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Behind Bangkok’s Wave of Popular Dissent
Behind Bangkok’s Wave of Popular Dissent
Report 215 / Asia

推进和平: 东盟及泰柬边境冲突

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泰国和柬埔寨之间的边界冲突,已造成数十人伤亡,数千人流离失所。这对东南亚国家联盟(东盟)带来了挑战,即如何将有关和平与安全的言辞最终付诸于行动。2006年的政变导致了泰国总理他信·西那瓦的下台。在泰国动荡的政治背景下,柬埔寨成功地将柏威夏寺列入世界遗产名录。泰国亲建制运动利用这个问题掀起了反柬埔寨的民族主义情绪并试图推翻他信支持的政府。群情愤慨的运动迫使边界勘定中断,导致双边冲突爆发。2011年初,这一争端演变为东盟成员国之间迄今为止最激烈的冲突,这是对其互不侵犯这一历史承诺的考验,同时也促使东盟进行干预。国际社会都期望东盟能实现其一贯愿望,即维护自身区域内的和平。然而,到目前为止,东盟干预争端的行动虽然为将来树立了重要先例,但效果甚微。要取得成效,还需要更有力的外交努力和领导才能。

这一争端延续了50年,但几乎被人遗忘。如今这一争端复燃并演变为激烈的武装冲突,与两起事件息息相关:泰国以色彩为代号的政治斗争,即2006年9月他信因政变而流亡后,在亲建制的“黄衫军”和亲他信的“红衫军”之间发生的冲突; 以及联合国教科文组织于2008年7月接受申请,将柬埔寨柏威夏古寺地区列入世界遗产名录。在柬埔寨,人们为此举国欢庆,认为这是高棉人的骄傲。在泰国,极端民族主义的黄衫军借此大做文章,指责由总理沙马·顺达卫领导的他信的代理政府卖国叛国。这成为亲建制派实现政治目的的有力武器,直接导致外长下台,政府解散。尽管由军队扶持的前政权也支持将柏威夏列入世界遗产名录,但亲建制派仍成功地将支持古寺入名录的动机描绘成为他信企图扩张商业利益。在黄衫军发动袭击之前,两国官员都认为将柏威夏寺列入世界遗产名录将创造一个互利互惠的旅游商机。

边境的形势日益军事化和紧张化。由于派遣联合小组到边境地区过于危险,边境勘定划界工作陷入停顿。与此同时,泰国的政治动荡导致外长和其他高级官员频繁更替。民族主义者的诉讼官司,富有争议的法院裁决和宪法规定都妨碍了官员们解决争端的谈判努力,使双边关系进一步恶化。柬埔寨首相洪森对这些消极行为和阻挠战术极为沮丧,并经常对其作出抨击,甚至曾任命他信为顾问。这一小插曲使动荡的双边关系跌至最低点。

尽管东盟在2008年到2010年间对泰柬两国给予了警告,“东盟推动和平的方式”仍是被动的而非积极的。在2011年爆发敌对行动后,联合国安理会树立了一个先例,即将解决争端的决策权转交给东盟和当时的轮值主席国印度尼西亚(印尼)。结果表明,正如[部分] 支持者们所希望的那样,印尼富有活力和大胆进取的领导作风可以进一步团结东盟。东盟的努力取得了突破性进展,即泰柬双方同意接受由印尼派出的观察员队伍以监督停火。

泰国的文职领导人起初同意接收观察员,但在遭到军方的抵制后反悔,宣称观察员将破坏其国家主权,这也表明了政变后泰国政治斗争的局势尚未明朗。柬埔寨5月同意接收观察员,但印尼只愿在得到两国同时首肯后才派遣监督员。2011年7月英拉·西那瓦当选为泰国总理,这一事件曾被视作局势的转折点,但事实并非如此。国际法庭下令在柏威夏古寺周围建立临时性非军事区,并呼吁东盟对撤军进行监督。即便如此,解决争端的政治障碍仍未消除。2011年10月,泰国遭遇了有史以来最严重的洪灾,导致政府不堪重负。随着洪水的退去,泰国和柬埔寨双方需要再次努力,尽快执行国际法庭的裁决。

