Killings won’t solve drug problem, ex-Thai PM Abhisit says

Paterno Esmaquel II
Killings won’t solve drug problem, ex-Thai PM Abhisit says
Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reflects on Thailand's own war on drugs, which was similar to President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign

MANILA, Philippines – Recounting the experience of Thailand, former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said killing addicts can never solve the drug problem, as long as there is a demand for illegal substances.

Abhisit was asked in an chance interview in Manila on Wednesday, October 18, “Categorically speaking, does killing drug addicts work?”

Abhisit answered, “So long as there continues to be a demand for drugs, this cannot solve the problem.”

“So you have to have, yes, tougher law enforcement by all means. At the same time, you have to think of other solutions, particularly demand side solutions,” he said.

The former Thai prime minister made these remarks on Wednesday after he delivered a lecture about liberal democracy and post-truth politics at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Makati City. 

Abhisit, 53, was referring to Thailand’s war on drugs, launched by his predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, in 2003.

Thaksin’s war on drugs was similar to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. (READ: Why Duterte reminds Thais of Thaksin and his drug war

The drug war in Thailand, for one, led to at least 2,800 drug-related deaths. An investigation showed that more than half of the casualties had no dealings with drugs. (READ: PH ‘war on drugs’ should draw lessons from other countries

Not sustainable

Abhisit explained that when Thailand launched its drug war, “it was because people became impatient with the drug problem.” 

“But when they engaged in extrajudicial killings and abuses of rights, this became more and more of a concern,” he said.

He said it also became clear that “by keeping on doing this, it wasn’t going to fix the problem in any sustained way.” He said that the drug war policy eventually “came to an end.”

Abhisit added, “What’s not sustainable is that you may, in the short run, seem to be making progress against drugs.”

“But you know, drugs become more expensive. A new mafia comes in. Corrupt officers, officials, become involved. And so long as there continues to be a demand for drugs, the problem doesn’t go away,” the former Thai prime minister said.

A week earlier, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad also commented on the Philippines’ war on drugs, stressing the need for rule of law in the face of extrajudicial killings.

Mahathir added that the police “should not be too free with using lethal weapons.” –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at