Thai Elections 2011

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.

Exclusive: ‘This is not the last straw for Thai democracy’ – Suranand Vejjajiva

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 15, 2011 This is part two of Siam Voices' exclusive interview with Suranand Vejjajiva, former Cabinet Minister under Thaksin Shinawatra, now a politicial columnist for the Bangkok Post and host of "The Commentator" on VoiceTV.

In this second installment, Suranand talks to Saksith Saiyasombut about a wide range of topics, including the fate of the red shirts, the future of the Democrat Party, our education crisis, the state of the media and Thaksin. For part one, click here.

Saksith Saiyasombut: Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, has been blamed to be partly responsible that Thailand has been downgraded by several media freedom watchdogs as for it‘s decreasing freedom of speech. Do you think a Pheu Thai government is capable to improve on this?

Suranand Vejjajiva: Oh yes, if they‘re willing to. The Democrat Party could have done it, too. The enforcement of that law, that it leaves to individual judgement, is problematic. A policeman can interpret the law differently. What the outgoing government has done is to string this law together with the Computer Crimes Act (CCA), all for political purposes. I don‘t agree with this development at all - let everyone speak their mind! To answer your question: Pheu Thai would definitely get into trouble, there‘ll be people attacking them...

...if they would tweak Article 122 or its application. But there are also other aspects they could improve on...

...they could improve the Computer Crimes Act. A lot of groups have been proposing for a change.

Exactly, even though the MICT has proposed a new draft of the CCA, which was even worse - which hasn‘t materialized yet...

...luckily...

Let‘s talk about the red shirt movement, what will happen to them now?

It‘s a good sign that the red shirt leaders are running for office and they should perform their duties as such. But the red shirts as a movement is a political phenomenon that should be studied and they should keep it up, they should improve and reform - make it a mature political movement and they will be an important political force, if they believe in protecting democracy. They have to prove themselves, too. A lot of people are accusing them for being just a vehicle for Thaksin to come back to power. Now, if they prove themselves to be just that and forget the people, then they will suffer. I don‘t wish to see that - the same can be said even for the yellow shirts! If they would have developed into a real political movement - fine!

Is it - for the lack of a better word - 'appropriate' if any of the red leaders-now-elected-MPs would get a cabinet post?

 

It‘s all political negotiation. For me personally, I don‘t mind because they would have to prove themselves and as long as they do not use their new power to intervene with their own cases, that‘s fine.

What about the new opposition, the Democrat Party...

...the new opposition with the old leaders? (laughs)

Well, will there be the old leaders or will there be new faces taking over, since Abhisit is now a burnt commodity?

It‘s quite a shame, but at the same Abhisit would be a liability to the Democrats for now. He‘s still very young and there‘re still ways to vindicate him - but with the 91 deaths hanging over his government, it‘s going to be hard. It‘s going to be a liability if he is still the opposition leader. The Democrats probably need a new face. But if they can‘t find one - Abhisit is still one of the strongest candidate on this side of the aisle, he has been protecting the conservatives and the establishment.

So if it‘s not going to be Abhisit, he thinks it should be someone from his fraction like (outgoing finance minister) Korn Chatikavanij or (former Bangkok governor) Apirak Kosayodhin - they have to work it out among themselves.

So it would be best to have a fresh new start with new faces?

Looking from Pheu Thai‘s point of view, it would be good if Abhisit stays! (laughs)

Speaking of new faces, how do you explain that Chuwit Kalomvisit‘s Rak Prathet Thai Party could get four seats? Was this a protest movement?

Yes, you have to give him credit. He is very energetic, he could get his message across - even though he looks crazy sometimes. And his message is easy and direct. But at the same time, a lot of people were thinking to „Vote No“, but once the PAD took that position, many people were thinking ,What am I going to do with my protest vote?‘ - they gave it to Chuwit.

Especially a lot of young people...

...especially a lot of young people who are bored of politics! Which happens in a lot of countries!

