Upcoming FCCT panel to feature Thai political heavyweights - if the junta allows it...

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 24, 2015 The Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand (FCCT) has just announced this upcoming panel discussion in March.

The Future of Politics in Thailand

7pm, Wednesday March 11, 2015

Non-members: 350 Baht entry; Members: Free entry

What kind if future does the military's reform programme promise for Thailand? And will there be space for existing political parties in this new future?

For the first time since the coup, the FCCT is pleased to host a high-level debate, by inviting some of the country's most experienced politicians to the club.

Alongkorn Polabutr, senior member of the National Reform Council and former deputy leader, Democrat Party

Chaturon Chaiseng, former Education Minister, Pheu Thai Party

Kasit Piromya, former Foreign Minister, Democrat Party

Phongthep Thepkanjana, Former Deputy Prime Minister, Pheu Thai Party

This really looks interesting because this indeed an illustrious high-profile panel. A couple of notes about the panelists:

Alongkorn Polabutr was considered by many as the prospect to reform and revive the ailing "Democrat" Party, as he was the most vocal advocate calling on his fellow party members to stop blaming vote-buying for the streak of election losses. However, in late 2013 - during the anti-Yingluck government protests and weeks away from snap-elections - he was practically demoted from his position as deputy leader of the "Democrat" Party. This likely contributed to his departure from the party last November but also, much to the dismay of many progressive supporters, to his joining the junta-installed and fully-appointed National Reform Council. Being a NRC member alone makes him a high-profile panelist.

Chaturon Chaiseng is regarded as stalwart from the era of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as he filled many positions in his cabinet: Prime Minister's Office Minister (2001–02), Justice Minister (2002), Deputy Prime Minister (2002–05), and Minister of Education (2005–06). After Thaksin's government was toppled by the 2006 military coup, his Thai Rak Thai Party was subsequently disbanded and most of its members, including Chaturon, banned from politics for five years. Chaturon returned to the Yingluck government in mid-2013 as Education Minister, but was putsched again in May 2014. He was one of the few to defy the junta's mass summons and appeared at the FCCT to give a press conference, only for the military to barge in, arrest him on the spot and bring him in front of a military court. He's currently out on bail and returns to the very same spot at the FCCT next month.

Kasit Piromya. It is often said that the diplomatic sensibilities of the former ambassador to Germany and Japan (especially by this author) are more akin to a wrecking ball. Especially during his tenure as Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (2009-11), he seemed to be solely focused on the fugitive, self-exiled Prime Minister Thaksin. In any case, if circumstances are right, he can be highly entertaining to watch.

Phongthep Thepkanjana is another ex-cabinet member of Thaksin Shinawatra (Minister of Justice, Minister of Energy, Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office - see a pattern?) and was Chaturon's predecessor as Education Minister in Yingluck's cabinet.

In any case, it should also be interesting to see, considering at least 50 per cent of the panel, if the Thai military will actually allow the event to take place or at least send a representative with in a humvee to "defend" the government's point of view.

Thailand: What we missed in August 2012

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 27, 2012 In a new section on Siam Voices, we look back at some news stories that made the headlines in Thailand this month.

Thailand's Olympic medal winners: Sporting hurt pride

Earlier this month, the 30th Olympic Summer Games took place in London. As usual, Thailand's Olympic ambitions included the expectation of some medals, having won seven gold, four silver and 10 bronze medals at previous games in the weightlifting, boxing and taekwondo competitions. That was not the exception this time around again, as silver medal winners Pimsiri SirikaewKaeo Pongprayoon and bronze medalist Chanatip Sonkham won medals at exactly these sports respectively.

However, it wasn't all smiles and joy: especially in the case of light flyweight boxer Kaeo Pongprayoon, many Thais took offense to his loss in a controversial final against China's Zou Shiming due to some questionable officiating and actions by Zou. Predictably the Thai fans couldn't shake off the feeling that 'they' got robbed and some of them predictably took their anger online, partly in very poor taste. An example of nationalism-fueled rage was to be seen on the Facebook page of the International Boxing Association, whose picture of a celebrating Zou Shiming got over 65,000 comments, most of them negative and still counting two weeks after the end of the games.

And generally, despite the fact that Thailand did quite well compared to its neighbors, these games were a disappointment for the officials, who hoped for two gold medals as a target (that's nothing compared to the secret German medals target that was missed by lightyears) and now have to think about how to improve the support for athletes, both olympic and paralympic, whose summer games are starting later this week.

Pheu Thai's rice scheme: The Price is Right?

It bears many names: pledging scheme, mortgage scheme, fixed pricing scheme - but they all mean the same rice policy of the Yingluck government that has been one of the essential cornerstones of Pheu Thai Party's campaign before the election and of the current administration since last October. In a nutshell, the government buys rice at 15,000 Baht (about $480) per ton - that is 50 per cent more than the market price. What was primarily aimed to help the around 8 million rice farmers in the country was met with criticism and concerns that it will either lead to a global price hike, a loss of Thailand's status as the world's top exporter of rice or both.

Almost a year after its introduction, the criticism has increased in recent months, as export numbers are declining and projections that Thailand will lose its number one position in global exports. And so the critical analysis pieces go on, and on, and on, and on - but the consensus was the same: the government's rice policy causes private rice millers and exporters to suffer and the governments sits on a huge pile of rice that they can't get rid off in bi-lateral deals, as it is about to spoil. Nevertheless, the government will continue it. More details can be read over here at Bangkok Pundit's post.

Policemen found guilty of extrajudicial killing - and released on bail!

In early August the Criminal Court in Bangkok found five police officers guilty of the murder of a 17-year old man. The teenager was arrested by these policemen in 2004 in the southern province of Kalasin for allegedly stealing a motorcycle. That was during the time of the "War on Drugs", a heavily-propagated campaign by the Thaksin administration that targeted drug dealers and traffickers, but also ensured security officials to use a heavy-handed and violent approach, in which, according to rights groups, over 2,500 people were killed - many of them extrajudicially - and over 1,600 died in prison or custody, about 131 of them as a result of police brutality. The 17-year-old was one of them, as he was detained for over a week and later found dead in another province.

Three police officers have been sentenced to death for premeditated murder and hiding the young man's body, one to life imprisonment for premeditated murder and the Police Colonel was sentenced to seven years in jail for abusing his power to cover up the murder. However, despite the convictions, these men are walking free on bail pending appeal. Understandably, the key witnesses are concerned over their safety, since their witness protection program ironically ended with the court verdict. Calls for new witness protection have been so far unanswered.

Thaksin's US travels spark anti-American tantrum

Yeah, Thaksin is still traveling freely around the world, even more so since many countries have re-granted him entry. The United States was the latest to do so and that issue alone has stirred up some diatribes from his enemies, most of all the self-proclaimed Thaksin hunter, diplomatic wrecking-ball and former foreign minister Kasit, who immediately called to severe ties with the US, should they not extradite him to Thailand. If only when he and his cabinet issued an extradition request for Thaksin when they were in government - but they didn't!

The fugitive former prime minister traveled to New York first and then was scheduled to appear at a red shirt gathering in Los Angeles - but Thai media reported that some "700 to 2,000" yellow shirts have allegedly foiled the event and Thaksin had to bail out. The problem is that the numbers were from a Thai community paper in LA and cannot the independently verified. And let's be honest: an assembly of 2,000 similarly dressed people would have made local news already over there - only it didn't! Meanwhile, back in Thailand the anti-Thaksin protesters gathered at the US Embassy and have come up with some rather bizarre conspiracy theories. Let's see where Thaksin goes next...

Thai Senator 'accidentally' kills secretary with uzi - or pistol - or wife - or cousin...!

In mid-August, a news headline from Thailand went around the world that was both shocking and bizarre: "Senator 'accidentally' kills secretary with Uzi". Mae Hong Son Senator Boonsong Kowawisarat was carrying the firearm during dinner at a resort when it accidentally discharged and killed a woman believed to be his secretary. Of course, these circumstances were perfect ingredients for yet another 'quirky' news item from Asia for Western media - and when even Gawker was reporting it (predictably not without mistakes), you know something has hit critical mass.

But the next morning, the circumstances weren't that clear anymore as nearly every detail of this incident was put in question: What was the weapon and who did it kill? In the end it emerged that the Senator's pistol, a 9mm Jericho 941 (also named Uzi Eagle), fired a bullet into the stomach of Chanakarn Detkard, his domestic partner with whom he has two children.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook here.

2011 - Some Personal Thoughts

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 31, 2011 2011 is history and looking back on Thailand this past year, it has been yet another eventful year that brought some answers, but many more questions to the wide-spread problems that continues to plague the country in many aspects. However, 2011 brought many chances and changes, shed light on issues and topics left in the dark before, voices echoed by many and opinions uttered by a few, whether you agree with them or not.

This is a (definitely incomplete) list of these stories that happened in 2011...

Lèse majesté sees December surge

Let's start off with the most recent topic that has unfortunately brought Thailand into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons again and that is none other than the problematic issue of lèse majesté that is gripping freedom of speech. The whole month of December was filled with stories about high-profile cases and countless victims of this draconian law, the discussion to amend it and the (irrational) defenders of this law and the institution that is meant to be protected by it.

The recent surge of lèse majesté began in late November with the dubious sentence against Ampon "Uncle SMS" Tangnoppakul, despite doubtful evidence. The 62-year old grandfather is now being jailed for 20 years, five years for each alleged SMS sent. On December 8 the Thai-born US citizen was  sentenced to two and a half years prison for posting translated parts of a banned biography on the King. On December 15 'Da Torpedo', despite winning an appeal resulting in a restart of her trial, was punished to 15 years prison for alleged remarks made in 2008. These are just a few cases that happened in November and December compared to the countless other (partly ongoing or pending) cases over the past 12 months.

But the surge was also accompanied with growing and publicly displayed concern by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States Embassy in Bangkok over the increasing blatant usage of the lèse majesté law, only with the latter to be flooded with irrational, angry hate speeches and also the venue for a protest by royalists in mid-December (and also in a nearly instant iconic display of royal foolishness, the protesters are wearing Guy Fawkes masks, most likely inspired by the #Occupy-movement, but totally oblivious to its historical roots). It was not the first time this year that this issue got attention from the international community, as seen in October.

The government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected into office last July (see below), and while she would have liked to see some change on the application of the law, not to the law itself though, the new ICT minister has vowed to exploit this to the fullest. He was only to be topped by deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung a few months later, who went into full combat mode and declared war on lèse majesté web content with a THB400m ($12,6m) strong war chest, right after a meeting with the military's top brasses. The hopes of many supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, especially the red shirts, are at latest by now fully gone, as this government already has a tainted record on this issue.

But there was also an important protest by opponents of lèse majesté - the "Fearlessness Walk" shows that this issue can no longer be ignored and the consequences of its enforcement are doing exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do. It is drawing attention to the ambiguous nature of Article 112 of the criminal code (as well as the Computer Crimes Act), it is drawing attention to the signs of changing times and those who refuse to see them, and ultimately it will draw more opposition - we will (unfortunately) hear more about this issue in 2012!

