EU extends invitation to ex-Thai PM Yingluck - but will the junta let her travel?

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 24, 2015 A LETTER appearing to be an invitation by European Union parliamentarians to former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to talk at the EU is being circulated in Thailand, sparking speculation about her future whereabouts amidst criminal charges at home and implications for the relations between the EU and the Thai military.

Signed by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Elmar Brok and Werner Langen, the letter (see below) recalls Yingluck’s visit to the EU in March 2013, before addressing the current political situation in Thailand under the military junta "with concern". The letter concludes with an invitation to the former prime minister for an ”exchange of views … either in Brussels or in Strasbourg.”

Yingluck invited to talk Thai politics at European Parliament. But will junta let her go?

Posted by BangkokPost on Monday, November 23, 2015

Yingluck and her Pheu Thai Party-led government were toppled in a military coup on May 22, 2014 following over half a year of sustained anti-government protests. She and hundreds of Thais, including her cabinet ministers and party colleagues, were detained for several days by the military at various places in the country, before being released under the condition that they not rally against the Thai junta.

Since then, she has been impeached by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), an ersatz-parliament fully appointed by the military junta, and is now facing criminal charges at the Supreme Court for alleged negligence over her government’s rice subsidy program.

The policy - in which the government bought the rice from farmers at roughly 50 per cent more than the market price - was hugely popular among her party’s rural electorate and is credited to have helped her secure a landslide election victory in 2011. But the rice scheme program was slammed by critics for alleged cases of corruption, a huge financial loss of reportedly 500 billion baht ($14 billion) and millions of tonnes of rice rotting away in stockpiles while still waiting for a buyer. The latest reports suggests that 2 million tonnes of rotten rice have been approved for sale, which then can be used for industrial purposes such as the production of ethanol.

Amidst that, the letter from Europe comes at a peculiar time. Thai-language daily Khaosod reported on Monday that it received word from the Pheu Thai Party about the letter, a copy of which was later circulated by its sister publication Matichon. Other media outlets reported, based on sources close to Yingluck, that she hasn't decided yet whether to accept the invitation.

Since the coup last year, several Western countries have downgraded their relations with the Thai military government, including the European Union. Not only has it banned any state visits on and above ministerial levels, it also suspended talks over a potential free trade agreement in the immediate aftermath of the coup (much to the annoyance of European business lobbyists in Bangkok).  The likelihood of a resumption of talks is  "probably zero”, according to Miguel Ceballos Baron, a top aide to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. He added that ”it’ll be never ratified” as long as the junta stays at the helm.

In light of the deteriorating human rights situation under the Thai military junta and the deep revamp of the political system under the guidance of the generals, several European parliamentarians across the political spectrum criticized the current regime in October. The European Parliament as a whole passed a non-binding resolution condemning the ”illegal coup of May 2014” and demand to ”overturn convictions and sentences, to withdraw charges and to release individuals and media operators who have been sentenced or charged for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression or assembly.” (Full text here)

The letter to Yingluck is dated October 7, a day before the vote in the EU parliament. The signatures are apparently those of MEPs Elmar Brok and Werner Langen, both from Germany and members of the European People’s Party (EPP), consisting of national Christian democratic and conservative parties. Mr. Brok is the longest-serving member of the EU parliament and has served as the chairman of the EU foreign affairs committee since 2012, a position he held previously between 1999 to 2008. Mr. Langen, an MEP veteran of over 20 years, is the chairman of the EU parliamentary delegation to ASEAN. Both men are also co-signatories of the aforementioned resolution condemning the Thai junta (full voters' list).

Whether Yingluck will travel to Europe is entirely up to the junta. While it allowed her to travel to Paris in July 2014 for the birthday of her exiled brother and former PM Thaksin, the generals banned her from traveling abroad without prior consent immediately after last year's coup, and again earlier this year, in order to prevent her from fleeing into exile (like her brother), shortly before her indictment over the aforementioned criminal charges for the rice scheme policy.

