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Abhisit's memoir: Fighting fear with hope

Abhisit Vejjajiva

Publication Date : 29-10-2012


Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's 174-page memoir reveals the young leader's gripping fear of losing innocent lives and the hope that kept him alive to fight another day. The book, "Truth Has No Colour", on sale early this month, contained simple thoughts.

Indeed, this tell-it-all will become a part of his political legacy of events that occurred at the Headquarters of the 11th Army Regiment where the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order was located during the siege of April/May 2010. It included an intimate look into his thoughts and surroundings, along with his close aides and soldiers who guarded him.

He made clear in the beginning that his premiership was legitimate and went through the parliamentarian approval as in other countries. The only serious mistake, he reiterated, was to be a government that could not be dictated by Thaksin Shinawatra. He also revealed that he seldom talked to his protagonist. During the time of the first Thaksin's administration, his relations with Thaksin was superficial and restricted to not more than "10 sentences" of conversations. He pointed out that whenever a parliament session was in recess, Thaksin and him would avoid meeting face-to-face in the Parliament's canteen knowing full well their personal chemistry did not work well.

On page 65, he pointed that in April 2009, Thaksin tried to allege that he ordered to kill during the earlier demonstrations as part of the strategy to inculcate hatred among the Thai people against him. "But the majority of the society knows the truth, so this issue failed to set fire," he emphasised.

Throughout the memoir, Thaksin's figure roamed large because any decision from his opponents could only be possible with his consent. For instance, the televised negotiation between the representatives of Abhisit's government and opponents, he noted, was a publicity stunt for the opponents even though he thought the government could reach an agreement with them. But the leader in exile would not concur. Abhisit proved to be a resolute leader when it came face to face with Thaksin.

Learning from past mistakes from the previous year, his opponents, as Abhisit described it, no longer relied on peaceful demonstrations as they decided to step up pressure against the government through violence and deployed armed elements. He also named several persons as part of militant wings that caused casualties on the streets.

"Having listened to liars long enough, I asked for opportunities to speak the truth" was the blurb used on the back cover. "Records from the heart, never ever changed," run the sub-headline in the front cover.

His version of the 69 days during the April/May 2010 turbulence with some flashback to the April 2009 crisis was contained in the 44 brief chapters related to specific events and personalities with photos illustrations taken by journalists from various newspapers.

Throughout the book, he cited April 10, 2010 as the most precarious day for Thailand and him. "It was the saddest day of my life as prime minister," he said. It was the day when precious lives were lost as his opponents clashed with authorities.

He said that the authorities followed the rule of law and were careful with the counter measures being deployed. He explained how the headquarters used rules of engagement. He emphasised repeatedly nobody above the law, as perpetuated by his opponents, was involved in the crisis. "If there is any mistake, I am responsible," he wrote.

The soul-searching memoir portrayed the prime minister as a concerned leader constantly fearing bloodshed and tried to prevent the loss of lives. Living in military headquarters, Abhisit and his aides were well protected but isolated from the scenes. They relied on reports and information gathered from the military, police, intelligence units and concerned citizens through personal contacts and messages.

He also shows his strength and decency in placing the lives of innocent ahead in any decision to ensure that Thailand would not become a failed state. Apparently, some of his decisions were transmitted through his opponents. The decision to apprehend Arisaman Pongruangrong was leaked, enabling him to escape from a hotel on a board day light.

It was clear from his recollection that his government was losing the information war on all sides. The opponents were able to reign in with loads of accusations, especially over cable TVs and cyberspace, providing the public with false information. It was interesting to note that with all the propaganda that went on against the government, Abhisit and his team were not able to counter them efficiently and sufficiently.

On the lighter side, he spent the last three pages on his personal aides: Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn, Sirichot Sopha and Theptai Saenpong. The latter two are the MPs from Songkha and Nakon Srithammarat respectively—the media called them his "wallpapers" as they were often seen with the prime minister.

During the crisis, he was astonished that Panitan, the government's spokesperson, had never slept. "I even joked that it is time for all of us to go to bed. We should not be worried because Panitan was awake all the time," he quipped. To the former prime minister, Sirichote was a hi-tech wizard who knew the online world and IT. He often briefed Abhisit about the opponent's thoughts and plans culled from their websites and chat rooms.

Theptai, as the spokesperson of the party's leader, was considered a warrior to ward off all verbal attacks against Abhisit. "I did not choose him. The party did," he disclosed. He said he just wanted a spokesperson who can disseminate and elaborate on government policies without spending their time shouting back at opponents.

For the present and future generation, the memoir coupling with the report of National Truth and Reconciliation Commission shed lights on what went on and transpired during the darkest chapter of Thai history. Abhisit's account of the event is a required reading on the missing narratives over the April/May crisis.



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