Although Jakrapob Penkair may have disappeared from the Thai political scene many years ago, his name still resounds. This confirms his status as a 'political man' whose latest achievement is to co-found 'Seri Thai'--an organisation whose mandate is to fight the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) from outside the country. It is the task which has prompted another round of surveillance on him by the authorities.
Jakrapob has led a life of a great variety. After going to Johns Hopkins University in the United States, his career has ranged from the private sector to the civil service in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; from being a writer to plunging into the game of politics as Government Spokesperson in more than one administration. Not long after joining the Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party, however, he was charged with lèse majesté after sharing his views on the patronage system in Thai society with foreign journalists. After that, he was involved in establishing the main faction of the anti-establishment red-shirt Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) before it evolved into the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). In 2009 he decided to leave Thailand and since then has lived in exile.
It has been six years since he started this self-imposed exile. However, he does not want to define himself as a refugee. On the contrary, he calls himself an activist for democracy in exile. Regarding him as a politician of pragmatism who adapted to the turns of the political tide to survive change, Prachatai interviewed Jakrapob Penkair on the current political situation. Let's find out his views on Thai politics at present as well as the steps taken by the Pheu Thai Party (PTP), the UDD or the Red-Shirt movement. Find out what it is like to be an exile in the current context.
Read the Part 1 of the interview here
Looking Back (continue from Part 1)
In sum, have the Red Shirts died after the crackdown?
No, not dead at all. But in the future it just depends on what structure they will have. For example, will it be necessary for all the Red Shirts to be dragooned into the Pheu Thai Party (PTP)? What will those Red Shirts who are not in the Party do? How will they express themselves politically? Through what means? It is possible that a new political party might be set up. But what will this party propose that is different from the PTP? The needs of the people are the same and what is different is just the level of political struggle. There is still no conclusion about this.
And how would Thaksin reposition himself?
I don't clearly know, but personally I think that the value of Prime Minister Thaksin now is as a political symbol rather than as a political leader, because that opens an opportunity for the process to evolve beyond PM Thaksin himself, and this is what we want. I have already said that what we really need is "Thaksin-plus". The ‘plus’ means that the people themselves will have to decide what they want to do. I am not in a position to clearly respond to this as my political career took off with PM Thaksin. I am not politically in a position to speak outside that context. If I say more, maybe no one will believe me.
People see that Thaksin is not just Thaksin but he has a network of power and capital. Will reducing him to a symbol, when he has supported political activism, but now is not there, make the movement weaker or stronger?
That depends on what kind of transitional plan there is. To give you a real example if we know how to turn this asset into capital, and have received the money and turned it into capital, that is an investment that bears fruit in the long run. Simply put, we must give up ‘begging’ from Thaksin and use this last moment for ‘begging’ and then let politics develop in its own way, because we cannot deny the role of PM Thaksin in helping politically and funding some groups. That I won’t deny. I think it would be stupid to deny that, because when PM Thaksin gives political funds, there are millions of pairs of eyes watching him and looking to see where he’s done wrong. But when other people who have capital like Thaksin give, we have no idea how and to whom. I think Thaksin’s contributions are much safer for society, but those who receive them have to convert them into ‘capital’.
Some people say that the Red Shirts are much more involved than Thaksin. The fact that Thaksin remains invincible is an obstacle to development rather than reform. What do you think about this?
And is it Thaksin’s job to stoop down to accommodate that? The wings that want to go further than that have to create their own leaders. This is the political development of all organs. I can't say if I agree with what you asked, but I will talk about the method. The method is not to cut Thaksin off, but to add other people into the system. Whether this can be done in practice is another matter. I understand that it is a difficult thing, but there has not been a phenomenon where a new leader has been scrapped in order to allow Thaksin to continue as the leader. If there is, that will be a problem.
Many members of the public still place their hopes on Thaksin. Do you think that’s wrong?
Who are you asking? If you ask me, I hope so because everything is like climbing a political ladder. I am not fantasising about something simply falling into our lap. I think it has to go step by step.
There have been accusations of secret meetings of forces and the use of weapons to achieve change. Are there really such ideas? Why?
I just think that we need a stronghold so that we have right to think, with absolute freedom, about what we need to do in the future. This is because if you are in Thailand you can't think and if you can, you can’t think things through, you can’t think as a group and you can't reach a consensus. So we have be somewhere which allows us to act. It is not like any other case. It is not a process of changing locality or a migration process. It is a process ... I don't know what to call it, but the closest would be a "greenhouse". As we can't plant in the fields, we have to plant in a greenhouse nearby. We plant in pots, waiting for the right time to transfer them into the soil. I don't know what to call it.
In the mass of asylum-seekers, there may be a very small minority linked to cases of arms. It happens that there are boasts that someone has done this and that in an attempt to make themselves look like somebody. But the process of being together means questions must be asked. Even if you can get weapons into Thailand today, who would you shoot? When this question cannot be answered, it means there is no goal for the revolution. So there is no need to talk about weapons. After a while, this way of thinking disappears. People give up this line of thought. Those who come with a violent attitude from the start will first have problems, but later it will go away by itself after professional training. From my personal experience, I have never met a single person who habitually uses violence. They are not professional criminals.
