Voranai: Let the Shinawatras Be

A portion of an unsourced image purportedly showing former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in London recently has been circulating online.
A portion of an unsourced image purportedly showing former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in London recently has been circulating online.

Voranai VanijakaIt’s the same story, repeated over and over. Whenever a photo of Thaksin or Yingluck Shinawatra shows up, living the good life abroad, the anti-Shinawatra crowd in the kingdom is up in arms. Calls are made for extradition. Demands are made to lock’em up.

Of course, judicially speaking, they should be extradited and imprisoned. After all, they were both found guilty of corruption by Thai courts. Emotionally speaking, just imagine the collective euphoria that would sweep across the kingdom, or at least Bangkok. It would be as if Thailand had won the World Cup and Miss Universe pageant on the same day. They’d be whistling in the streets, I tell you.

Realistically speaking however, this is never going to happen. As time and again, reality has proven that no country is going to extradite either Thaksin or Yingluck. I’m no fan of the siblings, and I do believe they are guilty of corruption. However, I’m a big fan of logic and reason, of fact and evidence; therefore, allow me to explain something that many readers likely already know as to why the Thai government cannot make a strong enough case to persuade other countries to extradite the Shinawatra duo.

Firstly, they both are democratically elected prime ministers of Thailand, ousted by military coups d’etat. That makes them political refugees. Neither England nor France would extradite them. North Korea might, but not Western democracies. As such, unless Yingluck is strutting around the streets of Pyongyang with her Hermes bag, don’t hold your breath for extradition.

Secondly, though both have been found guilty of corruption, it’s not exactly a free and fair judicial process when they were first ousted by coups. Especially in Yingluck’s case, where she was tried and found guilty under a military regime. Here, we have the recurring theme of a military coup d’etat. If the siblings had been charged and found guilty of corruption under democratic circumstances, certainly Thailand could make a stronger case with Interpol and the international community for extradition. But throw a coup into the equation, and the entire argument is ruined, at least in the eyes of Western democracies. North Korea, on the other hand, might say, “Sure, we’ll send them back, you want us to torture them a little bit first, just for fun?”

Thirdly, the military junta does not actually want them extradited. Talks of extradition are just to appease the raging emotions of the anti-Shinawatra crowd. If the junta wanted them in prison, then the junta would not have “allowed” Yingluck to escape the country in the first place.

Furthermore, consider this: In the 2001 general election, Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai party won more than 11 million or 40.6 percent of the popular vote, leading them to capture 248 seats in parliament. In 2005, they won more than 14 million or 56.4 percent of the popular vote for 375 seats. In 2011, Yingluck and Puea Thai party exceeded 15 million or 48.41 percent of the electorate and garnered 265 seats.

Between March and May 2010, the pro-Shinawatra, Redshirt group United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship marched on the capital following a court verdict to seize USD$1.4 billion worth of Thaksin’s assets. The Democrat-led Abhisit Vejjajiva government estimated the number of protesters to be around 50,000. The Redshirts claimed the number to be 300,000. The truth is definitely somewhere in between. By the end of the protests, 91 people died, more than 2,000 were injured and billions of baht was lost in property damage, destroyed or burned. Thailand was ripped into two tribal warring factions.

From elections to protests, if those numbers and a dozen years of conflict tell us anything, it is that the Shinawatra family has strong support among the people. As such, any move to actually and physically put either Thaksin and Yingluck in prison would be met with widespread protests that could consequently lead to another, even uglier round, of violence and civil unrest. With that in mind, perhaps this was the reason Yingluck was “allowed” to escape in the first place.

So no, the military junta does not want them back. Nor should any of us, given the context.

Lastly, and of personal importance to Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, everything is pretty much planned out, with a new constitution, new electoral landscape and new political party. The junta leader has set himself up to likely become the handpicked prime minister of Thailand following the next general election slated (perhaps) for November this year. So why would he want to potentially create uncertainty and unrest that might jeopardize this grand scheme?

Gen. Prayuth, more than most, wants to let the Shinawatras be.

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Voranai Vanijaka is the former editor-in-chief of GQ Magazine Thailand. He teaches Global Media Studies at Thammasat University. From 2008 to May 2014, he wrote the Sunday Column on politics and society for the Bangkok Post.