But at least in other countries there‘s a vocal part of the youth who are standing up against wrongdoings...

...and they are more organized...

...but here in Thailand, they are virtually invisible!

It‘ because of our weak education. The political consciousness and democratic principles need to be taught in school. Thai schools are still very authoritative and not bold enough to open up to let their students talk and speak [their mind]. It‘s not like the Western schools, it‘s a cultural thing that you have to develop. It hurts in a way, it makes the institutions weak, bad politicians can still remain in office - people basically don‘t really care!

Despite the fact the outgoing government has thrown more money at the problem, there are now more and more international reports indicating that the Thai education system is producing not very skilled labors and also in English proficiency we are falling behind. And then comes Pheu Thai and their most memorable education policy is „Free tablet PCs for all“...

In my opinion, giving out free tablet PCs is still better than just giving out free uniforms. Because at least the tablet PC can - if done right - open up access to information for the students, and it would also solve other problems, like printing frauds. But I agree with you, it‘s deeper than that!

It doesn‘t take gadgets to solve this problem, which are more fundamental...

...it‘s the fundamental attitude of the Ministry of Education towards education!

I‘m not very convinced there will be much change by the next government.

No, which will hurt us even more. It‘ll take a decade, it would take two or three generations to change the education system, but you have to begin somewhere. And I agree with you, if they don‘t do it now...

...we will have another lost generation?

Yes.

A weak society needs a strong media to at least uphold the pillars of society, but we don't have that as well.

We don‘t! As seen in many foreign countries, a strong public television system really helps a society to develop - we don‘t have it here. We tried to do it a lot of times, but that was no real public service television.

What I‘m trying to say is, I see a direct correlation between weak education and weak media. So there's less of a sense to challenge, criticize and openly question things that are needed to be addressed.

Well, we were just talking about the campaign. If we were in the United States or Germany, a good 90 per cent of the Thai campaign policies would have been shot down by the press, because they would been well researched with reports, graphics; arguing wether this is feasible - but you don‘t see that in Thai press, they would just ask that academic, then this academic and that‘s it! Just soundbites!

British academic Duncan McCargo wrote a book about the Thai press ("Politics & the Press in Thailand: Media Machinations"), which is 10 years old, his research is 15 years old...

...and it‘s still valid - unfortunately!

He says, among many other things, that the Thai media mostly lacks a „sense of duty to explain the political process“. Can there be change as well, even in these very solid, top-down structures?

I hope so, there are a lot of good publishing houses and newspapers. But you don‘t see any quality papers á la New York Times or you don‘t see an investigative television show. I hope the young generation will be able to use the internet more wisely. But we don‘t have a strong enough education system to create an opportunity for them to question the information they are getting, then they will be fooled like everyone else.

Getting back to politics: will this transition of power be smooth?

For the sake of the country, I‘d like to see that. Whether Pheu Thai is good or bad - give them a chance to run the country, at best for four years. If they have done well, re-elect them; if not, throw them out of the office! That‘s the simple democratic principle.

But to answer your question: I doubt it, there‘ll be a lot of challenges. Now, if the challenges come within the parliamentary system, fine. But if it‘s not, then there will be trouble.

Is this one of the reasons why there‘ll be an intervention from an undemocratic force or is it still too early to say?

It‘s too early to say! The advantage for us right now is, after the recent events in the world, like the Arab Spring, are cautionary tales for people who try to exercise power outside the framework of democracy. But I also think that Pheu Thai‘s action in government will be important: appoint good and capable cabinet ministers, prove themselves that they are fair and transparent, no corruption cases - this would help. But if they come in and do the same thing - what I‘m scared of is that people will lose faith in democracy.

Haven‘t many people already lost their faith in the current democratic system, especially the youth?

