Notes from Thai PM Abhisit’s FCCT Speech

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s recently-named Prime Minister, gave a speech at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand dinner last night. It was his first address given to the entire foreign press corps. In his 30-minute speech, the 44-year-old, British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit said he would work to achieve reconciliation and social justice in a country that has seen ongoing political chaos.

Outside the event, which was held at Bangkok’s Intercontinental Hotel, a small group of opposition protesters staged a demonstration. Many in Thailand still support ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and his backers have recently held a series of protests around the city. They argue that Abhisit came to power last month through a “judicial coup” following the PAD’s closure of Bangkok’s airports and the subsequent banning of the Thaksin-linked People Power Party. One of the protesters held up a sign saying that foreign governments should boycott the upcoming ASEAN summit.

Inside the hotel’s ballroom, though, the atmosphere was relatively lighthearted.

Here are my notes from PM Abhisit’s speech:

On being Prime Minister

  • “I knew this would be an incredibly difficult job…and there is no doubt that the number one priority is to get the system to work again.”
  • “I know that my job is requiring a grand plan for reconciliation. But it won’t happen without justice. I intend to achieve justice in three key areas.”

Abhisit then outlined the following three points:

  • “The restoration of the rule of law” will be crucial. “I’m not just leaving everything to the police. I’m in the process of finding a few people…and I will ask them to help ensure that there’s a good overview of what’s happened.”
  • “There has to be justice through political reform. The red shirts say the constitution is dictatorial and must be reformed. The yellow shirts say they want a ‘new politics.’
  • “Most important: I will prove that my government will not discriminate; we will work for all Thais, no matter where they live…I will work for every single Thai…”

On political divisions in Thailand

  • “It isn’t true that elites and grassroots people have different ideas about what’s best for the country. It just isn’t true…On one side, they believe that democracy should be about majority rule…But on the other side, they expect democracy to return a government that practices good governance that is transparent and accountable. I will prove that both are possible.”

On international relations

  • Holding he ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, will “send a clear signal: We are back in business.”

On Thailand’s south

  • “The situation over the last two years has been, at best, stable. But it hasn’t improved markedly…I intend to pass a law to set up an office with a minister for Southern affairs…”

In conclusion

  • “The character of Thai people is very clear: it is our resilience. We’ve come through so many crises in the past. There’s no reason we can’t do so again…We simply can’t ask for cooperation. We must earn it. I intend to earn it.”

Q&A session

On tourism and the rule of law

  • For the Q&A session following his speech, I asked Prime Minister Abhisit about tourism and security in Thailand. Following November’s airport closure, many Americans and other foreigners wonder if it’s safe to travel to Thailand. How will the Thai government communicate to the world that the rule of law still exists in Thailand?
  • PM Abhisit said that he expected tourism numbers to hold steady, and that “we’re on the right path, and determined to stay on this path.”

On lese majeste cases and the Web site crackdown

  • “The monarchy has immense benefits as a stabilizing force. We have respect for freedom of expression.” Web sites “shouldn’t allow illegal content…We will try to enforce the law while allowing freedom of expression.”

More on political divisions within Thailand

  • Abhisit noted that in the US, there are differences in political thought among people who live on the east and west coasts and the mid-west. But he asked whether this truly reflects a “fundamental difference,” and whether this means that people who disagree with one another “can’t live in the same country?” He noted that “democracy isn’t just about elections. It’s about respect and the law. Everyone must be equal under the law.”

On Myanmar (Burma)

  • He was asked what Thailand will do to bring about change in neighboring Myanmar. He said that “it’s time for change that will benefit the people and the government.”

On his musical tastes

And finally, on a lighter note, PM Abhisit was asked about his musical tastes and about some of his favorite music from 2008. He mentioned that he like the following bands:

  • The Killers
  • Oasis
  • Metallica
  • Guns N’ Roses
  • Arctic Monkeys

Media coverage

Here’s some media coverage of the event:

  • The Nation: “Grand reconciliation through social justice and rule of law : PM”
  • AFP: “New Thai PM vows to heal political rifts”
  • VOA News: “Thai Prime Minister Promises to End Country’s Political Conflicts”

Thailand has a new prime minister

AP: “Thai opposition leader becomes prime minister

Lawmakers chose an opposition leader as Thailand’s prime minister Monday in a bid to end months of political chaos, as supporters of the previous government unsuccessfully tried to halt the result by blockading Parliament.

