Thailand

Anti-Coal Power Plant Protest Called Off as Govt Scraps Plans

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on February 20, 2018

Local environmental activists form the South of Thailand have scored a victory as the Thai Ministry of Energy has signed agreement with them guaranteeing that the plans to build a coal power plant in Krabi have been officially shelved.

TRANSCRIPT

Local environmental activists form the South of Thailand have scored a victory as the Thai government has guaranteed that the plans to build a coal power plant have been officially shelved.

About 100 protesters have camped out in front of Bangkok’s United Nations building, even some of them going on hunger strike until the Thai military government would agree to their demands.

The proposal to build coal powered power plant in the southern provinces of Krabi on the andaman sea, which is a famous tourist spot famed for its beaches and underwater nature. Obviously a coal plant would have not only severely affected the region’s nature, but also the heath of the locals.

The government has previously insisted that additional power plants are necessary to keep up with rising energy demands in the south.

Now, there were plans by to march on government house earlier today but the situation has been ultimately defused as the Ministry of Energy and the protesters have come to an written agreement to ultimately scrap the plans for a coal power plant in the south.

It is a rare display of compromise by the Thai military government, which has outlawed public assemblies and protests ever since they took over powers in a coup. This protest coincides with other small but vocal protests against what could be yet another delay of democratic elections.

Among the protesters here, the mood is evidently jubilant and they are planning disperse and return to their homes in the south of Thailand knowing that the air and nature will be clean and free of a coal plant for the foreseeable future.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok

Unfolding and unscrambling the Thai military junta's policy advertorial

Originally published at Asian Correspondent on February 26, 2016 An advertisement supplement touting the polices of Thailand's military government appeared on the front page of the English-language newspaper The Nation on February 23, 2016. (Pic: Reader submission)

THAILAND'S military government has gone on the media offensive to promote its "reform roadmap" by planting paid advertisement supplements in Thai newspapers. But the published product is, in its own words, one giant "confusion trap".

It is an uphill struggle the Thai military has faced ever since it took over in the coup of May 22, 2014 and almost two years later it has become increasingly Sisyphean. The battle over the sovereign narrative of the political discourse in Thailand is one of the biggest headaches for the "National Council for Peace and Order" (NCPO) – as the military junta formally calls itself.

Considering the restrictions by the junta to curtail any kind of criticism, be it by online censorship, aggressive behavior towards the media (also increasingly against foreign media) and the detainment and harassment of dissidents, the generals have a hard time of convincing anyone of their iron- and at the same time ham-fisted rule, let alone winning back any hearts and minds it has intimidated.

With general grumbling over the government's performance (especially economically) growing, a second controversial constitution draft far from being safely confirmed and thus eventual elections still an empty promise at this point (despite repeated assurances that it will definitely take place next year no matter what, just not exactly which month!), the military government of junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has its work cut out.

Coinciding with the reemergence of a certain former prime minister in the public eye (more on him next week), the government's PR department also mounted a media offensive of their own. Over the course of the week, it has placed special policy pamphlets wrapped around the newspapers of Thai-language Thai PostPost Today, its English-language sister publication Bangkok Post and its direct rival The Nation. These supplements were sponsored by the state-owned Government Savings Bank, Krung Thai Bank and the Government Lottery Office.

It was a confusing sight for many readers at first, since the paid advertisements bore the logos of the respective newspapers and looked like an actual product from the newsroom, thanks to the lack of any disclaimers – with the Bangkok Post being the only exception (clearly marked as a "special advertisement supplement") in addition to a clarifying remark by its editor. While a newspaper being wrapped by a full double-paged advertisement is not unusual, it is not often that a Thai government does it on that scale, which makes it look almost like an advertorial.

Instead of presenting a product with the loftiest ideas money can buy, this particular printed product touts ideas money can't buy, but is sure to still cost some money anyways: the military junta’s policies, its “reform roadmap” and why the coup was necessary in the first place. However, the end result left readers with a lot more questions than answers.

https://twitter.com/NotThatBobJames/status/702697532590129152

Starting off with the upper half of the front page (see header picture above), it described "Thailand's vicious cycle" of "bi-polar"(sic!) political "hyperconflict" (sic!) as a result of "without credibility government" (sic!), leading into all kinds of traps like "conflicting" and "confusing" (and for some reason illustrated by a fishing hook), thus making the "NCPO undertaking" (sic!) – more commonly known as the 2014 military coup – necessary in order to prevent the county from becoming a "failed state". It does not mention the military's involvement in this vicious cycle (including the last coup in 2006), nor the manufactured deadlock by the anti-election movement 2013-14 that paved the way for the most recent coup.

