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Thailand: Tensions rise ahead of amnesty bill showdown, protests (UPDATE)

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 31, 2013 UPDATE (November 1, 8.00am): After an 18-hour marathon session ending at 4.20 am, parliament punched the Amnesty Bill through the second and third reading with 310 votes, while 4 MPs abstained: the red shirt leaders Natthawut Saikaur and Weng Tojirakarn, original bill sponsor Worachai Hema and Khattiya Sawasdipol, and the daughter of Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol aka "Seh Daeng", the rogue general who supported the red shirt movement and was killed while giving an interview with The New York Times at the beginning of the 2010 crackdown. The opposition Democrat Party staged a walkout. The bill is now in the Senate for approval.

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The political atmosphere in Thailand is seeing rising tensions again after a period of relative calm and could see a major showdown this morning (Thursday) as the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT) is submitting the controversial and rewritten Amnesty Bill for deliberation in parliament while the opposition is preparing to take to the streets and is trying to mobilize protests against it.

The so-called Amnesty Bill was originally intended to benefit only those involved in political protests since 2006, but not their leaders or any officials involved in violent clashes. However, a 35-member parliamentary vetting committee (dominated by Pheu Thai MPs) retroactively amended the bill, extending it to "persons accused of wrongdoing by a group of people or an organisation set up after the military coup of September 19, 2006."

This would include all officials and military officers responsible for the deadly crackdown on the 2010 anti-government red shirts protests as well as former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 after was convicted for abuse of power and sentenced to two years in jail.

The Pheu Thai Party has faced a backlash over the amendment, not only from the opposition Democrat Party but also from within their own ranks as the red shirt supporter base are objecting the possibility that those responsible for the victims of the 2010 crackdown could walk away scot-free. A red shirt splinter group and families of the victims held separate rallies against the bill over the past week.

Parliament announced on Tuesday that the deliberation for the second reading will begin this morning, before the third and final reading will take place on November 2 - technical and procedural hurdles notwithstanding. What also emerged is that the party ordered all its MPs to attend and also to vote in favor of the bill. All signs clearly show that the Pheu Thai Party is really now pushing to pass it through parliament, where it has a comfortable majority coalition.

On the other political side, the opposition Democrat Party are also now preparing their counter-measures, focussing outside of parliament:

The Democrat Party, which is planning to hold a mass rally at Samsen train station in Bangkok this evening to voice opposition to the blanket amnesty bill, should abide by the law, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog said yesterday. (...)

Four deputy Democrat Party leaders - Korn Chatikavanij, Thaworn Senneam, Issara Somchai, Siriwan Prassachaksattru , and party executive Satit Wongnongtaey - stepped down from their positions as board members. Though the five will continue as MPs, they say their reason for quitting the board was to pre-empt any moves to dissolve the part based on their role in the protest.

"Protesting Democrats told not to break law", The Nation, October 31, 2013

While the planned rally and fierce attitude on display by the Democrat Party has limited impact on what is going inside parliament, it will come down to how many people it can muster. In recent months they have regularly staged rallies (with conflicting reports on attendance numbers) while other anti-government groups, such as the "People's Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism" (PEFOT, what a moutful!) or the short-lived white masks could gather only a couple of hundreds.

However, given the focus on a feared Thaksin whitewash and return to Thailand, the Democrat Party is in a rare situation where it could assemble a broader anti-Thaksin coalition (including whatever is left of the ultra-nationalist yellow shirts). Even though it is unlikely that they will literally rally for days, a 'strong' first showing could give at least some temporary momentum - Democrats have optimistically estimated it can rally 10,000, though half that would be considered a success.

The big questions are at what point Pheu Thai will pull back (if at all) and how the red shirts' grassroots base will react to the Amnesty Bill? Whatever happens in the next few days, this is the result of a certain hubris in the Pheu Thai Party on this issue. In the past, the ruling party would dip its toe to test the political waters with each new piece of critical legislation (as seen with the constitutional amendments). Now it seems that they are just short of dive bombing into hot water.

The danger for the ruling party does not come so much from the opposition, in or outside the parliament, but rather from within, especially the red shirts, even though the mainstream United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship - despite its declaration to abstain a few MPs - is likely to follow the party line and not create a mutiny should the bill pass. Nevertheless, the party should not underestimate the potential for dissent and resentment among its supporters for what is essentially the betrayal of a key campaign promise.

Ex-yellow shirt leader Sondhi found guilty of insulting Thai monarchy

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 2, 2013 Thai court sentences former leader of the ultra-royalist and reactionary yellow shirts movement Sondhi Limthongkul to two years in jail for lèse majesté, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

Things went from bad to worse for Sondhi Limthongkul, the media mogul turned leader of the so-called 'People's Alliance for Democracy' (PAD) aka the yellow shirts, on Tuesday:

The Appeals Court on Tuesday sentenced Sondhi Limthongkul, a core member of the People's Alliance for Democracy, to three years imprisonment after finding him guilty of lese majeste, reversing the lower court's decision which acquitted him of the charge. The prison sentence was reduced by one-third to two years in jail because his testimony was deemed useful.

Mr Sondhi was charged that on July 20, 2008 he went up the stage and made a speech at a rally of PAD supporters at Makkawan Rangsan Bridge over a loud speaker.

