welfare state.

The PAD's focus is now on superficial issues, which would not benefit members of the poor or marginalised groups. Many social critics have commented that the reason the PAD's core leaders continue to wish to overthrow a democratically-elected government is their fear of becoming the target of revenge from the previous government, which has close links with this government _ nothing more.

A recent interview given by Sonthi Limthongkul, a key leader of the PAD, reveals that he would not be critical of another military coup d'etat, if the regime that would come to power agreed with the demonstrators' goals.

We are now at a critical juncture in Thai political development and democracy. The coup d'etat of 2006 undid years of political development, which tried to minimise the military's involvement in politics and to create a functioning democracy.

For now, we can only hope that the series of ill-directed campaigns by the People's Alliance for Democracy will not bring Thailand to a deadlock, leading towards the legitimisation of another failed shortcut to democracy.

The writer is Southeast Asia Programme Officer with the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia).


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