The articulate, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, who heads the Democrat Party, gathered 235 votes against 198 by former national police chief Pracha Promnok, a loyalist of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The lower house vote followed six months of instability caused by anti-government and anti-Thaksin demonstrations that culminated last month with a weeklong takeover of Bangkok’s two airports.

The selection of a new prime minister was expected to calm the country’s politics, at least temporarily. However, several hundred Thaksin supporters tried to block the gates of Parliament in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the outcome. Riot police later cleared a path for lawmakers to leave the compound.

And a snip from the end of the story:

Abhisit and his party enjoy strong support from the middle class and many in the business sector. But Sukhum Nuansakul, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University, said the hopes of many for a respite from political instability was likely to be short-lived.

“The fundamental problem has not been resolved,” Sukhum said. “A Democrat win sets the stage for another round of street protests, this time by pro-Thaksin groups.”

Panithan Wattanayagorn, a political analyst from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, predicted that Abhisit was going to face “among Thailand’s roughest premierships.”


Politics in Thailand: battle for the parliament

WSJ: “Rival Thai Parties Vie to Form Government

Thailand’s rival political parties are racing to form the country’s next government this week, with the opposition Democrat Party claiming it has won the support of enough legislators to form a ruling coalition — a move its leaders say could ease the political turmoil that has mounted in recent months.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday his party had won the support of as many as 250 members of parliament, more than the 224 seats required to have a majority in the Thai legislature. Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said Sunday the Democrats had recruited 260 lawmakers for a new coalition.

If the Democrats succeed in creating and maintaining a new coalition with a majority of seats, 44-year-old Mr. Abhisit is likely to be chosen as Thailand’s next prime minister.

However, it’s not certain Mr. Abhisit and the Democrats can deliver this majority. Followers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also are trying to form a government, reigniting a battle for control of Thailand, one of Southeast Asia’s largest economies and major production hub for multinationals such as Toyota Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co.

AP: “Thai opposition may take power, army’s aid hinted

Thailand’s main opposition party called for an emergency parliament session Monday to prove its majority and form the next government — a surprising reversal of fortunes that some suggested was engineered by the politically potent military.

Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thuagsuban filed a formal request for convening Parliament to demonstrate it has the support of enough legislators to form the next government and end months of political paralysis.

This Southeast Asian nation has been gripped by political chaos for three months, with protesters seizing the prime minister’s office and overrunning the capital’s two airports for about a week in a bid to topple the government, accusing it of being a proxy of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.


Bangkok airport closure: more news and analysis

Some updates on the situation here in Bangkok:

TIME: “Thailand’s Political Crisis Becomes a Global One

With a demure smile and a garland of jasmine, Thailand has always welcomed the world. China and Japan may have screened themselves off for centuries, but the ancient kingdom of Siam, as Thailand was once known, thrived on trade and tourism. Even today, the country depends on visitors lured by golden spires and white-sand beaches.

But on Nov. 25, Thailand abandoned its traditional hospitality when antigovernment agitators swarmed Bangkok’s international airport, grounding one of Asia’s busiest air hubs. “Basically, we are hostages,” said Irish tourist Dermuid McAnoy, expressing almost as much frustration toward the protesters as toward airline staff, who seemed to melt away as soon as the crowds armed with bamboo sticks and iron bars appeared. “Yes, we can leave, but we have no place to go.”(See pictures from the Thai protests.)

Thailand’s airport takeover marked an ominous turning point in a months-long political battle that has morphed from sideshow farce to center-stage emergency. “When you close down the gateway to the country, then you have reached the point of a national crisis,” says Panitan Wattanayagorn, a national-security expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “In fact, because this now affects Thailand’s connection to the wider world, it is becoming an international crisis.”

NYT/IHT: “Another Thai Airport Shut; General Asks Premier to Quit

Protesters forced the closing of Bangkok’s second airport on Thursday, severing the last remaining commercial air links to the Thai capital.

Until Wednesday, airlines were operating domestic flights out of Don Muang airport, Bangkok’s oldest airfield.

Officials are now considering using military airports in the area to accommodate flights diverted from Suvarnabhumi International Airport, which has been closed since Tuesday evening.

Passengers seeking to leave the country must now drive to other international airports in the country. One of them, Chiang Mai, is an eight-hour drive north of Bangkok, and another, Phuket, is nine hours to the south. All air cargo operations in Bangkok have also been suspended.

Newsweek: “Bangkok’s Bizarre Power Struggle

Many Thais believe that a 100-year-old bronze likeness of King Rama V located in downtown Bangkok emits powerful magic. That is why, fully a century after it was cast in Paris, the likeness has become the object of struggle between top government leaders and a band of rightists seeking to oust them. A few weeks ago, anti-government agitator Sondhi Limthongkul, whose People’s Alliance for Democracy has occupied key official buildings for four months in an effort to topple a government he considers illegitimate, accused his opponents of employing wizardry to channel the statue’s protective forces their way. And to reverse that alleged sorcery, he deployed his own mystics to encircle the statue with used sanitary napkins (collected from the PAD’s rank-and-file) to form a shield of menstrual blood.

It’s no secret that Thailand’s democracy is embattled. But what’s less well known is the extent to which its rival camps have fallen back on astrology and mysticism as they seek to best their political foes.

Economist: “Too much or too little? Thailand and the Philippines give Asian democracy a bad name

Thailand’s three-year-old political crisis continued to rage this week, as the increasingly desperate anti-government movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), made a last-ditch effort to provoke violence and force the army to stage another coup. It invaded Bangkok’s main airport, prompting the army chief to call on the government to dissolve parliament and for the PAD itself to cease its protests. The PAD’s thuggish tactics have lost it much of the support it once had among Bangkok’s middle classes. Only a fraction of the promised crowd of 100,000-plus materialised this week for its “final” push to overturn the government.

(Emphasis mine.)


Bangkok protests: shots fired

I’m looking out my window at central Bangkok. It’s the early evening, darkness has fallen, and people are heading home from work. Taxis cruise by along the road outside my window. People jog around a scenic park. And motorcycle taxi drivers ferry people about. It’s business as usual.

But sporadic violence has erupted in other parts of this massive city, where anti-government protesters and government supporters have begun battling one another.

Don’t miss this video footage from BBC/Thai PBS: “Thai protesters fire on rivals


IHT: “Shots fired as Thai factions clash at airport

Protesters blocking the main highway to Bangkok’s old airport Tuesday fired handguns and beat government supporters with metal rods in the capital, injuring six people, according to video footage shown on Thai television.

Thousands of demonstrators elsewhere across the capital kept the Thai government on the run, blocking the entrance to its temporary offices at the airport and massing in front of army headquarters. The clashes came on the second day of what protesters vowed would be their final push to unseat the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

On Monday they forced the cancellation of an important session of Parliament and temporarily cut the electricity supply to police headquarters.

TIME: “Viewpoint: Why Thailand’s “Final Showdown” Will Have Plenty of Sequels

Hollywood, the land of ultimate battles and last stands, doesn’t have a monopoly on dramatic endings. On Nov. 24, thousands of anti-government protesters swarmed Thailand’s parliament in what they called — drumroll please — the “final showdown.”

This was, in fact, one of several self-proclaimed final showdowns by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has long been intent on erasing from government any influence of billionaire populist Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed as Prime Minister in a 2006 army coup. After surrounding Parliament and forcing lawmakers to abandon their work, the PAD moved on to Bangkok’s old airport, where a VIP lounge now serves as the makeshift headquarters of current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. A brother-in-law of Thaksin, Somchai was evicted from his real office by the protesters, who have besieged Government House for the past three months.

AP/Washington Post: “Shots fired as contending Thai factions fight

Thai anti-government demonstrators fired shots at government supporters as the rival sides clashed Thursday afternoon on a major highway in the Thai capital of Bangkok.