"Sondhi gets 2 years for lese majeste", Bangkok Post, October 1, 2013

In that speech, which was broadcasted by his own satellite TV channel ASTV, Sondhi quoted pro-Thaksin supporter Daranee Charnchoengsilpaku, more commonly known as "Da Torpedo", demanding her arrest and prosecution.

Daranee's reportedly very strong remarks made in 2008 criticized the military coup of 2006 and the monarchy, which led to her arrest and sentencing to 18 years in jail. But, following a petition from her, the ruling was nullified and her case was declared a mistrial (we reported) since the hearings were not made accessible to the public and the media. Nevertheless, she remained imprisoned and the retrial in 2011 still found her guilty, sentencing her to 15 years in jail. Earlier this year in July, it was announced that Daranee will seek a royal pardon after more than 5 years of imprisonment and several have reported health concerns.

This lèse majesté charge against Sondhi - filed by the police - originates as far back as 2008 as he was issued an arrest warrant shortly after the aforementioned broadcast and eventually faced trial in 2011 after several delays. In September 2012 he was acquitted of the charges by the Criminal Court, as it found that Sondhi had "no intention" of breaking the law. Now, a year later, a higher court has overturned that ruling.

For Sondhi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corporate fraud earlier this year, it is another blow for the man who led a powerful and controversial political movement, more commonly known as the yellow shirts. The group is notorious for their street protests and the siege of Bangkok's airports in 2008 (the trial has yet to commence) in their continuous campaign to rid Thai politics of the influences of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (a former business partner of Sondhi), including the current government of his sister Yingluck.

In August, Sondhi and other high-ranking leaders announced their resignation from the movement after they failed to convince their former allies, the opposition Democrat Party, to quit parliament in an effort to topple the government. While all involved insist that the PAD is not dead, their departure effectively disables the already marginalized movement (for now), despite the ongoing existence of ultra-royalist, anti-democracy and reactionary political offshoots.

The lèse majesté case and the conviction against Sondhi shows that even supporters of the monarchy and proponents of the draconian law are not exempt from the deeply flawed Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The reasoning of the judges clearly shows the 'logic' of the law and its perceived purpose:

The Appeals Court found Mr Sondhi guilty as charged, reasoning that it was not necessary for him to repeat Ms Daranee's remarks in public. In doing so, Mr Sondhi caused other people to know what Ms Daranee had said and to talk about it, thus affecting the monarchy.

"Sondhi gets 2 years for lese majeste", Bangkok Post, October 1, 2013

In other words, Sondhi made himself an accomplice to the crime and it doesn't matter if it was used in order to vilify her and demand her arrest, since Daranee's words - as with all other allegedly offensive remarks in all lèse majesté cases - are not publicly discussed outside the court rooms. As explored in a previous blog post here, prosecutors have the contradictory task of pursuing offenses against the monarchy (and also the often cited "national security") yet at the same time insist that they do not have an effect on them personally as loyal Thais.

Notably, while countless other lèse majesté prisoners are rejected bail and remain imprisoned while awaiting trial - as authorities claim they are a flight risk - Sondhi Limthongkul yet again walks free on bail (reportedly 500,000 Baht or $16,000 in this case) and probably will never see the inside of a prison cell.

Is this the end for Thailand's ultra-nationalist yellow shirts?

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 26, 2013 As leaders of the ultra-nationalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) announce they have quit their roles in the movement, is this the end for Thailand's yellow shirts?

It was a Friday and the end of a rather tumultuous political week with long parliament debates on constitutional amendments almost coming to a grinding halt because of the antics by opposition Democrat Party that ultimately couldn't stop to vote.

From the outermost sidelines of the Thai political playing field, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - the ultra-nationalist, anti-democratic and anti-Thaksin street protest group also commonly known as the yellow shirts - announced that it would make a televised statement later that Friday evening.

A "change in its stance" was touted by the movement. The question was in which direction it was heading. Would the yellow shirts return to mass street protests they have given up on in 2012? Would the Democrat Party return to the fold after their break-up and following ridicule by the PAD?

In the presence of all key yellow shirt leaders such as Sondhi Limthongkul and Chamlong Srimuang - most of whom have kept a rather low public profile in the recent past - from the movement's own TV studio, a spokesman read out a slightly surprising 30-minute statement:

Core bosses of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) announced last night they have quit the movement's leadership (...)

Their decision, which was broadcast on the satellite-based ASTV station, came after it became clear Democrat Party MPs would not quit parliament to join a campaign to push for political reforms as had been suggested earlier by one of the PAD leaders Sondhi Limthongkul. (...)

The PAD leaders, who face a number of charges as a result of anti-Thaksin Shinawatra protests, claimed their ability to conduct political activities was being curbed by court orders.

If they were to bring about political reform, they would have to violate those court orders but there were no guarantees that their "sacrifices" would pay off in the long run.

They said the PAD alone was not powerful enough to bring about change. The Democrats, however, have the resources and are not restrained by any court orders, they said, but the Democrats have turned their back on Mr Sondhi's proposal.

By rejecting the PAD's offer, the Democrat Party showed that it was only aiming at discrediting the government and, like other political parties, hoped to use other groups for its own political gains, the statement added.

