Denial of culpability discredits Abhisit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 December, 2010, 12:00am

'Sorry' seems to be the hardest word for the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in Thailand. Seven months after it ordered a deadly crackdown against the red-shirt protesters, which resulted in 91 people being killed and over 1,900 injured, the government has yet to deliver a satisfactory account to the public.

On the contrary, the state security forces have maintained that they did not shoot at the protesters. Their position clearly contradicts a leaked report of the Department of Special Investigation, which concluded that the military played a major part in the killing of civilians on May 19.

Immediately, the military rebuffed the report and cast doubt over its reliability. Meanwhile, the prime minister downplayed the controversy, emphasising that the report was 'only a part', and responded directly to Reuters' request to investigate the death of its Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto, a victim of the crackdown.

Abhisit's reluctance to apologise for the loss of lives in the crackdown has offered his opponents a chance to challenge his legitimacy. The leaked report is likely to embolden the supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in their mission to discredit the Abhisit government.

Abhisit had blamed a radical element within the red shirts for inciting violence and using terrorist tactics to achieve their goal. The findings, which reveal the involvement of the military, serve to delegitimise Abhisit's accusation against the red shirts.

They could also jeopardise Thailand's relations with Japan. In the wake of the death of the Reuters cameraman, Japan immediately requested an explanation from the Thai government, but so far in vain.

The inability of the Abhisit regime to come clean with the mistakes it made during the crisis has allowed Thaksin to return to the political limelight and reinvent himself - this time, ironically, as a human rights advocate.

Thaksin claimed to have been invited to Washington by the US Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe, for a hearing initially set to be held last week, to address human rights issues in Thailand. His announcement irked his enemies in Bangkok.

Later, the commission postponed the hearing indefinitely, raising the question of whether there was an invitation to Thaksin in the first place. With or without the hearing, Thaksin has succeeded in humiliating the Abhisit government on the global stage. Here is the key message: Thaksin is not a champion of human rights, but neither is Abhisit.

The current government has long suffered a lack of legitimacy since it came to power with only the backing of the military.

Its refusal to admit mistakes has deepened its own vulnerability and, more importantly, exposed its unjustifiable tactics against the opposition, including the application of harsh measures such as imprisonment, the use of the emergency decree and restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies