Almost two years after losing in Thailand's general election, former Democrat Party prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has seen a lot of changes in his life.
He now spends much of his political career attending trials and court hearings – a far cry from his former 21 years as a politician – working diligently at Parliament and the Democrat Party headquarters.
After losing to the Pheu Thai Party in 2011, Abhisit again found himself the opposition leader of Thailand’s oldest party. But now he also appears in court on a regular basis – sometimes as a plaintiff, or witness – but also as a co-defendant in a trial against him and his former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaunsuban – with whom he stands accused of ordering the killings of red-shirt demonstrators in 2010.
“I’m now a regular visitor at the courts,” Abhisit smiles, adding that he doesn’t lose any sleep over it. He has even gained weight – blaming it on the cakes baked by his private secretary Somkiet Krongwatanasuk. He seemed to be in high spirits, joking and laughing with his staff.
“Myself and Suthep realised that once the Yingluck government came to power, there was a high chance we would stand accused of these crimes. The red shirts have claimed repeatedly that I ordered the killings, but I don’t think the Department of Special Investigation dared to accuse us on their own,” said Abhisit, adding that he was not concerned with the outcome, because he knew they were both innocent.
However, his parents are worried.
“It’s normal that mum and dad should be worried about me, but my wife [Pimpen Vejjajiva] is not worried at all. She strongly believes in my innocence,” Abhisit said.
“I told her that someone wanted me to support the amnesty bill [which would allow former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return home) – saying the case against me would be dropped if I did. Do you know what she said? She said if I negotiated with them, she would divorce me. She said if that means I end up in jail, so be it.”
During his campaign speech in the run-up to the 2011 general election, Abhisit confessed to his supporters at a Ratchaprasong rally that his life had changed dramatically in the aftermath of the clashes between red-shirt protesters and security forces on April 10, 2010. He cried for a long time that night and could not decide what to do. It was his wife who helped him get through the ordeal, he said.
However, the deaths of those 99 people during the 2010 political violence have returned to haunt him, and the case threatens to destroy his political future. “It depends on the people. If they find me guilty, I will have to take responsibility,” he said.
If that were the case, he would welcome someone else from the party to replace him as Democrat Party leader. “The Democrat Party is not owned by any one individual,” he added.
The ex-PM said he did not believe there would be any intervention in his case from those in “high places”. However, if the court cleared him of the charges, he said it was likely the red shirts would use the verdict for their own political gain.
Asked whether he ever thought of fleeing the country to avoid the charges, his answer was adamant, “Never.”
Abhisit said he expected the ruling Pheu Thai Party to try and push through its amnesty bill and constitutional amendments, when the new parliamentary session begins in August. “The government has a hidden agenda to amend Article 309 of the Constitution. Why do they spend so much of the country’s time trying to nullify the court verdict [against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra],” he said.
In 2008, Thaksin was sentenced in absentia by the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Holders to two years in jail for abuse of power.
In response to calls for proper justice for Thaksin by his supporters, Abhisit said he did not believe the former premier was unfairly convicted – adding that one of Thailand’s biggest problems was that Thaksin “is fighting against the country”.
Abhisit also has some questions for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – Thaksin’s younger sister. “Why doesn’t the Yingluck government choose to serve the country and its people? Why does it serve Thaksin? They should be serving as the elected government of the people, not the ‘government of Thaksin’,” he said, adding that it was his duty to try and protect the rule of law to the best of his ability.
Asked for his response to a statement by Chiang Mai University historian Prof Nidhi Eoseewong and historian Prof Charnvit Kasetsiri from Thammasat University – that the Democrat Party should find a new leader now that Abhisit was a criminal defendant, the Democrat leader said it was an acceptable point of view. “If there is no future for me with the Democrat Party, then I have no problem with it. But the country must move forward and I will do my best to try and prevent anyone from destroying it.”
He said the professors should also turn their attention to the actions of those who were bent on trying to damage the country for their own benefit, instead of finding excuses for them. If the Democrat Party was so bad, he added, it would not have won the Bangkok governor’s election and the Don Muang by-election.
“After taking everything into consideration, including my future, I still want to be Abhisit – not Thaksin,” he said with a laugh.