"Top PAD bosses resign en masse", Bangkok Post, August 24, 2013

The leaders further lamented in their Friday night announcement the 'vicious cycle' of politics. Even if the current government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (which they perceive as a proxy government of her brother Thaksin) is overthrown, the ruling Pheu Thai Party would comfortably win again in a reelection scenario. Any other political party would also act purely for their own political gain, their statement continued.

The yellow shirts have put their hopes in their former fellow anti-Thaksin protesters from the Democrat Party (both have large overlapping supporter groups mainly consisting of middle class Bangkokians), but they have moved on and created their own street protest groups. Furthermore, the opposition politicians would also not want to risk their political careers and quit parliament, which was a condition demanded by the PAD for them to join.

It was an admission of failure for the PAD in their mission to 'free' Thai politics of the influence of Thaksin (also a former business partner of Sondhi before ties between two soured) and everything the yellow shirts believe he stands for, among them a corrupt democratic system that needs to be done away with - preferably via a military coup and replaced with appointed representatives instead of elections.

What began as a broad urban anti-Thaksin alliance in 2005 and the (re-)introduction of street politics to Thailand and reached its climax in the 2008 airport siege (their trials have been postponed countless times), became more and more marginalized over the years. All that is left of the movement is the ultra-nationalist and anti-Thaksin core from the beginning.

Will this mean the end of anti-Thaksin protests? Far from it! The sentiments against Thaksin have only run deeper in Thailand over the years, as the various affiliated off-shoot protest groups such the ultra-royalist multi-colored shirts, the short-lived Pitak Siam and the recently emerged 'White masks' have shown. What all these groups have in common - apart from near-facist political leanings - is that while they have identified what they hate, they rarely have offered a proper political solution to the ongoing polarization.

The leaders' resignation wants to be understood as something temporary rather than a complete breakdown. A return of the yellow shirts to the streets is never really out of the question given the right circumstances. However, with Friday's announcement the People's Alliance for Democracy have become a complete misnomer: they do not have enough the mass support they require, nor have they allies such as the Democrat Party and the military, and they certainly do not stand for democracy.

Thailand: Reconciliation games continue as amnesty bill goes to parliament

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 26, 2013 When Thailand's parliament reconvenes next week to continue the political season one of the most discussed and possibly the most controversial issue will be the passing of the so-called amnesty or reconciliation bill. Advertised as a means to overcome the ongoing political division by giving far-reaching amnesty to those convicted for taking part in the countless political protests - of both yellow and red shirts - since the military coup of 2006, opponents are accusing the government of white-washing the activities of the red shirt protesters and exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Depending on which of the various drafts you read, the bill could issue an even more far-reaching amnesty that also includes the junta behind the military coup, the military and civilian authorities responsible for the violent crackdown of the 2010 anti-government red shirt protests (including then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thuagsuban), the various protest leaders, erasing the post-coup judiciary (a junta-appointed court which has dissolved deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai Party and banned 111 politicians from office in 2007) and - according to one draft - even absolve Thaksin himself from a 2008 court sentence for abuse of power in a land purchasing case.

The authors of the drafts nearly all come from the governing Pheu Thai Party (PT). Red shirt leader and current deputy commercial minister Natthawut Saikua and coup-leader and now-opposition politician Sonthi Boonyaratglin may come from opposite ends of the political devide, but have presented similar amnesty drafts, with the main difference that "those who commit terrorist acts and acts causing death" are excluded in Natthawut's bill proposal. The former deputy prime minister and now newly demoted named labor minister Chalerm Yubamrung also throws in a draft of his own in a typically eager attempt to leave a personal mark on this issue, in which almost everybody - including Abhisit and Thaksin - are absolved. None of the bills include those imprisoned under the lèse majesté law.

Last week, another proposal for a reconciliation bill was introduced by a group that has been often neglected in the political infighting but was arguably most affected in the political crisis:

Relatives of those killed in the April-May 2010 crackdown on red-shirt protesters are to submit a "Worachai-plus" amnesty bill as parliament prepares to consider six other amnesty bills next month. (...)

"People from all colours will be absolved of any offence they committed or had committed against against them, except for core leaders," Ms. Payao [Akkahad, the mother of 25-year-old Kamolkade Akkahad, a medical volunteer who was killed inside Wat Pathum Wanaram on May 19, 2010] said of the victims' relatives' version of the bill.

The relatives will submit their five-page bill to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra tomorrow, and to the parliament speaker on July 24, she said.

This bill, [Punsak Srithep, father of the 17-year-old Samapun Srithep, who was killed on May 15, 2010, on Ratchaprarop Road,] said, would allow judicial lawsuits to be pressed against persons or groups that killed people and/or damaged private property. The relatives' bill also does not prevent private entities whose properties were damaged in the unrest from launching civil suits against vandals or arsonists, he said.

"2010 victims' relatives push amnesty bill", Bangkok Post, July 15, 2013

The draft, coined by local media as the "People's Bill", has found in opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva an unlikely proponent. While he lauds it to be "the first amnesty bill that had been proposed with a reasonable and reconciliatory tone," parts of the proposal directly target him and his administration's role in the violent crackdown on the red shirt protesters in 2010 (both he and his former deputy Suthep are facing murder charges by the DSI on at least one count, if not even more). It comes as no surprise that his party supporters and other ultra-conservatives have criticized Abhisit for voicing his support, many questioning whether or not he actually read the entire thing. The opposition has not yet brought up a proposal on their own.

