Mr President: Some facts you should know about the Thai political crisis

opinion January 20, 2014 00:00

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To Barack Obama President of the United States of America January 17

Dear Mr President,
I am writing in response to Congressman Michael Turner’s letter to you yesterday, urging you to publicly voice opposition to the anti-government movement and support the election on February 2. With all due respect, Congressman Turner’s letter is misguided and shows a lack of understanding of the Thai political crisis. I would like to first explain what led to this crisis and clarify why the anti-government movement’s aim is to achieve democracy.
As a US-trained lawyer, and citizen of the US and Thailand, I am pro-democracy. Indeed, I have often volunteered for voters’ assistance groups to inform Americans on voting registration, necessary documents for voting and finding the right precinct to ensure that their votes get counted.
The anti-government protesters are also pro-democracy. The movement is not to rid Thailand of democracy, but to rid Thailand of the most tyrannical and dictatorial leader in history. Throughout history, many dictators have been democratically elected. Saddam Hussein received 100 per cent of the votes. Hugo Chavez, whom you publicly called authoritarian, was also elected by the majority.
The Thaksin authoritarian government, elected through vote-rigging, proved to be the most corrupt and the gravest human rights violator. In order to fully appreciate the current political crisis, one must examine the telecommunications tycoon’s legacy. Just to name a few examples of Thaksin’s egregious conduct:
n In February 2003, Thaksin launched a “war on drugs” campaign resulting in 2,800 extrajudicial killings in the span of three months. In 2007, official investigations concluded that more than half of those killed had no connection with drugs. The UN Human Rights Council raised serious concerns yet the perpetrators were never prosecuted.
n In 2004, Thaksin’s security forces shot, suffocated or crushed to death 85 southern protesters in what is known as the Tak Bai massacre. Human Rights Watch has condemned this atrocity and has urged an independent criminal investigation but again, to no avail.
n According to Amnesty International, 18 human rights defenders have been assassinated or have disappeared. 
n Due to Thaksin’s censorship and intimidation of the press, human rights violations remain unreported. 
n In an attempt to circumvent conflict of interest laws, Thaksin illegally transferred billions of baht in assets to his maids and drivers, without their knowledge.
n Thaksin aided his wife to purchase government land at a reduced rate of 1/3 in violation of the law prohibiting political leaders from engaging in business dealings with the government. Thaksin was sentenced to two years but fled the country and never served his sentence.
n Thaksin approved a US$127 million low-interest government loan to Myanmar’s military-run government to purchase satellite services from his family’s telecommunications business.
n While prime minister, Thaksin sold his stake in telecoms giant Shin Corp to Temasek, evading taxes worth $16.3 million. 
n Thaksin’s policy of corruption for his personal gain prompted the Supreme Court to unanimously order the seizure of $1.4 billion of his frozen $2.3-billion fortune.
These are just examples of the myriad ways in which Thaksin abused his power and robbed this country for his personal gain. Although in self-imposed exile, Thaksin continues to run Thailand and implement policy corruption via his sister. In a disguised attempt to foster reconciliation, the current Thaksin regime passed an amnesty bill designed to pardon protesters from all sides for engaging in political expression. At 4:25am on a Friday night, the Thaksin-controlled Parliament revised and passed the third version of the bill that would pardon all politicians ever charged or convicted of corruption since the coup. The revised bill also provided for the return of assets seized. To state the obvious, this law was passed solely to pave the way for Thaksin’s return as a free man with all his wealth restored.
In a ploy to control both Parliament and the Senate, Thaksin’s current government attempted to amend the Senate structure and bar appointed senators. To ensure balance of power, the Senate comprises professionals from all sectors, such as law and science. Eliminating this system would result in Thaksin’s party controlling all legislative power without any checks and balances. The amnesty bill can then easily pass. The Constitutional Court struck down this measure. Nevertheless, Thaksin’s government openly declared that it would defy the court’s decision. 
It is this blatant, systematic policy of corruption and abuse of power solely for the benefit of Thaksin that fuelled Thai citizens to stand up and say enough is enough. The protesters want democracy. But first, Thaksin’s dictatorship must be eradicated. 
After a decade under Thaksin’s regime, one thing has become clear. Our democratic system has failed us. It has allowed an authoritarian regime to usurp power and rob the wealth of the people. When a system allows for voter fraud and places corrupt politicians above the law, citizens must question this broken system. A true democracy requires transparency, accountability and proper balance of power. 
We want democracy. And it is through this civil disobedience that we will achieve it.
Vanina Sucharitkul
cc: Congressman Michael Turner
Vanina Sucharitkul is a Bangkok-based corporate lawyer specialising in international commercial arbitration and advising clients on a diverse range of commercial litigation and cross-border disputes across Southeast Asia involving commercial contracts, investigations and anti-corruption, joint ventures, construction and infrastructure projects, environmental contamination, and employment issues. Experience acting as counsel and advocate in arbitrations across multiple jurisdictions under the auspices of institutions including the ICC, SIAC, AAA and TAI. Admitted to the California Bar and currently a member of the International Court of Arbitration of the ICC.