(Non-)Culture: Baring the unbearable and monopolizing "Thai"-ness

While we're on the subject on being subjected to the anachronistic ideas of a few, there were several stories in 2011 in the realms of culture that were disconcerting, to say the least. It wasn't so much the incidents themselves rather the reactions by those self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything "Thai"-ness - a phrase I've been using too often in each of those stories: three girls dancing topless on Songkran, the then-culture minister calls for a crackdown on them as if they have attacked everything "Thai"-ness stands for. A few months later the same culture minister suddenly notices that infidels foreigners are getting Buddhist tattoos and calls for a ban (and back paddles after some considerable uproar). Shortly after his ministry senselessly attempts to crack down on a senseless internet meme because it's "inappropriate" and "not constructive". Later this year a rather curious guide for parents was published on their website. And finally a singer's rather raunchy video gets a ton of hits online and a sanctimonious scolding on national TV.

See a pattern here? The selective outcry borders on ridiculousness and fuels Thailand’s National Knee-Jerk Outrage Machine (“กลไกสร้างปฏิกิริยาอย่างไร้ความยั้งคิดแห่งประเทศไทย”, trademark pending), claims to uphold the only valid definition of "Thai"-ness, that isn't even fully spelled out yet, while they have not noticed that the world beyond their minds has moved on and come up with new and different definitions of what else Thailand could be. The problem is that these cultural heralds, by political office or class, claim monopoly on this. Everyone below their wage level is not entitled to even think about it. And if something doesn't fit their point of view, as guest contributor Kaewmala put it brilliantly, "Only taboo when it's inconvenient!"

The 2011 General Elections

Will he or will he not? In the end, Abhisit Vejjajiva did dissolve parliament and paved the way for early elections in May and also set off quite a short campaign season, which not only saw a few strange election posters and illustrious characters running for office, but it also saw the emergence of Yingluck Shinawatra as the lucky draw for PM candidate of the opposition Pheu Thai Party. After much skyping to Dubai discussion within the party, the sister of Thaksin was chosen to run and it turned out to be the best pick.

The Democrat Party were banking heavily on negative campaigning (a precursor to the upcoming, inevitable Thaksin-phobia in 2012), which reached its climax in the last days with their rally at Rajaprasong, the same venue where the red shirts protested a year ago. In this event, then-deputy prime minister Suthep Thuangsuban claimed to give the "full truth" on what really happened during the violent crackdown of May 19, 2010. What followed were hours of fear-mongering in case of a Pheu Thai win and an incident that almost caused a major misunderstanding:

The big screens flanking the stage on the left and the right are bearing a gruesome view. Footage of at times badly injured people from last year’s rally are being shown when suddenly at the sight of blood people started cheering – as it turns out, not for the brutally killed victims of the anti-governments protests of 2010, but for a woman with an Abhisit cut-out mask waving to the crowd behind her.

"Thailand’s Democrat Party rally: Reclaiming (the truth about) Rajaprasong", Siam Voices, June 24, 2011

The last days of the campaign were spent outside of Bangkok, for example Pheu Thai in Nakhon Ratchasima before the big day. On Sunday, July 3, election day of course meant a full-day-marathon for a journalist. Not only did it mean covering as many polling stations around town as humanly possible, not only to crunch the numbers of exit polls (which turned out to be total BS!), but also of course running the live-blog at Siam Voices. In the end, it went very quickly: Abhisit conceded, Yingluck smiled and at a lunch meeting later there was already a new five-party coalition.

The worst floods in decades: a deluge of irrationality


This is the current death toll of the what has been described as the "worst floods in decades". Floods are an annual occurrence in Thailand during the rainy season. When the water was sweeping through Chiang Mai already back in late September, this natural disaster was somehow going to be different. But it took some considerable time, despite the unprecedented damage it has created in Ayutthaya to the ancient temples and the vital industrial parks, until the capital was drowned in fear of what was to come.

It was curious to observe that those who were least likely to be affected (read: central Bangkok) were losing their nerves the most. Back in November I attempted to explore one possible reason:

One of the real reasons why the people of the city react the way they did though is this: After a military coup, countless violent political protests and sieges of airports, government buildings and public roads, this city has a sense of anxiety not unlike New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: a sense of being constantly under siege by something or somebody that separates Bangkok from the rest of the country even more. An incident at Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate (we reported) is a perfect example of the conflict between inside and outside Bangkok in miniature form.

"The Thai floods and the geographics of perception – Part 2: Certain fear of uncertainty", Siam Voices, November 23, 2011

On an anecdotal note I remember people around me hoarding bottled water, moving their belongings upstairs and barricading their houses waist-high - while I can understand these precautions, I was astonished to say the least when I started to read social media updates that accuse the government so much so to the point of deliberately drowning the people of Bangkok and other outlandish conspiracy theories, including the now ubiquitous "blame it on foreign media"-card.

There's no doubt that this natural disaster has not only shown the worst in people, but also it's helpful and charitable side (not only towards humans exclusively). During my work reporting from the floods for foreign news crews (hence there weren't many posts on Siam Voices), I admired the apparent resilience and defiance I saw from many victims of the floods - some of which are now struggling with rebuilding their lost existence. And a lot of clean-up will be needed to be done, both literally as well as politically, in order to prevent such a disaster from happening again!

What else happened in 2011? (in no particular order)

- Then-prime minister Abhisit urging then-president of Egypt Honsi Mubarak to respect the will of the people - while being totally oblivious that he exactly did not do that a year ago because, well, "They ran into the bullets" themselves!

- Half a dozen Thais walking through the border region with Cambodia and surprised that they're being arrested, in an arbitrary way to dispute the border demarcations between the two countries. This ongoing conflict, largely fueled by the ever-shrinking PAD, sparked into a brief armed battle. Two of the strollers are still sitting in a Cambodian prison.