Meanwhile, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the mainstream red shirt umbrella organization, has voiced skepticism about the "People's Bill":

Prominent Pheu Thai politicians and Redshirts leaders, such as Mr. Weng Tojirakarn, Mr. Sombat Boon-ngarmanong, and Ms. Suda Rangupan, have accused Ms. Payao and Mr. Pansak of trying to slow down the process to pass amnesty bill by picking a fight with the powerful military.

According to those opposed to the ′Victims Families′ amnesty bill, the effort to free detained Redshirts protesters should be a priority over the need to prosecute the security forces. They expressed their fear that the military would never allow Ms. Yingluck′s government to pass such a bill, ruining the chance of any little gain there might be altogether, and might even launch a military coup in retaliation.

Some Redshirts also openly questioned the motives of Ms. Payao and Mr. Pansak, indirectly accusing them of being collaborators with the rival Democrat Party which, strangely enough, had expressed its support for the ′Victims Families′ amnesty bill.

"Fragmentation Among Redshirts Highlighted By Amnesty Debate", Khaosod Online, July 24, 2013

Instead, the UDD and the Pheu Thai Party are reportedly backing the draft by PT MP Worachai Hema, putting it top of the agenda for deliberation in parliament (even before the 2014 Budget Bill!) and ditching all other proposals - a move some observers say is to avoid uproar from the UDD, despite reports of dissatisfaction among certain groups within the fragmented movement. Under Worachai's bill, all political protestors will be granted amnesty - regardless of their political allegiance - while excluding the protest leaders and authorities responsible for the crackdowns.

August rings in a new political season that could get very heated very quickly: on top of the 2014 Budget Bill, the 2.2 trillion Baht (US$ 730bn) loan for infrastructure investments and proposed constitutional amendments, the amnesty bill will spark months of legislative tugs of war and wars of words (and potentially worse antics by the opposition outside and inside parliament like last year) - once again revealing how big Thailand's political divisions really are and that even a far-reaching amnesty will not be enough to close the gap.

Thailand: Ultra-conservatives hijack "Thai Spring" moniker

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 17, 2013 Thailand's political climate could be heating up again after the Prime Minister's Mongolia speech has caused strong reactions, especially from anti-government groups. A new online group now has now claimed the 'Thai Spring' moniker to denounce the government, but it has very little to do with its bigger counterpart in the Middle Eastern revolutions.

When Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra went to Mongolia's capital Ulan Bator in late April, many were expecting yet another trip abroad to drum up economic ties with foreign states and private investors. However, speaking at a conference of democratic countries, she addressed some very sensitive issues for the first time since the beginning of her tenure in 2011.

In her speech, Yingluck praised her brother and former prime minister Thaksin's political achievements (while deliberately overlooking his faults and wrongdoings) during his rule, acknowledged the red shirt protesters who "fought back for their freedom" and gave "their lives defending democracy".

She also condemned the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin and said  "elements of anti-democratic regime still exist" and are still working against her, explicitly mentioning "the so called independent agencies have abused the power."

For once, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - until then always striking a conciliatory tone and a soft approach - made a politically committed speech and was ready to take sides. She did not shy away from sad truths (e.g. the military drafted constitution of 2007), while highlighting her government's populist policies and those of Thaksin - something she could have done much earlier.

(READ MORE: Bangkok Pundit's analysis of Yingluck's Mongolia-speech)

The strong reactions by her political opponents suggest Yingluck has struck a nerve: the controversy around the misogynist insult by a Thai Rath cartoonist and the ill-advised lawsuit against him by the PM and the even more ill-advised rampage by the ICT minister were just one of many different verbal flash points following her speech.

This week, another front has opened up in the reactionary fallout to Yingluck's Mongolia-speech:

A new website has been launched, Thai Spring, where people can voice their opposition to the Yingluck Shinawatra government, retired police officer Vasit Dejkunjorn and former senator Kaewsun Atibodhi said on Thursday.

Describing himself as a person who adheres strongly to the principle of a democratic administration under the monarchy, and who has experienced many political eras in Thailand, Pol Gen Vasit said he was aware there are groups of people trying relentlessly to undermine the highest institution in the country.

Those people have a plan to take over Thailand and change its administrative system, and he would not stand by and allow this to happen, he said. (...)

"It is a website, <http://www.change.org/users/thaispring>, where they can sign in and express disapproval of the prime minister's speech in Ulan Bator. "More than 10,000 people have signed on to the website so far to express their opinion that in delivering that speech the prime minister acted wrongly. (...)

Pol Gen Vasit called for the government to review its role, otherwise the "Thai Spring" movement would develop, in the same way that the "Arab Spring" phenomenon had led to anti-government protests by huge numbers of people.

