His Excellency Kasit Piromya, former top diplomat and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, has ever since been one of the most critical and vocal commentators of Thai politics. In the interview below he shares his views and assessments on current issues of Thai foreign policies and domestic politics.
Q: Excellency Kasit, as a former Thai Ambassador to the USA: How do you see the current Thai-US relationship?
The problem of the current Thai-US relationship is that the US only looks at whether the Thai government is an elected or non-elected one without digging deeper into the causes of those problems in Thailand that ended up with the military coup d’état corruption, lack of governance, abuse of power, majority absolutism, parliamentary dictatorship, interference in the judicial process and populist policies that destroy the financial rules and the economic performance of Thailand. So, the problems in Thai politics and society are there because the government was abusive and corrupted. The military government came as a consequence of the failure of elected government. The United States must look at the causes of the problem, but instead the US. Only loo at the result a coup d’état [installed] military government. Make a judgment and “punish” Thailand on that basis. The punishment lies in lowering the level of the relationship as a soft sanction. This is including measures such as no high officials [of these countries] will come to Bangkok. They will not accept [our] high level delegations to Washington, they will withhold or delay military procurements, they will not renew preliminary negotiation on the free trade agreement, and they will might, I think, slow down the cooperative activities [in general]. All this is done to show a sign of displeasure with the military government. So it’s li e “punishing” the military government and therefore punishing the Thai society as a whole. At the same time they are also urging the military government to hold elections as quickly as possible. So, what the United States has been doing in the past 12 months is first soft punishment and second pressuring and pressing the military government to hold the elections.
On the other hand, the Thai military government has failed to explain to the US why did the hell they made a coup d’état. What were the real reasons? It was not because of the yellow shirt and the red shirt on the streets. No, it’s not that simple. The military government must explain why the yellow and red they came out to the street and what were the causes and believes? And when I said explanation, I mean that you don’t have to ma e it on TV, you quietly tell to the United States Ambassador here or you send a delegation to Washington and explain what are the problems, what were the problems and what do I want to do in order to overcome the problems, whether the United States can help, etc. This is what the Thai government should do. At the same time, the United States must not just look at whether we have an elected government or a military government, but see how to help Thailand to become a stronger democratic society.
Q: And what about the relationships to the European Union, Germany and China?
The Chinese don’t care whatever type of the government we have in Thailand, and the Chinese at the same time are trying to sell the idea that a one-party-system is good for a developing country. So, that is undemocratic. It is to have a bigger [political] suppression with some economic freedom, which I don’t accept because it denies [political] freedom. So, the Chinese model may be good for China, but it is not good for Thailand because we want to have a democratic system, not a suppressive one-party environment. The EU is behaving similarly like the US. They also only look at Thailand with the “this is an elected or this is a military government”-lense. Again: [that´s] too simple and not helping. Germany, so far, is still most active among those countries in supporting Thailand to rebuild democracy which has very much to do with capacity building in the fields of administrative and legal framework and governance. Germany is in particular helping in civic and political education.
Q: How do you assess the position of Thailand within the AESAN context since the coup?
Thailand is the one of the founding states of ASEAN, and we are one of the biggest countries therein. We are in a very central geographical position, and we are quite advanced, – relatively to the neighboring countries. So, we should continue to play the leading role of forging the integration of ASEAN. But how much Thailand can lead depends on the type of government and on the question who is the Prime Minister and who the Foreign Minister.
Q: The launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is scheduled for 31 December 2015. How do you evaluate the current status of preparation and what are the prospects of this AEC?
I don’t thin the preparation in any of all the 10 ASEAN countries is good. All of us could have done much more. Thailand could have done more on the transportation network inside Thailand. The Yingluck government was not spending time and money on this issue, but was only looking at populist policy measures. The military government for the past one year had not done much. They don’t now what to do [in this respect]. Also, the customs around the country, around the airports, seaports and on land are still not yet ready in terms of the modernization of the customs and immigration. I think that is not satisfactory. Third, the general education of school children, business men, house wives and so on could have done better, could have been undertaken much more intensively. The government media has paid not much attention and spent not much time to educate the people. The private sector has also not been educating their members, [for example] through the Federation of Thai Industries and Chamber of Commerce. So there should be more activities for people to know what ASEAN is and what opportunities are provided, where the competition is coming from and so on. I think overall, there is still a failure of the 10 ASEAN countries to have a common migrant labor law and system. So a lot of work has to be done.
Q: So the prospects are…
I think the prospects have much to do with the failure of [all] the 10 ASEAN leaders. They have not been sincere. I think they only come superficially to various meetings, but they are not outing their answers to jointly move ASEAN forward. They only come to meeting for the photo session, and have speeches, and joint statements and nothing else. There is no vision, there is no fighting spirit; it is more of a ceremonial performance they have to perform. It is ritualistic, deeply ritualistic, and I am disappointed by all ASEAN leaders. None of them is taking the lead or trying to forge ASEAN together.
