Interview With Thai Foreign Minister 'I'm Not Going to Run Like Mr. Thaksin'
The protests in Bangkok have been dispersed, but class hatred continues to simmer. How can Thailand solve its crisis? SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya about former Prime Minister Thaksin, the army, media censorship -- and a king who has been remarkably silent.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Kasit, the world has not forgotten the images of the bloody unrest in Thailand. At the time it looked as if Thailand was on the brink of civil war. What measures is the government taking to reconcile the two political camps?
Kasit: It is not an issue of two camps. The interpretation of a divided country does not reflect the real situation in Thailand. Rather, it was created only six months ago by protest leaders to incite people to take part in the anti-government demonstrations. The Red Shirts protested in order to support the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to bring him back to Thailand without having him serve the jail sentence he has received for corruption and conflict of interest while in office.
SPIEGEL: Apart from the political attitude towards Thaksin, the farmers of the north believe they do not benefit from the country's economic growth.
Kasit: In the past 30 years, we have had a growing middle class and rising urbanization in Thailand. Poverty has been reduced greatly. If you look at this statistically, the latest United Nations figures show that level of economic disparity in Thailand is no different from that of other developing countries and even better than some developed countries. Having said that, in every society there will always be people who are not satisfied.
SPIEGEL: What is your explanation for the protests?
Kasit: The Marxist-Leninist interpretation was used by some protest leaders to paint a picture of disparity in Thai society -- between the rich and poor, rural and urban areas -- to attract supporters. This notion has also been accepted by the leftist media around the world.
SPIEGEL: But the protesters themselves are not Marxists?
Kasit: Some of their leaders are. Indeed, some are former members of the Communist Party of Thailand.
SPIEGEL: How have the leaders succeeded in gaining so much support?
Kasit: The protest is coordinated, organized and financed by Mr. Thaksin and his people. It is not something that happened naturally like in other countries, where demonstrations are spontaneous, like in Greece.
SPIEGEL: Maybe the Red Shirts learned from the Yellow Shirts? The Yellow Shirts occupied the airport in Bangkok.
Kasit: The Yellow Shirts were protesting against the Thaksin government because of corruption. The Red Shirts were protesting against this particular government in order to help Mr. Thaksin. The two causes are not the same.
SPIEGEL: They blame the government for the same things.
Kasit: Problems faced by Thai society have accumulated over the years. Although they did not start during our time in government, we are trying to address them in a sustainable manner.
SPIEGEL: What is Thailand's sickness?
Kasit: Ethics, and good governance issues. The interference of money politics. And the one who has instigated all this corruption was the former prime minister, who is now travelling around the world with foreign passports.
SPIEGEL: Wouldn't it be best to hold new elections?
Kasit: Why not? But the conditions must first be conducive.
SPIEGEL: What about elections in November?
Kasit: In early May, the prime minister offered to hold early elections in November if all sides accept his reconciliation plan, but Mr. Thaksin refused it. And then he started to have this armed insurrection.
SPIEGEL: So you are not talking about elections in November any more?
Kasit: No. That is now off the table as the protest leaders rejected the prime minister's reconciliation plan. The government is nevertheless proceeding with this five-point plan, and committees have already been set up. Everyone can participate in constructing a new Thailand.
SPIEGEL: But many media are being censored, like Prachathai.
Kasit: Well, if you have media that keep on promoting hate campaigns and reporting news that infringe upon the private lives of other people ...
SPIEGEL: So you think it is necessary to block thousands of Web sites?
Kasit: Those sites were attacking the prime minister and the royal family in a very inappropriate manner. Would you allow that in Germany?
SPIEGEL: The German government doesn't block thousands of Web sites.
Kasit: The German media does not use inappropriate language like the Thai media.
SPIEGEL: Do you think good progress has been made with the reconciliation plan?
Kasit: All the committees have now been established to promote reconciliation and reform in accordance with the Prime Minister's five-point road map, including an independent fact-finding inquiry, economic and social reform, media issues and constitutional amendments. They have to make recommendations by the end of the year. But at the same time, you also have to ask Mr. Thaksin when he is going to stop hiring consulting companies in London and Washington to do media campaigns and distorting the news.
- Part 1: 'I'm Not Going to Run Like Mr. Thaksin'
- Part 2: 'We Are Struggling with Ourselves'