The fighting began when government supporters began throwing rocks at a truck carrying members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy as it was returning from Bangkok’s old airport, where the group had been holding a rally.

The airport has served as temporary government headquarters since the alliance occupied the prime minister’s office in late August.

The anti-government group responded by firing slingshots and at least two pistols from their truck, and then gave chase to the attackers, who appeared to number several dozen, according to footage shown on Thai PBS television. The gunmen fired about half a dozen shots.

The men on the truck appeared by their dress _ wearing camouflage clothes and yellow armbands _ to be among the so-called guards working for the alliance, who have earned a reputation for aggressive behavior.


Bangkok protests: analysis from Stratfor

Bangkok Protests: Stratfor Image

For some background info on the ongoing protests here in Bangkok (including a map of protest sites, above), check out this article from Stratfor: “Thailand: Tensions Reach New Heights.


Ongoing Bangkok Protests: Monday Update

Here are some links to media coverage of the ongoing protests in Bangkok today:

IHT: “Thai protesters surround parliament

Anti-government demonstrators spread across Bangkok on Monday morning, surrounding the Parliament building and advancing on the police headquarters in what they described as a final push to unseat the government.

Officials canceled a session of Parliament scheduled for Monday after the protesters massed outside the building and the electricity was reportedly cut.

“We have agreed to cancel the session until the situation is back to normal,” Chai Chidchob, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Thai television.

By midafternoon, however, demonstrators had pulled back from Parliament. Instead, organizers from the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the group leading the protests, called for supporters to head to Don Muang airport, the Thai capital’s old international airport now used mostly for domestic flights.

AFP: “Thai anti-govt protesters besiege state buildings

Thousands of Thai protesters surrounded parliament Monday and besieged other state buildings in what they said would be their final battle in a six-month street campaign against the government.

Demonstrators began leaving Government House — the prime minister’s cabinet offices which they have occupied since late August — and marched towards parliament a few blocks away in Bangkok’s historic district.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said about 18,000 protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had taken to the streets and managed to block all three roads leading to parliament.

CNN: “Protests cancel Thai parliament session

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched on Thailand’s Parliament Monday morning, causing lawmakers to postpone their session fearing violence, said House speaker Chai Chidchob.

Protesters, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, also surrounded Bangkok’s police headquarters and the finance ministry building.

The demonstrators brought their own guards who were armed with clubs and long wooden poles in anticipation of clashes with police and pro-government supporters.

BBC: “Thai marchers move on parliament

Thousands of demonstrators have surrounded Thailand’s parliament building, prompting the day’s parliamentary session to be cancelled.

Protesters have been occupying the government compound in the capital, Bangkok, for months.

They say their mass protest is a “final battle” to topple the government which they say is a proxy for former, exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protesters belong to the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

The current Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, who has been attending the Asia Pacific Ecocomic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Peru has said he has no intention of resigning.

AP: “Protesters at Thai Parliament for ‘final showdown’

Thousands of anti-government protesters surrounded Thailand’s Parliament on Monday, forcing legislators to postpone a joint session, and more demonstrators rallied at other government offices in an action billed as their final bid to oust the administration.

Riot police barricaded Parliament with metal barriers and stood guard inside the compound as the protesters, who call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy, marched on the building, blocked its gates from the outside and cut electrical wires to create a blackout.

And finally, for some analysis, look no further than this Reuters story: “SCENARIOS — What’s in store for politically riven Thailand?

For ongoing coverage, check out Bangkok’s two English language newspapers, The Nation and the Bangkok Post. And Bangkok Pundit is posting frequently. 2Bangkok has some links, too.


Bangkok blast kills 1, injures scores

Bangkok Post: “Bangkok Bomb

At least one anti-government protester was killed and 24 were wounded in a pre-dawn bomb blast Thursday inside a demonstration site in Bangkok, emergency services said.

The bomb went off at 3:28am in front of a stage at Government House compound, which protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have occupied since late August.

The Nation: “1 killed, 26 injured in explosion in Government House

One protester was killed and 26 other were injured when a bomb exploded inside the Government House complex in front of the main stage of the People’s Alliance for Democracy early Thursday morning.

Guards and protesters said the explosion occurred at 3:25 am, just a day after the so-called ceasefire during the royal cremation period.

Reuters: “Thai protesters blame govt for grenade attack

The leader of a long-running anti-government street protest in Thailand called for a major rally on Sunday to oust the “murderous government” after one of his supporters was killed by a grenade.

Sondhi Limthongkul accused the government of having a direct hand in the firing of the grenade in the early hours of Thursday into the Government House compound that has been occupied by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) since August.

AFP: “One killed, 22 wounded in Bangkok blast: police

One Thai protester was killed and 22 wounded Thursday in a blast at a Bangkok demonstration site, police said, raising fears that political violence is resuming after a brief lull for a royal funeral.

The explosion hit at 3:28 am (2028 GMT Wednesday) in front of a stage at the prime minister’s Government House offices, which anti-government protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have occupied since late August.

FT: “Explosion kills Thai protester

An explosion at an anti-government protest site in central Bangkok has killed one person and wounded 24 others, further raising the temperature in Thailand’s bitterly divided politics.

A device exploded just before 3.30am at Government House, which housed the offices of the Prime Minister until anti-government demonstrators occupied it in late August.

For updates on the story, as always, check out Bangkok Pundit.

And for additional info, here are my posts tagged Bangkok protests, including the audio slide show I put together back in September.


Obama wins: electoral maps, images, and more

"Obama Makes History" Washington Post front page

Some links:

  • For a recap of the election, this Wikipedia page — United States presidential election, 2008 — is a good place to start.
  • Newseum has images from today’s front pages. (Here’s a bigger image of the Washington Post front page above.)
  • The Big Picture has a collection of photos of Obama throughout the campaign.
  • has a nice round-up of electoral map images.
  • Electioneering ’08 is “a historical snapshot of various media sources’ coverage of Election Day 2008.”
  • Categories

    Watching the election from abroad

    A and I will be gathering around the TV tomorrow (Later today, US time), watching the election results with a group of friends. We’ll be checking out the live news coverage, and I’m sure there’ll be some laptops and smart phones out, with folks consulting electoral analysis sites like the intriguing (Baseball stats-like analysis + politics = great reading).

    There’ve been some intense discussions among our pals, though, about what time the results will be known. We’re 12 hours ahead of eastern time, so, we’ve been wondering, will we know who the next POTUS is by 9 a.m. tomorrow (Er, Tuesday night eastern time)? 10 a.m.? 11 a.m.?

    Turns out that some news organizations might be calling the election by early as 8 a.m. Bangkok time (8 p.m. eastern). (You see how confusing this can get.)

    NY Times: Networks May Call Race Before Voting Is Complete

    At least one broadcast network and one Web site said Monday that they could foresee signaling to viewers early Tuesday evening which candidate appeared to have won the presidency, despite the unreliability of some early exit polls in the last presidential election.

    A senior vice president of CBS News, Paul Friedman, said the prospects for Barack Obama or John McCain meeting the minimum threshold of electoral votes could be clear as soon as 8 p.m. — before polls in even New York and Rhode Island close, let alone those in Texas and California. At such a moment, determined from a combination of polling data and samples of actual votes, the network could share its preliminary projection with viewers, Mr. Friedman said.

    “We could know Virginia at 7,” he said. “We could know Indiana before 8. We could know Florida at 8. We could know Pennsylvania at 8. We could know the whole story of the election with those results. We can’t be in this position of hiding our heads in the sand when the story is obvious.”

    Similarly, the editor of the Web site Slate, David Plotz, said in an e-mail message that “if Obama is winning heavily,” he could see calling the race “sometime between 8 and 9.”

    “Our readers are not stupid, and we shouldn’t engage in a weird Kabuki drama that pretends McCain could win California and thus the presidency,” Mr. Plotz wrote. “We will call it when a sensible person — not a TV news anchor who has to engage in a silly pretense about West Coast voters — would call it.”

    (Emphasis mine.)

    Bangkok friends and other readers abroad: How do you plan to follow the election news? Got any good Web sites to share? Let us know in the comments.