There is the issue of violence.
As far as I know, there was some here and there, but this was not a decision made at the leadership level. They were decisions made by some groups to protect themselves. It was an image used to create the view of us as violent and to legitimize the killing of people in 2010. It was a massive lie.
What happened was the result of the fact that the leaders of the political struggle didn't see it as a revolutionary situation. So all the arrangements were for reform, to prepare for an election. It came from asking the wrong question from the beginning. If it had been a revolutionary situation, violence would have been one option.
At what level can we accept the use of violence … if it is a revolutionary process, does that make it an exception?
For me, I think it does. I have to force you to become an animal with me, reduce humans to animals, because it brings out the rawest part of humans to make changes to generate something new which leads to better things. The revolutionary process is not something exalted. It belongs to inferior means and conditions so that something new can be created.
And you believe in going that way?
I didn't say that, but I can answer your question. The reason why it has constantly been distorted is because it did not reach the stage of being a revolutionary organization. This is just an explanation. In fact, the condition of being humans is that no one should have the right to exploit others. But the question is if one is exploited, how far does the right to protect oneself go? Are there guns that we say can be used only for self-protection and not to attack others? Or can the same guns function as both? Likewise with revolutions. People change their lives and it affects our lives, we tell them we don't want such a change and we change our lives, which may affect their lives. Do we have such rights? How do we behave in a violent situation? Because I don't believe that humans are born without an instinct for violence. I believe we are born with it, but we use socialization to discipline this to the point where we don’t need to use violence against each other. It is simply something that is still there. People are still violent. There is still domestic violence. People still shoot each other when a car cuts in front of them. Teachers beat children be taking their personal frustrations out on the children. This is violence and it may be even worse than war because no one sees it, there are no umpires.
Political violence is an issue that is difficult to avoid. But if you ask me how far one can go, I can agree with it as far as the right to self-protection. Political prisoners to some degree have committed offences that come from violence. It comes more from the disorder in the struggle than principles. I know I am speaking strongly, but I think it is necessary to speak so that we can debate "yes" or "no". I simply see it was unnecessary violence.
Analysis of the present
"If we look at the country, the economic state of the country, we have to close our ears and eyes and let the draft constitution pass so that it can lead to an election. … After all, a political impasse cannot be the environment for constitutional drafting. No matter how many versions you draft, it won't pass, because it is not the time to look for consensus. In any country, drafting a constitution does not mean everyone has to agree with it. But it is a situation where even those who disagree are willing to fight in the future."
Do you think the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will be here for a long time? What is the way out?
The NCPO is now stuck in the spider’s web of Thai politics because there are other people more powerful than it in different dimensions, many dimensions. For example, the NCPO may have the power to prohibit the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) or the Muan Maha Prachachon Foundation from assembling or restrict the Democrat Party's right to heavily criticise the junta. But at the same time, the NCPO does not have the power to do such things without thinking whether such suppression will not backfire on them. Simply put, the NCPO is in the worst situation where the dictator has a monopoly on power, without actually having absolute power. Another piece of evidence showing that the NCPO regime will have big problems in the future is the Ratchaprasong bomb blast. The Chinese had actually warned the NCPO that the Uighur problem would lead to terrorists. But the NCPO did not trust the police enough to share this information with them. This is a serious problem of trust within the Thai system.
What do you see as the solution to the problem of the constitution?
You have to speak in these terms. If we look only at the country, the country's economy, we have to close our ears and eyes and pass the constitution be so that it can lead to elections. But deep down inside, I have to apologise to those who disagree. I think a political impasse is no environment for constitution drafting. No matter how many drafts you come up with, it won't pass, because now is not the time when you can look for consensus. In other countries, drafting a constitution does not mean everyone has to agree with it. It is a situation where even those who disagree are ready to move on and fight another day. It requires such a sacrifice to give birth to a constitution, but today no-one is making any compromise.
This means that the draft constitution should pass so that there is no buying time –and wait to play their game in the days ahead.
Theoretically, a half-full glass is better than no water. Rather than starve to death for one's dignity, if you ask me, I'll choose the half-full glass because it is a political ladder. After all, there is no one who can see to the end of the road, if it leads the wrong way, or leads to the same place, but sometimes you can take half a step, sometimes almost a full step.
Is it possible that the PTP will have no way to win again given the new structure written into the constitution?
Political activism does not necessarily need to take place only in parliament. But to create an atmosphere where politics can be talked about in different ways, an election is the catalyst for political expression, political speeches, setting policy, the work of the media, various seminar discussions. These will follow on from the election process. It can't be stopped.
If the representatives of the people are elected under a National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee, will that be considered an open atmosphere?
No it would not, but it is a situation which creates other forms of political expression. Those who speak this way think that a majority is necessary just to dominate. But that's not so. In many countries, politics change by the votes of the minority who knows how to play the game. But at present, this situation is that nothing can be done at all. No one knows where the majority is or the minority.
To be continue Part 2