东盟在2011年初介入泰柬边界问题时,旨在停止敌对行动并重启和谈。虽然自5月份以来没有爆发边境战斗,但停火多为口头协定,并无任何书面协议。这场冲突只有在证实双方均已撤军并且外交官恢复谈判以后才算结束。但在尝试解决该问题的过程中,东盟在印尼领导下已经为处理未来类似纠纷设置了一套方案。如要实现其既定目标,即为自身的和平与安全负责,东盟需要在纠纷初现端倪时就利用现有机制解决问题,而不是仅仅依赖于态度积极的轮值主席国。泰国和柬埔寨之间的纠纷仍不断为东盟提出挑战,因此东盟如要在将来保持本地区的安全稳定,必须在这一争议边界实现切实的和平。

曼谷/雅加达/布鲁塞尔,2011年12月6日

 

Pro-democracy protesters show the three-finger salute as they gather demanding the government to resign and to release detained leaders in Bangkok, Thailand 15 October 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Q&A / Asia

Behind Bangkok’s Wave of Popular Dissent

Anti-government protests and popular demands for reform, including of the once-sacrosanct monarchy, have accelerated in Thailand. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for South East Asia, Matt Wheeler, explains how this crisis over political legitimacy has now reached a dangerous impasse.

Why are this week’s protests significant?

On the evening of 16 October, riot police used water cannons in central Bangkok to break up a crowd of several thousand mostly young protesters who were assembling for the second day in defiance of a ban on public gatherings. The episode marked a violent escalation in a series of pro-democracy protests that has been gaining momentum over the past three months and intensifying further over the past three days.

A day earlier, more than 10,000 demonstrators had gathered a few blocks away, defying measures announced the same morning under a “serious state of emergency”, which prohibits gatherings of over four people in the capital. The government put the extraordinary measures in place to “maintain peace and order” after marchers reached the prime minister’s office and held a large rally the day before. Despite threats that anyone attending or even promoting the protest online would be arrested, thousands flooded the Rachaprasong intersection, in the heart of the city’s shopping centre district, soon overwhelming the sizeable police deployment. The protesters occupied the area all evening, cheering a succession of speakers before dispersing peacefully. Rachaprasong is a place redolent with symbolism: it was the locus of 2010 protests demanding a new election, which were suppressed in a deadly crackdown by Thai army troops that May. 

Protesters called for the release of more than twenty activist leaders who had been arrested earlier in the day. Soon after authorities announced the new emergency decree, in the pre-dawn hours, the police had also chased hundreds of protesters away from the streets around Government House, where they had set up camp following a day-long march on 14 October. Much better attended than the government had expected, that march was also of symbolic significance as it coincided with the anniversary of the 1973 student-led uprising that toppled a military dictatorship.

The enhanced state of emergency failed to quash the popular movement.

The large turnout at Rachaprasong – on short notice and in defiance of authorities’ threats to arrest anyone joining – signalled that the enhanced state of emergency had failed to quash the popular movement. While most recent protests appeared to include a representative sample of the young, middle-aged and old, the crowd on 15 and 16 October was decidedly youthful, with most demonstrators appearing to be in their early twenties. Some in the crowd were high school students and first-time protesters, driven to join by what they saw as an unjust emergency decree clamping down on any expression of dissent.

Who are the protesters and what do they want? 

Street protests are a regular feature of Thai politics, but the 2020 gatherings are different from earlier rounds of collective action in two ways. First, students and young people, who were largely absent from the Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt movements that shook the country between 2006 and 2014, are the driving force of the present mobilisation. The youth accuse the current government of being a reincarnation of the junta that ruled between 2014 and 2019, laundered by the 2017 constitution and a slanted general election in March 2019. They insist that the government – particularly the (unelected) prime minister and ex-junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha – resign. Other demands include dissolution of parliament and a new constitution drafted with public consultation. 

Secondly, and more strikingly, activists are calling for reform of the monarchy – namely, that it be brought under the constitution. Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, thrust the country into a new era on 3 August when he called for palace reform at a small demonstration in Bangkok. On 10 August, at a rally at a university campus north of the capital, a young student activist, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, read a ten-point manifesto on reforming the monarchy, including an end to royal endorsement of coups d’état. Both of them were arrested on 15 October, along with other prominent and vocal students.

Activists are calling for reform of the monarchy – namely, that it be brought under the constitution.

Since these controversial speeches, protesters have criticised King Maha Vajiralongkorn, or Rama X, with unprecedented candour – for residing in Germany while the country faces the COVID-19 pandemic and for squandering the people’s taxes, among other issues. Until recently, such open criticism of the monarchy was unheard of in Thailand. It is punishable by up to fifteen years of prison. But while the harsh lèse-majesté law remains on the books, in practice, the longstanding taboo on public discussion of the monarchy has eroded surprisingly quickly over the last two months. Some protesters now openly lampoon the king, who acceded to the throne three years ago after his father, who had reigned for 70 years, died.