The bottom half of the front page featured the usual long-term sales pitch for building Thailand into "a first world nation with stability, propensity, sustainability" through the "sufficiency economy philosophy" while at the same time eventually lifting Thailand into a "high-income country" and "knowledge-based economy" after it has transformed itself into an "innovative industry" (a long way ahead since the country is currently ranked below the worldwide average in that regard) – that and "Hope, Happiness & Harmony". All in all a tall order for the junta that is fighting a sluggish economy that is expected not to grow more than 2 percent this year.

The biggest headache highlight though is the centerfold, displaying a mind-boggling behemoth of a diagram, supposedly displaying the Thai military government's "Administration Guidelines". Written in what can only be smaller than font size 10, it spreads out into a completely illegible maze of different government bodies, which have countless committees, which in turn have countless sub-committees tackling a seemingly wide array of issues – we just simply can't read them at all!

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One noteworthy item in this unattractive centerfold is the junta's purported timeline in the right bottom corner, which claims to hand back power to an elected government sometime in 2017, while also already setting off a "20-Year National Strategy Plan". The plan, which in fact is a bill, came out of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA, a fully-appointed government body) and was passed by the fully-appointed legislative body last week. The bill sees the establishment of a 25-member group that seeks to dictate long-term policy goals to the cabinet, which could be yet another mechanism  to restrict an elected government. It's not made better by the fact that members of the current junta, including Prime Minister Prayuth, will be on this panel for the first few years.

The backside is probably the most egregious part of this pamphlet, attempting to explain why its policy of "Pracharat" (commonly translated as "state of the people") is the polar opposite to the "evil" populism-schemes of the previous governments the military has ousted – even if the former is currently nothing but the junta's hottest buzzword as it has yet to be defined into actual policies, unless it's just a simple rebranding.

https://twitter.com/JeromeTaylor/status/702707785222344704

However, the coup de grâce is found in the bottom half. Not only does the graphic un-ironically define how a "pseudo-democracy" differs from a "genuine" one (considering the current state of Thai politics), but it also tries to cram several dozens of items from the centerfold into just three small boxes – and fails miserably ...

https://twitter.com/Journotopia/status/702681008504598528

All in all, it does beg the question: what is the military junta is trying to achieve here? It is not going for maximum exposure since it has published this pamphlet in three four newspapers, only one two of them in Thai, thus leaving international readers as the likely target audience. However, given the authoritarian rule of the government, it won't be easily swayed by some loftily phrased aspirations – let alone by that giant policy diagram.

The last time the military published a diagram, it was a largely unfounded mess. This time, it published a series of haphazardly-constructed infographics, making things more difficult to understand to the general public. The junta's long-term policy vision just mentions democracy as a side note and reinforces a paternalistic style of governance, seeing itself as the ultimate arbiter of the future direction Thailand is taking, while at the same time completely muddling its message.

But then on the other hand, transparency has never been the military's strong suit.

Correction: An earlier version stated that three newspapers have carried the Thai junta's advertorial. It is four - in addition to Bangkok Post, The Nation, Post Today, Thai-language daily Thai Post also ran this.

h/t to several Twitter followers and readers for providing photos and copies of the pamphlet. 

Exiled Thai academic accuses military junta of threatening his family

Originally published at Asian Correspondent on February 25, 2016

The Thai military has allegedly threatened the family of self-exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Associate Professor at the Center for South East Asian Studies at Kyoto University and currently a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge.

The scholar wrote on his Facebook profile on Wednesday evening that army officers have appeared at his house and called one of his sisters, demanding them to tell Pavin to "stop all activities overseas" – especially "talking about the monarchy" – or else his "family will have to bear the consequences" and demanded his entire family to "report themselves at the army camp".

AFP's Southeast Asia correspondent Jerome Taylor tweeted Thursday that junta spokesperson Colonel Winthai Suvaree told the agency that he had no information on authorities' contact with Pavin's family.

Pavin is known for his outspokenness on Thai politics – including the monarchy – and even more so since the Thai military summoned him among hundreds of other academics, politicians and journalists in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, while he was based in Japan at that time. He openly refused to comply and, in his typical mischievous online manner, replied mockingly on Facebook if he could send his pet dog instead.

Shortly thereafter, the military junta revoked Pavin's passport, practically exiling him. But that didn't stop him from slamming them in numerous opinion pieces in the foreign press and also traveling abroad, giving lectures and participating in academic events discussing the current state of Thai politics. One of these events was this Wednesday on the future of the Thai monarchy at Oxford University, which was the likely cause for the Thai military's alleged harassment of Pavin's family. In the past, Pavin has accused Thai authorities, through their consulates and embassies, to have attempted to sabotage these public events either by discouraging Thai students from attending or pressuring the hosting universities to cancel.

Furthermore, Thai authorities have attempted to ask Japan to extradite Pavin on the premise that not only did he not comply with the military summons, but also that some of his articles were deemed "insulting to the monarchy" or lèse majesté, an offense punishable with up to 15 years in jail and rigorously (ab)used under the current military government. The junta has also asked other countries like New Zealand and France for extradition of lèse majesté suspects that have fled Thailand.