"Anti-govt 'Thai Spring' website opened", Bangkok Post, May 16, 2013

The two men behind the campaign, Vasit Dejkunjorn and Kaewsun Atibodhi, are noted ultra-royalists and anti-Thaksinites respectively. Vasit has attended several pro-monarchy rallies in the past, while Kaewsun often publicly slammed Thaksin on the stage of the yellow shirts gatherings and investigated against his administration after he was appointed to a post-coup committee. So, it's pretty clear where these two are coming from politically - as is their the often regurgitated claim of the Yingluck-Thaksin campaign to overthrow the monarchy.

What stands out in this case are the means of their protest: this ultra-conservative group is starting their anti-government campaign online. Unlike what is erroneously reported, "Thai Spring" does not have a self-hosted website (yet) but is rather a group on the Thai section of Change.org, an online petition platform that normally avoids overly politically partisan campaigns.

The petition itself called "ร่วมลงชื่อปฏิเสธปาฐกถาอูลานบาตอร์ของนายกรัฐมนตรี" ("Petition to Denounce the Prime Minister's Ulan Bator-Speech") has at the time of writing reached over 14,000 signatures and have explained in a long open letter how PM Yingluck is just a puppet of the exiled Thaksin, how they're going turn the country upside down, and how all the media in their pockets, comparing at lengths the PM, the government, the ruling party to Kim Jong-Il and North Korea*. Of course, they also claim to speak on behalf of all Thai citizens.

No doubt the attention-grabber here is the name 'Thai Spring' this group has hijacked in order to mimic the 'Arab Spring', which has fundamentally changed several Middle Eastern and North African countries and is still ongoing after over two years. But looking at the two sides here, they couldn't be further apart from each other**:

The 'Arab Spring' was in part sparked by a disenfranchised youth stifled with high unemployment and fed up with decades-old authoritarianism. On the other hand, these men behind the so-called 'Thai Spring' represent an elitist, reactionary force that see their vision of Thailand endangered by Thaksin Shinawatra - who without a doubt is not a democrat either, but (unwittingly) enfranchised a largely neglected rural population with political conscience - and want to stop it with all non-democratic means at all costs (e.g. endorsing a military coup), even at the cost of democracy itself!

This could signal yet another political (re-)entrenchment, as the opposition both in and outside parliament have been clearly agitated by Yingluck's speech, which could be seen as a battle cry for a stronger push in the upcoming political challenges later this year such as the charter amendments, the reconciliation bills, but also the court verdict in the Thai-Cambodian border dispute.

The relative calm over the past years could be pushed aside by the reemergence of the heated political polarization and a further escalation between the two fractions that have diametrically opposing visions about the future of Thailand's rule and its structure. But with the hijacking of the 'Thai Spring' by the ultra-conservatives it has already been made clear: this spring does not signal a fresh new start.

*On the comparison to North Korea, here's another quote from the open letter: "If you pay a visit to North Korea you will witness the omnipresence of portraits of the leader. In Thailand it is the same. These two likeminded families have thus been sending their followers and subordinates to infiltrate all strata of their respective societies." Hmm...!

**More on the (un-)likelihood of an 'Arab Spring'-style uprising Thailand hopefully in a future post.

Thai army ordered to stand down after bullying yellow shirt paper

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 14, 2013 This past weekend, around 40-50 military officers suddenly showed up in front of the building of ASTV-Manager protesting the paper's harsh criticism of the army and the 'slandering' of their armed forces chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. The soldiers from the 1st army region assembled on Friday afternoon after the newspaper compared Prayuth's most recent outburst to a "woman in her periods". A second protest was staged on Saturday morning at the same spot and they threatened to repeat it again every day until the paper apologizes.

The show of force by the officers in green came after a public tit-for-tat between General Prayuth and the newspaper, the latter attacking the armed forces for their handling of the border conflict with neighboring Cambodia over the ancient Buddhist Hindu temple Preah Vihear. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will hold hearings in April, after the Cambodia has requested the ICJ to reinterpret aspects of the 1962 ruling in their favor. A decision is expected to take place in October later this year.

Just to be very clear, the publication the soldiers were protesting is far from being the beacon of the Thai press media: ASTV-Manager is the press outlet of the ultra-nationalistic and ill-named "People's Alliance for Democracy" (PAD), also commonly known as the yellow shirts. Apart from their regular anti-democratic diatribes and low punches as seen above (that reflects its comments section), the Preah Vihear temple conflict is one of the issues the political pressure group is using to rally up supporters - just that it's one of the less popular ones compared to those that have a distinct anti-Thaksin and nowadays anti-Yingluck agenda to it.

The last PAD protest over the temple conflict was in early 2011, following another deadly clash at the border between Thai and Cambodian troops. At the short-lived and small protest sit-in, the yellow shirts were at times calling for an open war with Cambodia. Frustrated with their diminished relevance in Thai (street) politics, it was also during that time when they broke off their formerly close alliances with the Democrat Party (which were in power back then) and with hawkish factions of the military, as the PAD accused both of not doing enough for the "interest of the country" over the border conflict.

In the run-up to the ICJ hearings - to which the PAD has urged the government not to accept anything at all by the ICJ in the irrationale fear of losing sovereignty - the PAD's news-outlets are repeating their diatribes against Cambodia, the ICJ and also the army as they started criticizing General Prayuth, which deteriorated into the spat and ultimately to the soldiers' protest, who see not only their army chief being attacked but also the institution of the armed forces as a whole:

The green-uniformed protesters on Saturday said the article has damaged their morale because the army chief is like their "second father". They demanded the media outlet issue an apology to the general.