- The one-year-anniversary of the crackdown of May 19 and my personal thoughts on this.

- The somehow strangely toned-down five-year-anniversary of the 2006 coup.

- Army chef General Prayuth Chan-ocha going completely berserk at the press.

- The fact that Thailand got its first female prime minister and the (un)surprisingly muted reactions by Thailand's feminists.

- The saga of the impounded Thai plane on German ground, the curious case study on how Thai media reported it, the juristic mud-slinging, and how this mess was eventually solved. Which brings us to...

- The German government allowing Thaksin back into Germany, after heavy campaigning by a bunch of conservative German MPs. Still boggles my mind...!

- And while we're on topic, we are saying good-bye to a regular contributor of outrageous quotes - no one has been so focused to do a different job than written his business card than Thaksin-hunter and former foreign minister in disguise Kasit Piromya!

I'd like to thank my colleagues at Siam Voices for building a diverse and opinionated collective, our editor who keeps everything in check and YOU, the readers! THANK YOU for the support, feedback, criticism, links and retweets!

Here's to an eventful, exciting 2012 that brings us news, changes, developments to discuss for all the right reasons! Happy New Year!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg, Germany again (*sigh*). He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Thai govt pays €38m to Walter Bau, gets royal plane back

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 10, 2011 Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday night:

A court in Germany has released the Boeing 737 seized from HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Tuesday.

Mr Abhisit told reporters the government has posted the full 38 million euros demanded by Walter Bau company in an account to be controlled by the German court.

As a result, the court released the jet. Terms of the agreement were unclear, as was the role of Mr Abhisit.

The government used public money for the deal. (...)

"Germany 'releases royal jet'", Bangkok Post, August 9, 2011

AP's take:

A Munich airport official confirmed that German authorities on Tuesday had released the plane used by the Thai crown prince. "It has been released, he just has to tell the airport when he would like to fly," Edgar Engert, a spokesman for the airport, told The Associated Press.

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

This is quite yet another intriguing turn of events, which probably ends an awkward spat between Thailand and Germany, that started almost a month ago over an issue that dates back even further, when a German construction firm built a tollway to Bangkok's old international airport in Don Muang in a jointventure with the Thai government. The Thai government has broken several contractual obligations, including toll hikes and not building other roads that would compete with the tollway.

This German construction firm later merged with Walter Bau AG, another German construction firm that went bankrupt in 2005 - it was then when liquidator Werner Schneider found the old contract and demanded compensation from the Thai government. An international arbitration court ruled against Thailand in 2009 and ordered them to pay €30m ($42m or THB 1,2bn) - which has grown to almost €38m thanks to interests and the Thai government simply ignoring the order for years.

That's when Werner Schneider had enough, decided to up the ante against the Thai government and seeked to impound the Boeing 737 of Thai Crown HRH Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. That set off a bilateral spat in which Thailand, partly thanks to the confusing domestic media coverage, but also active disinformation and an apparent failure to distinguish a German court from the German government, had a weak case on their hands in not only trying to release the plane, but also fight against the order to pay the hefty sum to WalterBau AG.

The main legal battle focussed on whether or not the royal 737 plane is owned by the Thai government or is personal property of the Crown Prince. A German court has then decided to release the plane only for a €20m ($28.4 or THB 851m) deposit, which still kinda led some Thai news outlets to believe that the plane is actually freed, since there has been no verdict on the ownership status, which was supposed to take place later this August at a German court.

The lastest developments (which were also the last acts of the now former Thai government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and then-foreign minister Kasit Piromya) consisted of who was going to pay. Of course, it started off with Kasit refusing to pay the deposit, the Crown Prince then announced to pay from his own fund, to which Kasit was suddenly ready to flip the bill so the Crown Prince doesn't have to until Abhisit overruled him and said no - as summarized here by Bangkok Pundit.

Now apparently the Thai government is actually paying the whole bill to Walter Bau after all. But why so suddenly? Was it an attempt to score one last 'victory' by the outgoing government by not only getting the royal plane back? Was the realization that the 'new information' presented to the German courts was neither new nor informative enough to be in favor of the Thai government? Apparently the Thai side ran out of arguments:

DLA Piper, the law firm representing Thailand in the case, said the country is committed to honoring its obligations and wants to rule out premature actions against assets of it or others.

"Thailand has strong grounds for challenging the confirmation of the award," a DLA Piper lawyer, Frank Roth, said in the firm's statement. "However, if the Berlin court finally concludes that the award against the Kingdom of Thailand is enforceable, the Kingdom of Thailand has made the funds available."

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

This statement by this law firm is particularly interesting, since just a week ago they have released a press release sounding very confident and trying to convince that the €20m deposit to be a 'victory'. But according to one Thai official, this whole thing is not done yet:

Thai Foreign Ministry official Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said a German court ordered the release of the aircraft Tuesday after the Thai government posted a 38 million euro ($54 million) bond, equal to the Walter Bau claim.

He said Thailand would continue to contest the claim on the tollway dispute until a definitive court ruling. Abhisit stepped down from the prime minister's post last week after his Democrat Party lost a July general election.

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

Chavanond probably refers to an ongoing appeal at a New York court, even though the award itself is already final, unappealable and enforceable worldwide - the chances are reportedly 'very slim' (source) though that the Thai government would actually get anything from this procedure.

There's of course at least one Thai news outlet that gets it wrong - you can all probably guess which one it is...

German authorities have agreed to withdraw impoundment of two 737 Boeing jets belonging to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn parked at the Munich airport, after Thai government placed 38 million euros as guarantee, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

The Thai embassy in Germany is working further on the issue to retrieve the two aircraft [sic!], and a lawsuit will be soon lodged with German court, said Chawanong Intharakomalsut, secretary to former foreign minister Kasit Piromya. He did not give details over which grounds over the issue the lawsuit would appeal against.

"Germans to free jet as govt pays Bt1.6-bn surety", The Nation, August 10, 2011

Wait, wait - TWO impounded planes?! Who said that TWO planes have been impounded?! Yes, there was a second Thai royal plane landing on the runway in Munich, but the German liquidator was only considering to impound the second plane - if that would have happened, we would have already known about this, if not from the Thai press, then at least the German press! Even the Thai Embassy in Berlin has said nowhere about a second plane!

This leaves now the question with what they actually mean when they said that 'public money' has been used...?

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Tongue-Thai’ed! Part VII: Kasit’s last rant

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 2, 2011 “Tongue-Thai’ed!” encapsulates the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures – in short: everything we hear that makes us go “Huh?!”. Check out all past entries here.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has been one of the most vocal, if not the most colorful representative of this now past government, and given his position, also the whole of Thailand. During his tenure, Kasit has surprised the public and the international community for his erratic outspokenness and apparent fixation to hunt down Thaksin. One of the most infamous flare-ups was last year, when he lashed out against half of the world and suspected a world-wide, pro-Thaksin and anti-Thailand conspiracy.

Since this is this his last day, let's look at the most likely last public comment by Kasit - unless he threw a last-minute tantrum we haven't heard about yet.

The government is demanding answers after Germany reportedly re-granted a visa to deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya yesterday said the German government should explain to the international community the reasons for its decision, after revoking Thaksin's visa in 2008. (...)

"Kasit slams German decision", Bangkok Post, July 30 2011

Hold on, hold on - who's talking about a visa here? As previously reported here (and before anybody else did), the German government has revoked the entry ban for Thaksin a few weeks ago, not a word about a visa. That is something entirely different than, say, a country inviting somebody and granting him a visa in order to be able to enter the country!

But that didn't stop him from railing on:

Mr Kasit said the Germans were pursuing a double standard.

The German government had called on the Thai government to respect its law and justice system, after the German court seized a Thai Boeing 737 owned by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn at Munich airport.

"But in Thaksin's criminal case, the German government cites the changing political climate here as the basis for re-granting a visa to him," said Mr Kasit. (...)

"Kasit slams German decision", Bangkok Post, July 30 2011

Again, it's not a visa! Kasit is referring to a statement by the German Embassy in Bangkok made last week in connection to the Walter Bau saga that has become the impounded plane saga. It is one thing when government or its embassy comments on a certain issue or case, it is another thing though if a government refuses to follow a verdict by an international tribunal and also not fully explain the pending appeal at a New York court (more details at Bangkok Pundit).

For the double standard accusation, even Thai officials disagree with him:

Attorney-General Julasing Wasantasing said it was Germany's right to decide whether to allow Thaksin to enter the country. The Thai government could not interfere, he said.

"Thaksin no longer banned from Germany, says Noppadon", The Nation, July 30 2011

Kasit concludes his rant:

"The German government was pressured by one of its coalition parties from the southern part of [Germany]," he said. Someone wanted to give Thaksin the right to re-enter the country. "I requested a meeting with members of that [German] party, but they refused to meet me."

"Kasit slams German decision", Bangkok Post, July 30 2011

He is right about the intense lobbying by conservative, Bavarian MPs which is undoubtedly very, very fishy and doesn't make those MPs look good. On the other hand, given Kasit's reputation (not only during his tenure as ambassador to Germany), it is hardly surprising why that German party had refused to him.

And now for the punchline:

Germany is obliged to answer why it appears sensitive to 15 million votes cast for a party to take power but ignores opposing votes, he said.

"Thaksin no longer banned from Germany, says Noppadon", The Nation, July 30 2011

Oh farewell, Foreign Minister Kasit - your tirades will be missed...!

Just because we will have a new government, it doesn't mean they all suddenly stop saying stupid things. If you come across any verbosities that you think might fit in here send us an email at siamvoices [at] gmail.com or tweet us @siamvoices.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

„Der Spiegel“ Interviews Foreign Minister Kasit

NOTE: This post was originally published on July 16, 2010 in a series of guest blogger posts for Bangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent. During his diplomatic tour through Europe (previously mentioned here), foreign minister Kasit Piromya gave an interview to the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel. Some lines are familiar to observers of him like these:

SPIEGEL: What is your explanation for the protests?

Kasit: The Marxist-Leninist interpretation was used by some protest leaders to paint a picture of disparity in Thai society -- between the rich and poor, rural and urban areas -- to attract supporters. This notion has also been accepted by the leftist media around the world. (...)

SPIEGEL: How have the leaders succeeded in gaining so much support?

Kasit: The protest is coordinated, organized and financed by Mr. Thaksin and his people. It is not something that happened naturally like in other countries, where demonstrations are spontaneous, like in Greece.

"Interview With Thai Foreign Minister - 'I'm Not Going to Run Like Mr. Thaksin'", Der Spiegel, July 15, 2010

Kasit actually made some solid remarks about the lèse majesté law ("Of course it has been abused! (...) I must now go to court!") and also named "Ethics, and good governance issues" to be the problems of Thai politics, but on the other hand he blames Thaksin in every second answer, whether it's about the failed November 14 election date proposal by the government during the protests ("Mr. Thaksin refused it. And then he started to have this armed insurrection."), the alleged main cause of the red shirts ("to support [him], to bring him back to Thailand without having him serve the jail sentence he has received for corruption and conflict of interest while in office.") - Kasit apparently can not let go of the idea that Thaksin is the ultimate root of all things evil. He also took a jab at German history:

SPIEGEL: What do you think? Who shot the people, if not the army?

Kasit: Look at German history: What happened when Joschka Fischer was on the streets in Frankfurt? Wasn't there shooting at that time? It is also possible that the Red Shirts were shooting among themselves in order to pass the blame to the government.

Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer was involved in the student movement of the 1960s that was protesting against the conservatism and ignorance towards its past of post-war Germany. The government at that time tried to counter this movement i.e. by using the media to form a public opinion against the students. Due to the over-reaction by the police the protests escalated and turned violent. Even though it initially failed to cause any short-term results, it had long-lasting effects and influence on German society and culture.

In the 1970s the remains of the students movements either disappeared or have taken a radical route that also partly resulted in the formation of the Red Army Fraction that took out several armed assaults and was known as the first domestic terrorist group. During the same time frame Fischer was a leading member of the radical "Putzgruppe" (cleaning squad) that took on the police in several street battles. In 2001, when Fischer just became foreign minster, pictures dating back to 1973 were published, which shows him clubbing a policeman. Fischer later regretted this but also denied claims that he endorsed the use of molotov cocktails against the police. (More in this NYT article)

Getting back to Kasit's original claim: Neither sides, the "Putzgruppe" or the police, have used firearms during the street battles. All in all this historic comparison seems odd to me, but this is not the first time he has shown his selective historical knowledge. Talking about German history, Kasit once more came up with another comparison:

SPIEGEL: There have been 18 military coups since 1932. Can you really call Thailand a democracy?

Kasit: That is a very unfair question. It takes a lot of time to become a full-fledged democratic society. We are struggling with ourselves. Having said that, despite the challenges we have faced, we have never deviated far from the road to democracy which is what the Thai people want. Look at Germany: How did you end up with Hitler?

There we have it, Godwin's law has been used here in full effect! It seems to me that for one reasonable statement and he is spilling at least two or three ill-advised rants that ruin everything, as previously witnessed at an event in the US earlier this year.

By the way, since he mentioned the criminal past of a foreign minister, what about Kasit's past? Oh, yeah right!

Mr. Noppadon Goes to Washington

NOTE: This post was originally published on 8 July 2010 in a series of guest blogger posts for Bangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent. Ever since the red shirt protests ended, the government is keen to tell the world it's side of the story and that things have turned back to normal again in the Kingdom. In order to ensure this, they have, for instance, sent a special envoy to the US (with a little help from friends over there) for set the public agenda for Thailand (and also to prevent the US from intervention). Also, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was travelling around Europe the last few weeks starting with a visit to the European Union in Brussels, where he gave this astonishing statement while meeting an EU diplomat:

Kasit was quoted as telling Commissioner Georgieva that the recent red-shirt protests were engineered primarily by a combination of 'Marxist-Leninist' elements from the old Thai communist party, disaffected military men and 'slum-dwellers', all funded and inspired by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, sources said.

However, he did not pressure the EU to extradite fugitive Thaksin since his ministry has earlier sought consultations from the EU diplomats in Bangkok on the process of Montenegro’s quest for EU membership. (...)

According to the EU press release, Commissioner Georgieva expressed her concerns about the victims of the recent political turmoil and hoped for a meaningful internal political dialogue to address the divisions in Thai society.

"EU concerns about Thailand's reconciliation", Bangkok Post, June 23, 2010 (emphasis by me)

I would like to have seen her face expression upon hearing Kasit's statement. The quote also reflects the the observations of US Senator Jim Webb when he met the Thai special envoy in Washington as Webb "agreed that aspects of the Red Shirts were 'classic Marxist.'" (Source)

Shortly after that the opposition camp has sent out their envoy around the world to counter the Thai government's media offense.

A close aide to Thailand's ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seeking US help to resolve the kingdom's turmoil as he tries to soften the image of the "Red Shirt" protest movement.

Noppadon Pattama, a former foreign minister, is on a mission to Washington that comes as a sharp challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has won US backing for his reconciliation plan and opposes outside mediation.

"We hope that the US administration will be more engaged about the situation in Thailand. They can use diplomatic channels to encourage the government to look at our proposal," Noppadon, a legal adviser to Thaksin, told AFP in an interview Tuesday.

"It doesn't mean they interfere with Thai politics. You can give friendly advice to your friend -- it's just natural," he said. "US-Thai relations are very important and if your friend is weak or is divided, your friend may not fulfill the potential that it has."(...)

Noppadon accused the government of misrepresenting the Red Shirts, saying: "I don't want the United States or the US population to misunderstand that the Red Shirts are terrorists. They are just farmers, they are just democracy lovers, they are people who dislike double standards,"

Noppadon declined to specify whom he was meeting in Washington, saying it could lead to repercussions. Diplomats said he would meet with staff members at Congress. (...)

"Thaksin Shinawatra aide seeks US role in Thailand", AFP via The Times of India, June 30, 2010

The Nation claims to know who Noppadon has met in Washington:

Noppadon will meet with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell at the State Department, a political source said, adding that he had also sought meetings with ranking senators, including John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Howard Burman and Richard Lucas.

"Noppadon is believed to rely on Ed Rogers, a lobbyist working in the law firm of former US secretary of state James Baker," the source said.

"Wooing Washington", The Nation, July 1, 2010

Also, on a possible involvement by Thaksin, Bangkok Post had this:

Mr Noppadon said Thaksin knew about his trip to the US but gave no particular instructions, adding that the fugitive former prime minister was now in eastern Europe. (...) [Noppadon] had nothing to do with Robert Amsterdam, a foreign lawyer working for Thaksin.

"Thaksin's lawyers at work", Bangkok Post, June 30, 2010

Ed Rogers is vice-president for the lobby firm BGR Holdings LLC, which had Thaksin as a client back in 2008. Also:

Thaksin Shinawatra [...] has hired BGR Government Affairs, Amsterdam & Peroff and Kobre & Kim to lobby federal policymakers.

BGR, according to the firm’s lobbying registration for Thaksin, will “provide strategic counsel on U.S. government policy and assist with advancing individual’s desire to promote democracy in Thailand.”

At BGR, Thaksin will be represented by Stephen Rademaker, former national security policy director for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.); Jonathan Mantz, the national finance director for then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) 2008 presidential campaign; and Walker Roberts, an ex-deputy staff director for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Loren Monroe, a BGR principal, declined to comment for this piece, saying the firm does not discuss client matters.

"Former prime minister of Thailand hires trio of lobby and law firms", by Kevin Bogardus, The Hill, July 1, 2010

The time of Noppadon's PR-tour in DC was not accidental as he was in the week before the US Congress votes on whether to back Prime Minister Abhisit's reconciliation roadmap or not. The vote went 411 - 1 in favor of the bill officially titled "Affirming the support of the United States for a strong and vital alliance with Thailand" (the full text of the bill is in the link).

Of course, the Thai government is delighted with the decision from Washington as they have encouraged Abhisit to stay the course and carry on with the roadmap. This episode was also a show of whose side has done better lobbying on Capitol Hill, since the Thai government has also hired a lobbying firm. Looks like Noppadon or Thaksin will have more work to do to convince DC for their side of the political conflict.

"Stupid Foreigners...!"

The Nation has put up an article that can only be described as simply astonishing.

The international community is showing varying degrees of understanding concerning the political situation in Thailand. There are two groups - those who reside outside the Kingdom and are looking in through a somewhat distorted lens, and the Bangkok-based foreign community, who have to suffer through this turmoil on a daily basis like the Thai people.

The first group, including some media outlets, has only a superficial comprehension of the crisis. Comments are mostly narrowly focused; they see the turmoil simply as a righteous struggle between the haves and have-nots. Moreover, they see it solely as a cry for democracy. These two key messages dominate their discourses. (...)

But one thing is missing here. The role of fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as the main culprit is seldom being mentioned by the international community and international media. Obviously, it is beyond their imagination to conceive that one person could be responsible for such massive civil disobedience. But this is exactly the point. Thaksin has channelled his money, via his divorced wife and crony associates, to finance the demonstration. (...)

Certainly, there are red supporters on the streets who are genuinely crying for a real democracy and who want to highlight and remedy all the social ills of Thailand. (...) There is no denying that extensive reforms are needed.

But these issues are symptomatic of all developing countries. The disparity between rural and urban areas - even in the most developed countries in the world - is a dichotomy that we continue to struggle with. What is strange is that nobody reacts like this in other countries. In Thailand this issue has been manipulated by certain people for their own interests.

Inside Thailand, for those foreigners who have gone through the same experience as Thais in the past several weeks, there has been a strong sense of anger, sadness and bitterness. They feel the same way as many Thais. (...)

It is imperative that the international community gains a thorough understanding of the situation. Both the media and all governmental organisations have to do their job more effectively.

"Do They Really Know What's Happening Here?", The Nation, April 30, 2010

In a related news story, foreign minister Kasit Piromya is at it again.

The crisis spilled into the diplomatic arena Thursday, with Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya censuring some foreign diplomats for meeting last week with Red Shirt leaders.

"We do not want to see that happening again," Kasit told reporters during a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia. Kasit said he had earlier met with Philippine Ambassador Antonio V. Rodriguez, dean of the Bangkok diplomatic corps, to express his concern.

In a note to other diplomats based in Thailand, Rodriguez said Kasit accused some ambassadors of voicing opposition to the constitutional monarchy and criticizing the government's handling of the crisis. Kasit was a public supporter of the Yellow Shirt movement before becoming foreign minister.

"These actions have gone beyond the limits of diplomatic practice and were unacceptable to the Thai government," Rodriguez summarized Kasit as saying. "The envoys' opposition to the government and to the monarchy was inappropriate and will not be tolerated."

"Thai protest rivals want military to end 'anarchy'", Associated Press, April 29, 2010

New Mandala has some excerpts of the memo that has been passed to the diplomats, worth a read.

Do I sense a theme here? It seems that the "being a foreigner and not in Thailand"-talk is still a legit argument for some Thais and also a convenient one to shoot down foreign criticism. Also, there is an ongoing fascinating fixation on Thaksin by Kasit and The Nation, especially since rumors of his death are persistently popping up this week again.

And don't get me started on who should do a better job...

P.S.: Remember Kasit's rant in Washington against several countries that have let Thaksin from a few weeks ago? Well, one of the countries 'strikes' back.

In a separate development, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Thai Ambassador Chalermpol Thanchitt to accept a diplomatic protest in response to Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya's remarks on Russia's role in sheltering Thaksin.

"Thaksin, family dispel rumours of death, coma", The Nation, May 1, 2010

Thai Gov Responds to Aung San Suu Kyi's Comments, Hilarity Ensues

Thailand's political crisis shows that a constitution drawn up by the military can never deliver stability, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Saturday, according to her party. (...) 'A new government coming to power under a constitution drawn up by the military will never be stable,' he cited her as saying. 'We do not need to see very far. We just see Thailand,' she said. 'Thaksin was an elected person. The military seized the power from an elected person. The constitution was drawn up by the military,' she said.

'After that, what happened with the first (government)? It was not stable,' she said of the short-lived administration that followed the coup. 'This was a result of the constitution being written by the military.'

Nyan Win said Suu Kyi was not giving an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Thailand, where red-shirted campaigners largely loyal to Thaksin are calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"Crisis: Perils of military rule", The Straits Times via AFP, April 24, 2010

It did not took long until the Thai government's answer to the Burmese democracy icon. Enter government's spokesperson Panitan Wattanyagorn...

"ผมคิดว่าคนไทยคงไม่รู้สึกว่าไทยจะเข้าใกล้เหมือนประเทศพม่า และไม่เหมือนกันเลยเพราะว่าเรามีระบอบประชาธิปไตยมายาวนานหลายประเทศยังไม่ได้เป็นประชาธิปไตยเลย นอกจากนี้ ประเด็นหนึ่งของการรับรู้ข่าวสารของต่างประเทศเราคงต้องทำเพิ่มมากขึ้น เพราะบางประเทศอาจได้รับข้อมูลไม่มากเนื่องจากในเรื่องของภาษาและช่องทางการสื่อสารที่ถูกปิดกั้นโดยระบบ ฉะนั้นสารก็อาจไม่ครบถ้วน (...)" นายปณิธานกล่าว

"I don't think the Thai people feel that Thailand is becoming similar to Myanmar and [they also feel that] the two countries are not alike at all because we have the democratic system for a long time back then when other countries did not. Apart from that, regarding on how foreign countries get their news [about Thailand], we need to step up more. In some countries they do not get enough information, because of language or because ways of communication are systematically blocked. So information is not fully passed on, (...)" Panitan says.

"สื่อเทศเชื่อไทย"นองเลือด"ก่อนเจรจา "ปณิธาน"โต้"ซูจี"ยันไทยไม่เหมือนพม่า หลายชาติยังให้กำลัใจ"มาร์ค", Matichon, April 25, 2010

Hm. "We need to inform the people more" and "Some do not get enough information" are phrases that have been applied to Western foreigners, journalists, rural red shirts and pretty much on everyone who disagree with the government's spin.

h/t To a reader

Foreign Minister Kasit Goes Berserk, Suspects Worldwide Pro-Thaksin Conspiracy UPDATE Audio posted

UPDATE: The John Hopkins University, where the talk was held, has posted the full audio of Kasit's speech. We haven't been talking about Thaksin for a while, have we? Well, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya thinks so as well and has used the next best opportunity in front of a microphone to lash out against Thaksin and everyone that helps him - which is in his opinion almost the whole world. AFP summarizes what must have been some astonishing quotes (to be enjoyed in all it's entirety for entertainment purposes).

Thailand's Foreign Minister lashed out at the international community Monday for failing to take action against fugitive ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom he blamed for the country's political unrest.

"Everyone is washing their hands but he is a bloody terrorist," said Kasit Piromya, citing countries such as Russia and Germany for turning a blind eye over Thaksin's corruption conviction and allowing him in.

He also cited Dubai, which the billionaire Thaksin had reportedly used as a longtime base after being overthrown in a military coup in 2006, as well as Nicaragua and Montenegro, both of which he recently visited.

"There is this act of interference by third countries -- how can the Russians allow him there for two days or the Germans before that?"

"Everyone is playing naive, closing their eyes and so on, simply because he was once an elected leader," Kasit said.

He likened Thaksin to an Al-Qaeda terrorist and past "elected" leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.

"Hitler was elected, Mussolini was elected, even Stalin could say that he was elected also but what did they do to their very society? This is the question," the top Thai diplomat said at a meeting with a small group of reporters and think tank heads.

Kasit, in Washington attending a landmark nuclear summit called by President Barack Obama, accused Thaksin of orchestrating demonstrations by his so-called Red Shirt supporters last week that led to 21 deaths in the bloodiest political unrest in 18 years.

The 60-year-old Thaksin exiled himself to avoid imprisonment on a 2008 corruption conviction and occasionally addresses the Red Shirts through Internet video links.

Kasit lamented that Thailand was "not getting any international cooperation at all" over Thaksin's case, saying even Interpol "just simply refused to work with us." (...)

While the world demanded for more democracy in Thailand, it "allows Thaksin to run loose as if nothing happens," he said.

Kasit called on the Obama administration to prod the Red Shirts to come to the negotiating table. The United States and Thailand are treaty allies.

"Thai FM slams international community over crisis", AFP, April 13, 2010

Good Lord, where do I even start?

It is an open secret that the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs' unofficial top priority is to hunt down Thaksin wherever in the world he pops up. And since he seems to travel anywhere without any apparent problems, one might understand Kasit's outburst if (in his opinion) the one man who is solely to be blamed for a the big political mess that has happened in over the last five years cannot be apprehended and even seems to get international assistance.

I have previously blogged about Thaksin's stay in Germany and also mentioned his trip to Montenegro. Since then, Thaksin has claimed to have been in Russia as well. Additionally the Foreign Ministry has stated that he was in Sweden before that. But it should be noted that they got it wrong before when they suspected Thaksin to be expelled from UAE and to have flown to Siem Reap when the most recent red shirts protest begun.

It is astonishing how a branch of the government, or even a single person, can be so morbidly obsessed with one person desperately trying to hunt him down. So desperate that Kasit thinks he can afford to alienate nearly everybody.

As for the Hitler-Mussolini-Stalin-comparison and Kasit's claim that the most notorious figures in history were 'elected' into power, a simple look into Wikipedia might have saved him from this spectacular claim. Mussolini rose to power through intimidation of public authorities and political opponents with a large mob until he was appointed to lead the country by the king, Stalin was able to push out Lenin and later his own closest allies away from power, and even though Hitler's nazi party has won at the ballots, he was appointed Chancellor in hope by his coalition partners to be contained with a framework of conservative cabinet ministers - we all know how well that worked.

And how got Abhisit to power, again?

P.S.: Kasit also had some interesting quotes on another subject I will not discuss here.