BANGKOK, Thailand-Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun appealed to his country's
military, economic, and political elite to build on the "inner strength"
of Thai-land's 800-year-old tradition in facing changes brought on by increased democracy,
decentralization, and the narrowing of gaps in income and education.
"The test of a society is how it comes out of a crisis," Anand told
members of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on July 1.
"The painful events of May have forced us to realize the sense of urgency to
correct the structural flaws in our society, in our military establishment, in our
political system, and in our bureaucratic framework."
Anand was appointed interim prime minister on June 10, following the deaths and
injuries of hundreds of protesters during the Thai military's crackdown on pro-democracy
demonstrations in May. He will oversee new elections slated for Sept. 13.
As a result of the May "tragedy," Anand said, Thailand may now be better
placed to build stability, development and "true democracy." He advocated
that Thailand move toward filling provincial, district, and village-level positions
through democratic processes, and address educational and economic disparities on
a national level to bring about a true decentralization in Thai society.
Anand's previous 13-month caretaker government following a coup in February 1991
was criticized for focusing on middle-class concerns and giving inadequate attention
to the problems of the rural poor.
Anand's address reflected his popular mandate to set things on the right course.
But his response to specific questions left hanging basic issues regarding the events
of May 17-20, causing some observers to question his government's ability to identify
and deal with military and political personnel who may have been responsible for
the May debacle.
Questioned regarding the status of military officials under investigation in relation
to the May events, Anand said he was following Thai tradition in leaving them in
place. He similarly avoided expressing an opinion on the fate of the 1,000 people
still listed as missing following the May shootings.
Anand also left unanswered the question as to whether his government is merely
providing a breathing space before Thailand's return to "business as usual."
Have enough crises taken place, has enough awareness come about-both among those
who hold and wield military and economic power, and among those who do not-to develop
a stable society and what Anand calls a "true democracy?" This is the question
underlying Anand's call to action-whether or not the time has come for significant
change in Thai policy.
Lance Woodruff, a photo-journalist living in Bangkok, Thailand, is public information
officer for the Mekong Secretariat.