YI: Is it fair to say that democracy is at risk in Thailand? Or has the Thai middle class become so big a force to deny?
Panyarachun: I think both factors are applicable. I think definitely in the past 15 years or so, the Thai middle class which have in the past demonstrated or have sort of put up a show of force in the streets. But this time you will find that Thaksin's popularity is still very big. There's no question about that. Now, how did he manage to have that kind of popular base, that's another matter? But the fact is that he is still a popular politician. On the other side, I think that, perhaps the size and the number is less that Thaksin's. I think the quality of the people involved in the opposition to the Prime Minister, particularly to the way that he managed the country, be it political, economic or personal, and business side. It has led to a very acute crisis of confidence, a crisis of credibility and I think that at the moment if you talk to the opposition elements, they are all gunning on Thaksin personally. It's not the government itself, it's not the parliament, parliamentary dispute. But obviously they're gunning on the Prime Minister for some of the 租ubious, unethical practices and activities' with regard to his personal business empire. They are also aiming at several of his cronies who have benefited, at least according to them, from this sudden creation of wealth in a way. I think that -- you've heard of the events in the Philippines many years ago when they talk of Marcos and his cronies -- so there was this kind of terminology of cronies. I think that Thaksin is suffering from that kind of adverse publicity and adverse... at the opposition in that direction.
YI: Nevertheless he is the first civilian leader to have gotten absolute majority after 27 years.
Panyarachun: Yes, to his credit I think that when he embarked on his political career, I think he was wise enough to raise many of the topical issues that were of direct interest and direct relevance to the lives of the voters and the people. And I think that was a positive thing for him to do. Of course, later on people started to question his motives in advocating those issues. People started to raise questions of the manner in which all these activities were carried out, whether they were carried out strictly for the benefit of the voters and the people or whether they were just marketing exercises.
YI: Do you think this is going to create a big divide between rural and urban voters?
Panyarachun: I think it has already created a big divide. Leaving aside the immediate problem of whether he's going to or he's going to stay on and what not, I think the stain of the political scenario is that Thailand is now a totally divided country, which is bad.
YI: Now, if the impasse continues, will the military intervene like in the past?
Panyarachun: I hope not. I'm sure that since my time I think that the military has behaved well and I think that even the present-day army they know that they should stay in the barracks and should see themselves as soldiers of the state rather than soldiers of the government of this or that person. So I hope that will not come to pass. I'm sure that there are other options left. But the point is that somebody just has to make the first step. I think that even those who dislike Thaksin are prepared to try to work on a solution. But I think that if Thaksin is still engaged in a big election campaign and of course everywhere he goes, he gets a so called grassroots support, I hope that he will not be drunk with that kind of power of the people of the other side. And if he feels that he will have the greater number. I don't think that this type of problem can be resolved by the question of who has the majority. Because some of the issues have been raised against ・are more ethical and more legal and I thinks it's better to have the questions pursued and perhaps adjudicated by proper bodies rather than by a simplistic statement that 的'm returning power to the people." It sounds nice and it sounds democratic but I think we should look at the process at how we came to this particular point.
YI: What is the mandate of the National Reconciliation Commission with regards to problems in southern Thailand?
Panyarachun: It originated nearly a year ago when more and more people believed that the policies adopted by the Prime Minister and his government have not・have been counterproductive, to put it mildly. They were concerned that if things were allowed to continue in that direction, the situation in our three southernmost provinces would get worse and worse, which could lead to an eventual breakdown. Some academics had a meeting with the Prime Minister, and proposed to perhaps the government should seek the opinions of some other groups who were not political, and the Prime Minister found the idea acceptable, so they approached me, they questioned whether I would want to be in the commission or not. I thought it depended entirely on the Prime Minister because it's a government-appointed committee. They had not thought the problem through. So I said, in that case, I have to meet with the Prime Minister on a person to person basis. So, I talked to him and I said: I'm listening. If he wanted to me to serve in the commission as a chairman, there were quite a few things that we had to talk things over to see if our lives, although they are not exactly similar, but at least they are not contradictory. After two meetings I had with him, I came to the conclusion that one, the Prime Minister was, at that particular time, quite sincere in appointing the Commission. So I laid down my conditions. Well, if you want me in the Commission as chair, I would need to have full authority in appointing people without the government's interference. Secondly, we would help to draw up the mandate and thirdly, that this Commission would be an independent Commission. And yes, we would be appointed by you, by the government and present our report but simultaneously we would release it to the public, because we believe that we are also accountable to the public. And he agreed to all these conditions.
So, I was given a free hand, in a way. As you can see, many of my Commission members are now in the opposing camp of the Prime Minister. But I distinguish the two roles that they have. And I think, in the first two to three months, the Prime Minister was quite・t least, honest to himself, and honest with me. But politics・Later on, I think it became more and more difficult for us to communicate, perhaps because, partly his mind was not in that particular southern problem. Meanwhile, I was able to devote my time exclusively to the south. I think in the past five months or so the policies of the government have been sort of, veering back, in a way.
This mandate that we have is a mandate to help solve the long-term problems, the root problems. So, we don't deal with the day-to-day events. You can still see some shootings and some killings, some arson, some this or that. But I think the blessing that we have is that since the start, the functioning of the Commission, there has been no recurrence of incidents like Kru Sae or Tak Bai. Now, that's an improvement. Secondly, I think that the people in the field -- be the military or the police -- they understand much better now, the direction and the mechanics of the reconciliation process. Of course, the main problems -- I'm not talking about the root problems -- but the major problem in the area is that there is a total lack of trust in the government, a total lack of confidence in the authorities, and they feel they do not have access to proper judicial process or, even if they do have access to judicial process, that judicial process was not so equitable in a way. Even then, which is the truth, there are people on both sides, on both the government's side and the wrongdoer's side, that they reject the judicial process.