Despite this unprecedented criticism, which distresses many Thais, the government had refrained until 15 October from using the lèse-majesté law to curtail the protests. Police had arrested some student leaders for violating an earlier emergency decree imposed to support public health measures amid the pandemic and other laws, but then released them on bail. The students immediately returned to giving fiery speeches, and protests proliferated across the country, including a series of rallies by high school students demanding reform of the country’s stodgy and outmoded educational system. 

The government’s tolerance now appears exhausted.

The government’s tolerance now appears exhausted. The immediate pretext for the imposition of the “serious state of emergency” was alleged threats to Queen Suthida, whose motorcade passed anti-government protesters on 14 October, after apparently diverging from a planned route earlier cleared by police. Protesters raised three-finger salutes inspired by the popular Hunger Games film series – in which oppressed masses adopt the gesture as a symbol of defiance of tyranny – and jeered as the royal convoy passed, but there was no violence or obvious threat thereof. Two activists have since been arrested and charged with endangering the queen, which carries a potential sentence of life in prison. 

Why now?

Rallies calling for far-reaching political change started to escalate earlier this year, particularly on university campuses, after the Constitutional Court dissolved the upstart Future Forward Party in February. Established in 2018, the party had surprisingly come in third in last year’s general election, proving to be extremely popular with young voters. The COVID-19 pandemic stifled burgeoning demonstrations, but rallies resumed as the lockdown eased. The abduction of exiled activist Wanchalerm Satsakit in Cambodia in June – following the unexplained disappearance of at least eight others since 2016 – also sparked public outrage and galvanised a new generation of activists.

Faced with growing protests, the government seemed to relent on amending the 2017 constitution, a document drafted by junta appointees primarily to facilitate continued junta rule with a sheen of electoral legitimacy. But on 24 September, a two-day parliamentary debate on six amendment bills proposed by various parties ended without a vote, as the legislature went into recess until November. Any move to amend the constitution requires support from two thirds of the 250 appointed senators, which did not materialise. Instead, the governing Phalang Pracharat Party proposed a committee to study the bills for 30 days. Opposition parties walked out, denouncing what they viewed as a delaying tactic. Government officials have since hinted that charter amendment could take years, leading many to believe nothing will happen until the next general election in 2023. Protesters have little confidence in the government’s willingness to revise its bespoke political order.

What are the risks of a government crackdown? 

Thailand holds the world record for number of military coups, and its history is checkered with political violence. Many observers thus fear that the government – run largely by ex-generals – could opt for repression to quell the rising protests. The 15 October state of emergency, arrests of activists, and deployment of riot police against peaceful protesters mark a clear shift in the government’s response. With protesters emboldened by the 15 October rally’s success, they are likely to stage further demonstrations in Bangkok, in spite of warnings from senior government officials that all who participate face arrest and charges of violating the emergency decree. In view of the scale of recent rallies, more stringent government actions present a risk of violence greater than at any point since the April-May 2010 army crackdown that killed more than 90 people. 

The stakes of the conflict, including the monarchy’s role in Thai society, and the terms in which both sides are speaking about it, are elemental and fraught. For many Thais, the current moment evokes memories of 6 October 1976, when police and right-wing paramilitaries – set off by an alleged insult to Vajiralongkorn, who was then crown prince –massacred dozens of pro-democracy students at Thammasat University. 

What can be done to reduce tensions?

The conflict between proponents of popular sovereignty, on one hand, and a hierarchical order underpinned by the monarchy, on the other, is swiftly coming into sharp relief. There is no evident mechanism in Thai society for addressing this conflict, but there are actions that each side can take now to reduce tensions and move toward consensus. First, the protesters should continue to adhere to their pledge of non-violence. Secondly, the government should refrain from using force to disperse peaceful crowds, lift the state of emergency, and protect rights of assembly and free speech. Thirdly, the government should publicly commit to a brisk timetable for amending the constitution and paving the way for a constitutional drafting assembly. 

More daunting is the need for a fresh concord on the monarchy’s changing role. Government officials and royalists insist that public discussion of this role is off limits, but their position is, in light of recent events, anachronistic. The degree of repression necessary to effectively reinstate the prohibition, including online, would tarnish both the government and the monarchy. Given the propensity of the army to abrogate charters, a new constitution alone will not resolve Thailand’s crisis of political legitimacy, but it could be a starting point in the search for a new consensus on how political power should be acquired, exercised and held to account.