They also denied being ordered by their superiors to stage the event. Gen Prayuth told reporters earlier that the soldiers were free to hold such rallies because they were trying to protect the armed forces, not just him. (...)

"If [the PAD] were the government, I would have to listen to it. But since it is not, I have no idea what to do with it," Gen Prayuth said during a visit to the border area earlier in the week.

"Prayuth to troops: Stand down at ASTV", Bangkok Post, January 12, 2013

Despite the fact that Prayuth has ordered the soldiers to cease from any more protests, the public display by the soldiers underlines the over-confident self-perception of the armed forces' role in Thai society that they are above from criticism - given Prayuth's erratic outbursts at the media (read here, here and here) that is hardly surprising. While this is mouthpiece of an ultra-nationalistic pressure group we're talking about, having 50 troops show up at their doorstep isn't right either! And to make matters worse, the army is now asking for forgiveness "confidence in the army" - quite an ambitious request after this weekend.

Generally, the reactions by fellow Thai journalists on this incident were swift and clear:

The TJA statement called for the army to respect freedom of the press. If the army feels the media have violated its rights, it can file a complaint with the National Press Council. As well, it said the army chief should listen to media coverage that fairly reflected the army's and his performance without bias and in a constructive way.

At the same time, it said, all media (...) should refrain from distorting the facts or abusing the dignity and human rights of people appearing in the news. They should also refrain from using rude or insulting words, it said.

"Journalists decry threats", Bangkok Post, January 12, 2013

While this response is in principle correct, it begs the question where the TJA was during other (arguably equally severe) interferences and threats to the media and freedom of speech in the past few years? Where was the TJA on the countless lèse majesté cases affecting free speech and charges made against journalists? Where were they when on the verdict of Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, held liable for online comments she didn't make? Did they say anything about the media interferences by the Abhisit administration? Was there any criticism made over the apparent failure by Thai TV to inform about a potential tsunami warning? And what did the TJA say when (of all people) journalism students were protesting against reforms of the lèse majesté law?

UPDATE: As soon as this post was published on Monday afternoon, news came out that army chief Prayuth has "apologized". However, he merely did only excuse his choices of words ("a lousy newspaper"), but not the message itself.

Thailand in 2012 - Some personal thoughts (Part 1)

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 28, 2012 As tradition dictates, we're here to yet again look back at the year gone by in Thailand. It looks quite different compared to the previous ones - at least on the surface. While we did not have to deal with week-long political protests, 'biblical' natural disasters, and even the self-proclaimed "Thainess" heralds went easy on us in 2012 (well, almost). Nevertheless, there was still enough going on to report on, as you will see here.

If you read this article, we have apparently survived the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy (and Christmas as well). Luckily, Thais did not really believe it and academics from Chulalongkorn University reassured us that nothing was going to happen - but then again, who knows if this finding was actually theirs and not stolen? Now, since we are still here, let's look back at Thailand 2012.

In part 1 today, we look how 2012 was for the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, for the opposition in and outside parliament and also the ongoing injustice despite the change of government.

Yingluck's first full year in power: challenging the odds

As hinted in the introduction, this year in politics was relatively calm compared to the tumultuous and eventful previous years. It was the first full year for the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party - and arguably no other in recent history has been under much fiercer and thorough scrutiny by the political opponents both in and outside parliament. Many of them are legitimately aiming against the government's policies, like the subsidy rice-scheme that puts a big dent in the country's agriculture economy, or giving away tablets at schools instead of tackling our decaying education system head-on and now the tax refunds for first-car-buyers. On the other hand, many target this government with very irrational and erratic behavior - more on that later in this article.

Nevertheless, her government has more or less sailed through this year unharmed despite everything that was thrown at them: it has comfortably survived a no-confidence debate in November and the Constitutional Court has spared them from doom in the summer. Even the hawkish military feels comfortable to side with Yingluck at the moment (and despite a few hulk-outs, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha was pleasantly less erratic this year), since it has a government that is willingly buying new toys for them.

But the main challenge for the government will remain not to step on anybody's toes, while trying to push ahead their policies and political goals as far as they can. In doing so, it will and already is running danger to alienate and disappoint the red shirt supporters, who are still seeking for justice for the victims of the 2010 crackdown and of the still archaic lèse majesté law - both issues that the government has been very hesitant to tackle. Add to that the ongoing omni-presence of Thaksin, who's constantly testing the water (as he did recently on state TV) for a potential return with possible amendments to the military-installed constitution of 2007 or an amnesty bill, and the Pheu Thai Party could be in for a busy 2013 if they're not careful enough.

Extremely loud and incredibly desperate: Thailand's opposition wrestling with relevancy, reality

Ever since elections in July 2011, Thailand's opposition both in and outside the democratic playing field are trying to grasp with the new reality of yet another Thaksin-influenced government - and have done so quite badly. While the Democrat Party is taking on their usual role as the parliamentary opposition and have been eager to criticize every single thing the government is doing, there have been some incidents however during the debates over the 'amnesty bills' earlier this summer, where the tantrum thrown by them are just erratic and desperate.

Meanwhile outside the House, the reemergence of Thailand's royalist, right-wing and anti-democracy movements show how little progress has been made to overcome the political intolerance: the yellow-shirted, ill-named "People's Alliance for Democracy" (PAD) have staged street protests at the parliament in summer with just a couple of thousand supporters and the ultra-royalist multi-color shirts have attempted to re-brand themselves under the "Pitak Siam" ("Protect Siam") banner and Gen. Boonlert Kaewprasit as their (most of the time lackluster) leader, who right out of the gate calls for yet another military coup as the only way to topple the government.

Emboldened by their first rally in October, Pitak Siam upped the ante a month later with a rally at the Royal Plaza, in which the group was deliberately trying to provoke the police forces and to incite violence. Fortunately for all involved, the rally ended in a non-violent disaster with Gen. Boonlert calling it off and also throwing in the towel as leader, as they have failed to rally enough supporters in order to reclaim 'their' Thailand that either doesn't exist anymore or has never existed in the first place. However, this year has also shown that a compromise is not what is on their minds and their irrational hatred makes real reconciliation harder to realize.

Impunity prevails: when 'reconciliation' is more important than 'truth'

One of the key problems of this political conflict is the fight between competing 'truths' about past events in recent history, especially when it comes to the violent clashes and the crackdown of the red shirt protests in 2010. In September, the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) presented its final report on its investigations into the violent clashes between the authorities and the red shirts, in which at least 90 people have lost their lives and thousands were injured. The overall conclusion of the inquiry was that the commission finds faults with both sides.

But the report will not change much or bring any justice, because both sides are already subscribed to their version of the 'truth' (and to some extend in total denial) and the TRCT never had any real powers and access to conduct a proper investigation in the first place. It must have been more insulting for the red shirts on May 19, on the anniversary of the 2010 crackdown, when Thaksin phoned-in yet again to urge to push for national reconciliation and set aside their feelings of anger and injustice. Of course, Thaksin had to back paddle after some considerable outrage by his supporters.

Even though now more and more death cases are determined to have been caused by the army an, then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his then-deputy Suthep Thuagsuban have now been formally charged by the very flexible Department of Special Investigation, it is doubtful that these two or any other will ever be convicted - since this country has always upheld a culture of impunity - especially towards the army - in a numbers of events (1973, 1976, 1992, 2006 etc.) and it needs a lot more to end this.

In the second part of our year-in-review tomorrow: Lèse majesté claimed its first victim, Thailand's upcoming regional challenges, the dismal state of our education and all the other small stories that made 2012.

Op-Ed: A 'truth' for the sake of Thailand's reconciliation does little

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 30, 2012 Last week, the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) presented its final report of their investigations of the violent clashes between the authorities and the red shirts during the 2010 anti-government protests. At least 92 people were killed and thousands injured. The overall outcome was that they find faults at both sides. However, it does very little to move the country forward to the much-yearned for national reconciliation.

Right from the outset the commission was met with skepticism and rejection, especially from the red shirts, since it was established shortly after the protests during the Abhisit administration and the fear of bias was strong. Even if an investigation would have been set up by the succeeding Yingluck government, any inquiry that would be set up by any government would be regarded as partisan in this current political climate.

The real problem of this panel is not what is being pointed out by the report or whether or what the motives of the nine commissioners were, but rather the toothless nature of the panel. It was given virtually no powers and access to forensic and official information in order to conduct proper investigations regarding the violent clash of April 10, 2010, and the bloody crackdown that ended on May 19, 2010.

And so the actual report was criticized and rejected by both sides, neither fully acknowledging the claims by the TRCT that there were mistakes done by them in order to prevent violence. However, the emphasis of the alleged link of a black-clad militia group to the red shirt leaders, especially to the late rogue Major General Khattiya"Seh Daeng" Sawatdiphol - who denied any involvement with them, but confirmed their role during the April 10 clashes shortly before he was assassinated from a sniper who the TRCT concluded must have shot from a building under control of the army - all without proper evidence, which begs the question where the priorities of the commission lie.

The personal opinion of TRCT chairman Khanit na Nakhon (which has been wrongly reported as an official statement of the commission by a few outlets) that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra should "sacrifice himself" and keep out of politics underlines one major misunderstanding and the ultimate blind spot of many political actors: the notion that Thaksin is the root of all evil problems ignores the long-term effects of his (in no way altruistic or goodie-goodie) policies that lead to the political awakening of the population outside of Bangkok.

On the other hand, there were many solid and legitimate findings and recommendations made by the TRCT report, such as the call for amendment of the draconian lèse majesté law and the call to the armed forces to restrain themselves from taking political sides. But those are just non-binding recommendations and it has to be seen if anyone would take these to heart and implement actual change. Furthermore, this report does not give more clarity for the victim's families, which is unfortunately more the rule than the exception in Thailand, as political events that have turned violent in the past have never been properly investigated.

This country has a very long history of impunity where the state perpetrators have never been held accountable for their decisions and their consequences - many of them resulting in deaths. Whether it was the attacks on democracy activists on October 14, 1973, the Thammasat University massacre of October 6, 1976, the Black May of 1992 or the recent military coup of 2006, the events of modern Thai history have left gaping wounds in the nation's fabric and those responsible have never been brought to justice. Instead, for the sake of national 'reconciliation,' the anger has been attempted to be quelled with the ever-repeating mantra of forgiving and forgetting - only for the next tragedy to strike and many to ask how it could happen again.

Reconciliation cannot happen without understanding or even be ready to acknowledge what brought us here to the first place, that competing narratives and opinions about our past, present and future exist, that 'unity' should not require surrender of differences and that the 'truth' can no longer be claimed by just a few. That is the main point of this column: it's not so much what the 'truth' is here presented by the TRCT, what is crucial for this country is how the 'truth' is being handled and implemented by the stakeholders and by the common citizen in order to move Thailand beyond the current power gridlock.

The full TRCT report in Thai can be downloaded in PDF form here and the English-language press release here.

Thailand's yellow shirts change focus, abandon street protests... for now

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 12, 2012 The ultra-nationalist "People's Alliance for Democracy" (PAD), also commonly known as the yellow shirts, have assembled for the first time since Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister. Yingluck is the sister of their arch-nemesis and former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

With the change of government came also the concerns of a return of widespread anti-Thaksin protests, and fears that the current administration ultimately only governs to benefit the big brother exiled in Dubai. In other words, if Thaksin re-emerges, so will the yellow shirts.

About 2,000 to 3,000 "rowdy PAD supporters" (not my words, astonishingly the Bangkok Post's!) gathered in a convention hall at Lumphini Park, Bangkok Saturday to discuss the group's future direction. The gathering came amid heated (at times physical) debate over the Nitirat group's proposals to amend the constitution and the lèse majesté law - both pressing issues where the yellow shirts and, especially when it concerns the monarchy, will ferociously defend.

Given its history of protests, blockades and nationalistic diatribes - and amidst the developments of recent weeks - the following results of the  meeting might be surprising at first sight:

The People's Alliance for Democracy yesterday backed away from its threat to stage a major Bangkok rally against the charter rewrite in a move hailed by the government as a breakthrough in easing political tensions.

PAD spokesman Panthep Phuaphongphan said the mass rally may be put on the table again if "the conditions are ripe enough for a big political change among Thai people".

"Under these conditions ... the PAD will hold a major rally immediately," said Mr Panthep. (...)

He said they would start a nationwide campaign as soon as possible about the charter rewrite and the direction parliament has taken on the issue.

Nanta, a 59-year-old teacher from Chon Buri, welcomed the PAD's resolution, saying the issue was far too critical for the group to handle alone and the public needed to be better educated about the issues.

"PAD shelves mass rally over constitution", Bangkok Post, March 11, 2012

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) will set up a committee to campaign for national reform instead of holding mass rallies to counter the Pheu Thai-led government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, according to PAD spokesman Panthep Pourpongpan.

Panthep said the group would launch protests if the government changes Article 112 of the Penal Code, amends the charter or any laws to waive penalties on Thaksin Shinawatra and his group, and when the time is right.

"PAD vows to pursue reforms", The Nation, March 11, 2012

There have been some politicians and academics who hail this development as a move forward to "ease the political tension". However, it should be noted that the PAD is neither the same broad alliance against Thaksin seen in 2006, nor the less broad collective who took over government house, then Bangkok's airports in 2008. Under the Democrat-led government, the ties between the two were steadily getting worse, ultimately broken during the conflict over Preah Vihear.

Another issue that plagued the movement were the financial problems of their founder and main leader, media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul. Rumors of his financial demise were further fueled after his satellite channel and PAD-mouthpiece ASTV were forced off air. In general, Sondhi has been largely low-key in his appearances, even a plea for a military coup was (fortunately) largely ignored (and his outlandish conspiracy theories don't help either!). And in the latest sign that even Sondhi is not untouchable anymore, he recently was found guilty on multiple accounts of corporate fraud and sentenced to 20 years. However, he was released on a hefty bail and appealed against the verdict.

In a way, this reflects the marginalized role the PAD has in the political landscape today. The Preah Vihear protests at the beginning of 2011 were an early sign of a diminished supporter base and burned bridges with many political allies. Smaller  off-shoot groups were solely there 'to defend the monarchy' from whatever perceived threat during the Nitirat discussion and Sondhi himself is still obsessed fixated to fight against his former business partner Thaksin:

Sondhi said , "We have to win this fight. This is not to change the government. The country will survive only if bad politicians are gone," he said.

"PAD vows to pursue reforms", The Nation, March 11, 2012

Hard-core yellow shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul told the crowd he would continue fighting Thaksin as he had done for eight years. He said he did not believe the government's promise not to touch on the issue of the monarchy in the charter rewrite.

"PAD shelves mass rally over constitution", Bangkok Post, March 11, 2012

And again, the focus to (re-)"educate" people about their ideas on how to reform the country does raise some questions whether or not the current mindset of the PAD has changed from a past outright anti-democracy position (including the infamous "close down the country for a few years"-approach) to a more moderate one.

The yellow shirts might have taken a step back, but given the controversy surrounding the planned changes and their arch-nemesis Thaksin still looming in the air, a return to street protests is not out of the question.

Note: A sentence mentioning Sondhi's lastest conviction has been added to this article.

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

790.

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.