Thai junta PM embarks on day-long rant after criticism of constitution draft

Originally published at Asian Correspondent on February 3, 2016 The Thai military government's intolerance towards dissent is nothing new. But its reactions against criticisms of the newest constitution draft - over a single day, no less - is a renewed display of insecurity by the junta.

Either you're damned if you do or damned if you don't. That's the conundrum Thailand's military government has put itself ever since it seized powers in the 2014 coup, suspended electoral democracy and almost every other aspect of political discourse and freedom that comes with it.

While its rule is undoubtedly authoritarian, the junta has promised to "reform" the political system, introduce a new constitution and then to hold new democratic elections in late 2015 - before postponing it to early 2016then delaying again to mid-2016 in order to accommodate for a public referendum on the constitution draft and then it got delayed yet another time to 2017 because that draft didn't make it through the junta's fully appointed ersatz-parliament and the whole drafting process had to begin all over again.

Last week, the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) (whose members were all replaced after the first draft failed) presented their second attempt to the public (PDF) which will be directly put up to a public referendum this summer. However, the contents and their intentions are largely the same as the previous one, aiming to restrict the powers of elected governments and have more unelected forces to easier intervene (we will address the contents of the draft in a future story).

To make matters more dubious, CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan already hinted before the publication that elections could be further delayed beyond mid-2017 to accommodate more time for organic laws to be drafted and implemented. However, Thai junta leader and prime minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha later reaffirmed that democratic elections will actually take place in July next year, even if the constitution draft ist rejected in the public referendum - only then to change his mind on Monday again and widened out the timeframe to the whole of 2017.

That only further fueled suspicion and criticisms and seemingly this has all come to a head on Tuesday with a string of incidents and reactions that show how thin-skinned the junta is.

It started in the morning with the temporary detainment of Jatuporn Prompan, a prominent leader of the red shirts, a protest group that largely supports the toppled government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, the also deposed ex-PM Thaksin. The red shirts have announced last week that it would boycott the draft constitution, which is the likely reason for Jatuporn's brief detainment - or "attitude adjustment" as the junta's euphemistically calls it. He was released later in the afternoon.

At roughly the same time at Government House, prime minister Gen. Prayuth started lashing out at reporters, triggered by a question concerning the current constitutional drafting process and the delayed election date, saying things like "If you wanna vote, then go vote - you get the crappy ones [in the parliament], what are you gonna do then?" or "If the country goes down, don't come blame me!"

All this venting took place while he was inspecting exhibition stands, making it for those involved a possibly very awkward photo-op (see video below). As he was sniffing a wooden chicken and reading some labels he continued yelling: "I understand everything because I read! Are you reading anything? Have you read anything that the government is doing something good?!" When a reporter asked him what he was actually referring to, Gen. Prayuth fired back with: "If you're an idiot than look it up yourself!"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37BwpY__EYQ

Meanwhile, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, the junta's number 2, deputy-prime minister and defense minister, commented on Jatuporn's brief detainment by saying that "constructive criticism" on the draft constitution is welcomed by the military government, but it must be "civilized", not using such words like "dictatorship", let the junta do its job, not "inciting unrest" - or else be "invited" for another round of attitude adjustment.

By the afternoon after the weekly cabinet meeting, PM Gen. Prayuth held another press conference and continued his tirade, claiming that nobody's helping him whenever he gets pelted by criticism: "Why is nobody talking about my rights? (...) I have democratic rights, too! You don't defend me, but you defend all these scoundrels?"

The reporters continued asking the still visibly agitated prime minister (see video below) with such questions like on the unclear sections of the draft (to which he replied "Why do you wanna know all this? You want this [draft] to fail, do you?!") or on the criticisms against the draft that it would create further political conflict instead of resolving it ("Who is inciting conflict, apart from politicians, apart from the press?! Who else?! Tell me!!").

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWfnFPugyO8

He concluded his fiery press briefing by bemoaning the lack of trust he has by the public (despite a recent government poll attesting him a "98.9 per cent" approval rating, even though we all know better): "You don't trust me at all after these two years? Haven't you seen the work I've done? [slams podium] HUH?! You trust all the others, but not me!!"

Even for Gen. Prayuth, known for his often mercurial and sardonic outbursts in public, the constant criticism and skepticism towards the military junta's constitutional draft process must have hit a nerve. It displays a distinct lack of confidence and insecurity in the process to go on ranting for almost a whole day.

It also explains why a spokesman for the military junta has come out reiterating that the junta "never prohibits criticism or expression of opinion,” but asks for discussions of the draft to be held "respectfully". The thing about respect is that it is mutual - something that the Thai military government and its leader clearly does not show and Tuesday tirade was no exception.