Q: Turning to domestic politics: Recently the “crisis panel” as proposed by the constitutional drafters in Draft Charter has become a hot issue in public debate. How do evaluate this issue in particular and the draft charter in general?
I do not agree with “crisis panel” because it is undemocratic. You cannot have a “politbureau” imposing itself on an elected parliament. That is the Chinese way. That is an authoritarian way of doing it. Those people in the “crisis panel” are bureaucrats. Why should bureaucrats have power over the elected members of the parliament? I am against it. And I hope that the whole Foundation will be against it. We have not discussed this matter yet. There is no need for whatever such strategy or national committee. All of this is undemocratic and supposed to perpetuate the bureaucratic and military power. It will not make Thailand a full-fledged, mature democracy. And why should they act like the Vatican, they are not our spiritual leaders. They have no right to do so. My point in addressing Dr. Borwornsak and the military government is: We have come this far in terms of democratizing and democratic evolution reflected by such achievements as people’s participation in Thai politics, more civil society, independent constitutional organizations like the Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman, the Supreme Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court and so on. We have to develop all of these further and must not to go back. And that is the task of Dr. Borwornsa . If he doesn’t do that, I accuse him of being a servant of authoritarianism. And because they deliberately wrote a draft that they knew in advance that it will not be accepted by the yellow shirts and the red shirts, the intention was firstly not good and secondly in order to prolong the life of the military government. So, why the hell do you have to write a bad document. It is [li e] a “crime” writing such a bad undemocratic constitution by Dr. Borwonsak with the backing of the military is [li e] a “crime” because you are denying the freedom to the people.
Q: You have recently joint the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation (PDRF). What is your role in this newly established foundation?
My role in the PDRF is to explain to the international community two things. One is what has been happening in Thailand for the past years, why there were so much street politics. The other issue is explaining why we need the reform before the elections for the next 15 months, what we can do on some of these issues before the elections and what can we continue to do when we have an elected government. Furthermore, my role is also to work with my colleagues in the Foundation to formulate reform proposals to be delivered to the military government and the Thai public.
Q: Is your role in the PDRF possibly conflicting with your role in Democrat Party?
No, there is no conflict, simply because I have submitted a memo to Khun Abhisit informing him that I have relinquished all positions and activities in the Democrat Party as of 5th of August, although I still retain membership in the Democrat Party because that is an expression of my liberal stance. So, I have no official role in the Democrat Party to play and therefore there is no conflict with my new role in the PDRF. When I accepted the invitation from Khun Suthep, we had already talked about my resignation from official functions of the Democrat Party.
Q: Speaking of the Democrat Party, what is in your opinion the role the Party is playing right now and what could it be in the future?
It cannot have any role [in the party] at the moment, unless it reforms itself. This is the first thing the [Democrat] Party must do. Secondly, it must have the guts of determination to offer a draft constitution of its own to the public, and to come forward with another paper for national reform in Thailand, too. So, that means the Party has to commit itself to the public with regards to two things: a draft constitution and a reform concept for Thailand according to the ideas and views of the Democrat Party, without having to listen to anyone. As we are a very experienced political party with experienced politicians, so it’s nothing wrong [with that]. But to make the draft constitution and the reform concept for Thailand, the Party must reform itself in principle. I myself did make a proposal for such a reform of the internal structure of the Party which foresees a dual structure within the Party consisting of members of parliament and those politicians solely responsible for the political work in parliament, the committees and the constituencies on the one side and professionals running the administration of the Party free from external interferences on the other side. But Khun Abhisit did not agree with my proposal.
Q: So, there is a lack of political will to a self-reform of the Democrat Party?
One problem I discovered on the internet about Oxford is an article in the Guardian a year ago. It found out that all the Prime Ministers from Oxford University around the world operate their political life on the basis of the trend and not on a pre-commitment to an idea. It’s nothing harmful or nothing wrong, I think it is just what type of education and what type of political ideas you have.
Q: You have been a top diplomat and Foreign Minister. If you would be the Minister of Foreign Affairs again, what will be your priority message to convey to the international community?
I would say that we are going through a democratization process, and that we have [already] come to a certain point because we have seen more and more participatory politics in the past 20 years. But there are maybe still 20 percent left to achieve full participation and central ownership by the people. That is why we need the best practices from Germany, from France, and from the United States and other democratic nations. How do you have a system of public procurement that can prevent corruption? One of the rules is that none of the ministers in cabinets in European countries has any power to put their name or signature on a public procurement [document]. But every Thai minister among the corrupted ones, the first day they come to their respective ministry, they ask “How much money is left in the ministry´s budget; what can I sign?”. That’s why all the corruption in this country.
Thank you very much for the interview, Excellency.
The interview was conducted by Dr. Duc Quang Ly, CPG Project Manager.