Asian Correspondent has reached out to MEPs Elmar Brok and Werner Langen for comments.

+++UPDATE 20.30h - Nov 24, 2015 +++

One of the co-signatories of the invitation to former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has confirmed the letter's authenticity. "Yes, the letter is by me and Mr. Brok," says Werner Langen, MEP, in reply to an email by Asian Correspondent. He hopes that "the military government will allow" Yingluck to travel to Brussels or Strasbourg. Furthermore, Mr. Langen says that the European Union wants to assist Thailand with "a return to democratic structures contribute a reconciliation between the rivaling factions."

UPDATE: Venue Changed! – Announcing: Panel on the Thai Political Crisis at the University of Hamburg

Note: Official announcement in German language below.

I'm happy to announce one of the reasons why I have been very busy the last few weeks: The student body of the faculty of Thai Studies at the University Hamburg, Germany (which I'm a member of) are hosting a panel discussion on the ongoing political crisis in Thailand. Since events of this kind about this topic on an academic level are rare in Germany, this is a great opportunity to fill this void.

We have invited, in my opinion, the best German-speaking experts on Thailand to discuss the causes, the protagonists, the issues of the political situation and are also trying to answer the question, if there is a way out of it.

The speakers are Dr. Wolfram Schaffar, political scientist at the University of Hildesheim and Dr. Marco Bünte, research fellow with the GIGA Institute of Asian Studies. Oh, and some Thai blogger is also on the panel...

Prof. Volker Grabowsky, head of the department of Southeast Asian Studies, will give an introductory essay.

The title of the event is "Thailand am Scheideweg?" ("Thailand at the Crossroads?") and takes place on Monday, 5 July 2010 at 18.30h at lecture room C in the main building at the University of Hamburg. Note: this event is in German.

If you know anybody in or near Hamburg, please pass this on to them!

------------------------Official German announcement------------------------

Der Fachschaftsrat der Thaiistik an der Universität Hamburg lädt ein:

"Thailand am Scheideweg?" Podiumsdiskussion zur politischen Krise in Thailand

Diskussionsteilnehmer: Dr. Wolfram Schaffar, Universität Hildesheim Dr. Marco Bünte, GIGA-Institut für Asienstudien Saksith Saiyasombut, Student und Blogger

Einleitender Vortrag: Prof. Dr. Volker Grabowsky, Leiter der Abteilung Südostasien, Universität Hamburg

Für zwei Monate waren große Teile Bangkoks von den größten politischen Demonstrationen des Landes lahm gelegt worden. Die so genannte „Vereinigte Front für Demokratie und gegen Diktatur“ (UDD), auch bekannt als die „Rothemden“, protestierte gegen die Regierung von Premierminister Abhisit Veijajiva und forderte diese auf, das Parlament aufzulösen und Neuwahlen auszurufen. Die Proteste wurden am 19. Mai 2010 nach einer mehrtägigen militärischen Operation aufgelöst. Insgesamt kamen bei gewaltsamen Ausschreitungen in den zwei Monaten über 85 Menschen ums Leben, über 2000 wurden verletzt. Seit dem Militärputsch gegen den damaligen Premierminister Thaksin Shinawatra im Jahr 2006 befindet sich das Königreich Thailand in einer politischen Krise, die das Land immer mehr in zwei politische Lager spaltet.

Die Abteilung Sprachen und Kulturen Südostasiens und der Fachschaftsrat Thaiistik an der Universität Hamburg lädt zu einer Podiumsdiskussion mit Thailand-Experten ein, um zu ergründen, wie es weiter in Thailand gehen soll. Wie konnte es zu dieser politischen Krise kommen? Wer sind diese politischen Fronten und was sind ihre Positionen? Hat die Demokratie in Thailand noch eine Chance?

Zeit: Montag, 5. Juli 2010, 18.30 Uhr bis 20.30 Uhr Ort: Hörsaal C, Hauptgebäude, Universität Hamburg, Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, 20146 Hamburg