Tongue-Thai’ed – A woman's (supposed) worth in a military man's world

Originally published at Asian Correspondent on February 1, 2016 This is part XXXII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

AS we're entering the second full year of the Thai military government and with things likely to stay the same for the foreseeable future, one thing is for certain: we're still have to endure another year of the junta's authoritarian rule. But it also means that we will have another guaranteed year of the generals putting their foot in their mouths, be it out of temper, not enough understanding of a certain matter, or just hypocrisy. For the even more ridiculous and outrageous ones we fortunately have our long-running "Tongue-Thai'ed!"-section, a standing record of astonishing verbosities of Thai public figures.

And no other Thai public figure has been delivering it like Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. For several years already, back when he was 'just' army chief, Il Generalissimo has regularly contributed to this section here and it has only increased when he assumed the highest ranking political office in this country. Be it his constant aggressively sardonic remarks against reporters, his lengthy rants during his weekly TV addresses, or other seemingly off-script moments, his compulsive loquaciousness always causes a raised eyebrow or two. And the first Tongue-Thai'ed! of 2016 is par for the course.

A man of his (thousand) word(s)

Prayuth spoke on Friday at an event originally promoting vocational education, but the junta leader decided to temporarily talk about something entirely different.

"Everybody's saying that we should create equality, women and men should have the same rights, should be able to do the same good and bad things - if that's the case, if that's how you think, Thai society will deteriorate!"

Erm, yes... Gen. Prayuth and his government ministers have stated several times in past what they think is going to lead to Thailand's downfall - such things like "extreme human rights", people voting for the wrong partylimiting military power and just generally "too much democracy". For the generals, these things have brought Thailand to the brink of collapse and made the 2014 coup necessary.

Prayuth continues:

"Women are the gender of motherhood, the gender of giving birth. When you return home... who is it? Who has a wife? Isn't the wife looking after the home? At home she's the big boss, isn't she? Outside I'm the boss - at work, everywhere I have lots of authority. When I return home, I have to be quiet because she's looking after the home, the kids, everything in the house. I haven't done anything at home since we married, she's doing everything."

It seems that Gen. Prayuth is mixing up women's rights with women's (supposed) roles in the family and at home - and still gets it wrong for the most part or at least it sounds awfully antiquated. But okay, he's from a different generation with very distinct gender roles and at least also admits one area in his life he has absolutely no control over.

He then concludes:

"That's why I have my head free to think about everything [else], not worrying about anything, not picking up the kids, not doing anything at all, because I work far away from home. That's the small difference! But all the bad things I have done to her, have benefitted others. That's what I think."

Wait, "all the bad things I have done to her" ("แต่สิ่งที่ผมทำไม่ดีกับเขา")? Did he just admit something he shouldn't have said? And who's benefitting from that? Let's assume for a moment that Gen. Prayuth, in his usual off-script manner, meant with that "the things I haven't done for her" - which still shows that he's absolutely unwilling to do anything in the family household!

All in all the whole quote is astonishing and reveals Gen. Prayuth's thoughts about women: stay at home, do what you're told, look after the kids and don't make any demands!

What doesn't seem to be clear to him is the fact that he is prime minister over a country with a female population of 50.7 per cent and they comprise roughly 45 per cent of the country's workforce, which makes it among the highest rates in Asia. Thailand has also an above-average number of women in senior management positions. However, despite countless policies and campaigns by previous administrations, a lot more women are still facing at least some discrimination at work.

Other women's issues in Thailand are still in need of improvement as well, such as abortion still being illegal (with very extreme exceptions), sexual assaults still ineffectively dealt withfemale Buddhist monks still not recognizedsexual hypocrisy still prevails with a stark bias against women. In fact, the country is currently ranked 93rd out of 188 in the most recent Gender Inequality Index by the United Nations Development Programme (PDF, page 225).

Women's representation in politics has been rather low in recent years and even lower since the military junta took over, with now a meager 5 percent of women in the junta's fully-appointed legislative assembly (from previously 15 per cent). Thailand's only female prime minister so far, Yingluck Shinawatra, was never supported by Thai women's groups, solely for political reasons, until the 2014 coup.

Which brings us back to Gen. Prayuth - the same man who suggested after the murder of two British backpackers in 2014 that tourists wearing bikinis wouldn't be safe "unless they're not beautiful" (for which he later apologized). His views about family values and clearly defined gender roles reflect the old Thai saying that "the husband is the fore leg of the elephant, the wife is the hind leg" ("สามีเป็นช้างเท้าหน้า ภรรยาเป็นช้างเท้าหลัง") - and for him, that should stay the same. But what if the front leg has been limping for a while?

P.S.: Ironically, the Royal Thai Air Force announced last week that they're looking to hire female pilots for the first time amidst a shortage of male pilots.