Editorial: The Real Tragedy Of 2010 Crackdown

It was the Democrat administration who ordered the crackdown in 2010, but the Pheu Thai government has also failed to address the suffering of those affected by the violence.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the decision by former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to – in the words often recited by the Redshirts – "give coffins to those who were asking for ballot boxes." 

On 10 April 2010, soldiers acting under the order of the Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), which was chaired by Mr. Abhisit and his deputy at the time, Mr. Suthep Thaugsuban, moved against demonstrators who were occupying stretches of Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok in their bid to call for a fresh election. 

Mr. Abhisit's decision left more than 20 people dead, mostly protesters, by the time the operation was called off. It was the bloodiest confrontation Thailand has seen in decades, but it was merely the beginning of a far more devastating outcome; the military later crushed the Redshirts in May 2010, resulting in a total body count of at least 90 people.  

The damage from the crackdown extends beyond the loss of lives: Thai society has become far more polarised than ever before, some factions of the Redshirts turned to radicalisation, while dozens of political prisoners have languished in prison since the final days of the military operation in 2010. 

Hopes were stirred among the Redshirts and human rights activists in Thailand when Yingluck Shinawatra surged to power via a landslide election victory in 2011, with a promise that her government would pursue legal prosecution against the perpetrators of the 2010 crackdown, and issue amnesty bills for ordinary citizens who had been jailed simply because they were caught up in the chaos of the protests. 

Over the next few years, we saw debates surrounding the amnesty idea, mainly about who should and should not benefit from the amnesty. The prevailing consensus among the public, and among the Redshirts supporters, was that only protesters of all sides should be dissolved from any pending legal cases against them, while political leaders, officials, and politicians should be excluded from the plan.

However, in November 2013, the Pheu Thai Party, most likely egged on by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, eventually came up with a "Blanket Amnesty" or "All-in-Basket Amnesty" bill that gave everyone a free pass, including Mr. Thaksin himself.

The bill would not only dissolve corruption convictions against Mr. Thaksin; it was written in a such a way that it could absolve Mr. Thaksin of any responsibility for his heavy handed approach to the southern insurgency in 2005 as well. This raised legitimate speculation that the amnesty bill was designed specifically for the exiled helmsman of the Pheu Thai Party.

The plan offended members of virtually all political sides and segments of Thai society. Outrage turned into street protests. The street protests forced Ms. Yingluck to hastily withdraw all amnesty plans from Parliament and later dissolve the House in December of last year.

Now the administration of Ms. Yingluck seems doomed, along with any hope of an amnesty plan for the political prisoners who are still imprisoned. 

Because of its misguided pursuit of the "Blanket Amnesty," the Pheu Thai Party ended up sabotaging the hopes that these prisoners could be freed from captivity and be released back into the embrace of their families and friends. 

Furthermore, it is also incredible that the Pheu Thai-led administration has not bothered to at least sign the order, via the legitimate channel of the Ministry of Justice, to grant these imprisoned citizens a temporary release.

Although the court procedure against Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Suthep, who have been charged with murder due to their roles in authorising the 2010 crackdown, still continues, it is unclear whether any justice will be administered if (or, some would say, when) the new power clique replaces Ms. Yingluck's government. Most likely, the new government, hostile to Pheu Thai Party, will order all court procedures to a halt once they take power.  

The Pheu Thai Party has unwittingly unleashed the force of anti-democracy by handing them the Blanket Amnesty Bill as a rallying point. In doing so, that force of anti-democracy is now threatening any chance of achieving the first legal prosecution and punishment of Thai state officials for crimes against their own citizens.

It has been four years since the first shot flew over Democracy Monument on that fateful April night, yet so little has been achieved by Pheu Thai Party, in spite of the votes and trust the Redshirts have offered them.

There is no question that the widespread violence 4 years ago was tragic, but what is even more tragic is the missed opportunities by the Pheu Thai Party to at least ease the suffering of those affected by the crackdown in the years that followed.

This is the real tragedy of 2010 crackdown. 

 

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