'I can't hide forever': Ousted Thai minister says he is prepared to be arrested

Mr Chaturon Chaisang, a minister in the Thai government ousted in last week’s coup d’etat, has emerged from hiding on May 27, 2014. “I don’t want to hide forever," the former education minister told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview
Mr Chaturon Chaisang, a minister in the Thai government ousted in last week’s coup d’etat, has emerged from hiding on May 27, 2014. “I don’t want to hide forever," the former education minister told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview. -- ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH

‘’The coup was an abrogation of democracy," says Mr Chaturon Chaisang

Mr Chaturon Chaisang, a minister in the Thai government ousted in last week’s coup d’etat, has emerged from hiding and says he is prepared to be arrested.

He is one of the few on the junta’s summons list who had refused to report to the army, saying he did not recognise the military government. For that, he faces a two-year jail term.But coming out into the open on Tuesday, the former education minister told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: “I don’t want to hide forever. I don’t want to go to another country. I don’t want to go underground. I don’t want to fight with violent means.”“But I don’t want to be arrested without the chance to say anything to the public. My intention is to fight for democracy, from here.”The imposition of martial law nationwide on May 20 was illegal, Mr Chaturon maintained. After that, the army had no choice but to launch a full blown seizure of power, he said.While other ministers summoned by the junta last Friday reported to it – including ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra who was taken into detention but later released under supervision – Mr Chaturon went into hiding.

‘’The coup was an abrogation of democracy. I couldn’t accept it, it is against my conscience. But the major problem was the coup was not complete yet.’’ The military had an alternative to a coup d’etat, he said.  ‘’They could have cooperated with the government and helped reinforce the rule of law fairly and without double standards, then a lot of things that happened, would not have happened. But they decided not to do anything. It was not very obvious. But the fact they did not help enforce the law… allowed all the problems to occur and eventually all the problems were used as an excuse for staging the coup.’’

Only one other member of the ousted government is still in hiding. Former interior minister Jarupong Ruengsuwan who was also Puea Thai party leader, may have fled to Cambodia, according to sources.

Explaining his decision to come out and speak to journalists on Tuesday, risking arrest, Mr Chaturon said: “Although the coup d’etat was wrong, after the Royal order, according to the Thai system, it is now complete. I have to face legal measures according to the system.”“Yet I have done nothing wrong. I have no charges against me, anywhere. The only thing I have done is not report to the military, and now I face two years in prison for it.”Coup leader General Prayuth Chan O-cha received endorsement from the King on Monday to be the leader of the military council overseeing Thailand, giving him legitimacy in a country where the monarch is widely revered.Mr Chaturon, 58, married but with no children, comes from a family of politicians from Chachoengsao province, east of Bangkok.He was one of the leaders of the “October Generation” – leftist student activists who fled a bloody right wing crackdown in 1976. He spent months in hiding in Bangkok, and four years hiding in the jungles of the north-east, before returning to public life following an amnesty. Thereafter, he studied economics in the United States where he obtained a Masters degree. A staunch advocate of constitutional and electoral democracy, Mr Chaturon is convinced that the current coup d’etat is about “changing the system” so that whoever the Thai people vote for, can never be in a strong position of power – thus safeguarding the interests of the old royalist elites.

He believes the Thai military laid a careful trap by asking all parties in the conflict to meet under its auspices last week, when on the second day of talks, General Prayuth abruptly announced that he was seizing power. Seconds later, armed soldiers entered the room and took the stunned political leaders present into custody.

“As a minister, it is hard for me to voluntarily report to the coup makers,” he said.

His voice cracking slightly, he added: “I am not an emotional person. But this coup is going to bring a lot of damage to Thailand. It is going to be a disaster. So I am just sad about it.”

“My English is not very good,” he said. “The only word I can think of is, sad.”

nirmal@sph.com.sg