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A Week in Review: June 5-11, 2010

The violent conflict may have ended, but Thailand remains a country divided.  And while there is talk of reconciliation, the rift is proving difficult to bridge. Read our week in review here...

For the first time since before the troubles began three months ago, the PM left Thailand last weekend when he flew to Ho Chi Minh City to attend a World Economic Forum meeting. However, Thailand was still very much on his mind when he told reporters that early elections were still a possibility, provided there was cooperation from all sides on his reconciliation plan.  

Back in Bangkok, the Democrats made massive gains in the latest Bangkok district councillor polls when they won 10 out of 14 districts, with Puea Thai taking 3 and one district split. Democrat candidates took 77 seats compared with 27 in the last election four years ago, while Puea Thai’s return of 3 districts was significantly down from the 11 they won last time out.

The results are seen by many as an indicator of the damage that the recent occupation and destruction of central Bangkok have done to Puea Thai’s support in the capital.

On Monday, two Puea Thai MPs were expelled from the party for supporting the government in the recent censure debate, while two more have also been asked to explain where their allegiances lie.

The censure debate was viewed by people on both sides of the political divide as something of a letdown, and none of the important questions were satisfactorily answered, especially concerning the many deaths and injuries. The Mirror Foundation, a non-profit human rights group, has also claimed that up to forty people are still missing after the troubles.

Investigations are ongoing and, on Tuesday, Khanit Na Nakhon was chosen to head the independent committee looking into the 89 deaths and almost 2,000 injuries that occurred during the recent troubles. The 79-year-old was a founding member of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party and is a former attorney-general. However, the pro-Thaksin red-shirts (UDD) were not happy with his appointment and their lawyer cited the fact that Khanit had never criticised the 2006 coup as evidence of his anti-Thaksin sentiments.

Khanit has fifteen days to pick his investigation team, and the personnel he selects will give a clearer indicator of his impartiality. He has promised to involve representatives of all political colours and go beyond laying blame in a bid to promote reconciliation. Let’s hope he is not only true to his word but also given unrestricted access to all relevant evidence.

The investigation is one of the key elements of the government’s increasingly maligned roadmap to reconciliation. On Wednesday, Thaksin’s legal advisor added his criticism to the 5-point plan, although his call for all parties to be involved was somewhat ironic since the government had already tried bilateral talks with the reds during the troubles but it is widely believed that a peaceful resolution was scuppered on each occasion by Thaksin’s interference because even though the red shirts’ demands were met, there was no amnesty for Thaksin himself.

In fact, Abhisit has iterated on numerous occasions that if the roadmap is to achieve its aims, it will require input from across the political spectrum. However, there is growing doubt as to whether this can be achieved.

By the end of the week, more Puea Thai MPs and even independent academics were beginning to question the roadmap, and even Abhisit himself expressed doubt about whether it could succeed, citing the number of people who have been fed distorted information as being a major obstacle to bridging the political divide.

One final news story that almost missed the English-language media's attention this week was the death of Saknarin Kongkaew, a core UDD leader, who was shot dead in Korat.

The question remains: is Thailand genuinely trying to solve its social problems, or is it hoping that they just go away by themselves?

Paul Snowdon – June 12, 2010

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