Yes, even some of the rural people - there was a whole village that didn‘t come out to vote at all! But at the same time I think it‘s not the last straw! But if the next government does the same mistakes the Democrats did and disappoint the people, then the military would see this as an excuse to say: "Let‘s get in!" But that‘s not the solution!

Of course there‘s a dark, shadowy figure looming around this whole political crisis, it‘s of course Thaksin. Do you think Thaksin should have kept his mouth shut in the last few months?

I don‘t mind. If he feels he‘s been treated unfairly, let him say so. People talk a lot in this country. But whatever he says, he has to live with the consequences, like everyone else.

But nevertheless Yingluck got a big boost, because she‘s Thaksin‘s sister.

 

Yes! Thaksin is both an asset and a liability. He‘s certainly an asset - his vision, his connections, his networks, his charisma...

...his ego...

...I mean, he has the drive, to put it that way. But on the other hand he is a liability because he has so many political enemies.

The question many are asking is if Yingluck can stand on her own as a PM.

That is going to be important for the country. Yes, she is Thaksin‘s sister, she can‘t deny that. And in reality Thaksin is helping out a lot. But in a short period of time, she has been a successful campaigner. Now she has to prove, in an even shorter period time, that she can run the country. We have to give her that chance.

Will this government, and the red shirt movement as well, be capable and willing to move beyond Thaksin?

This is what they have to sit down and talk about.

Is this country able to?

Oh yes, definitely! There will be a day, where Thaksin is too old and you have to move on.

Will he come back?

I think so. He should come home, but to power? That‘s going to be another problem.

Khun Suranand, thank you very much!

Exclusive: Pheu Thai should talk policies first - Suranand Vejjajiva

In this two-part interview, Saksith Saiyasombut talks to Suranand Vejjajiva, a former Cabinet Minister under the Thaksin Shinawatra administration who served as the Minister of the PM's Office and spokesman of the Thai Rak Thai Party, until the ban of this party and 111 politicians in 2007. The cousin of the now outgoing prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Suranand is a columnist for the Bangkok Post and host of "The Commentator" on VoiceTV.

In part one we talk about Pheu Thai's election victory and the work ahead of them, including the economy and reconciliation process and where it went wrong for the Democrat Party. In part two, we'll look ahead at the fate of the new government, the red shirts, the Democrat Party and Thaksin Shinawatra and also at the state of education and the media in Thailand.

We had Election Day on Sunday, July 3 - then on Monday, July 4, we already have a coalition or at least an agreement to form a coalition. What this to be expected to happen so quickly?

I‘m not in the inner circle, but what I was thinking is that - since PT has 265 seats - they don‘t have a wide enough margin. They expect that some elected MPs could get disqualified [by the Election Commission], so they have already talked to smaller parties to get the margin up to 299 seats to be safe. (Note: it‘s 300 now, ed.)

Do you think this coalition is stable enough?

In terms of numbers yes, definitely. The coalition partners don‘t have any leverage to change anything much because PT already has enough seats. If PT would have fewer seats, let‘s say 220, and a coalition partner with 20 seats would come in, then they would have more leverage, then the coalition would be unstable. But number-wise, this coalition is stable.

We have now the usual claims on the ministries, but as you just said, the coalition partners don‘t have any leverage - still, I cannot imagine that they want to go out empty handed...

Oh, they will get their ministries! My first observation was along this line, too. But it‘s too early to talk about cabinet positions - the Election Commission has not even certified the MPs yet, there‘s still a lot of time. I think Pheu Thai is being pushed by the media...

...practically hyped up...

...yeah, hyped up - to talk about cabinet positions, because that‘s what the media is interested in. But I don‘t think Pheu Thai should fall for that. For example when I saw in the news today, when Khun Yingluck came out and talked about policies - that‘s what parties should talk about right now.

So what are the policies they should look at first?

It will be two-prong. The first one is reconciliation, it‘s a policy-cum-mechanism that they have to implement. They cannot say by themselves that they will do this and that, since they are a part of the conflict as well. So what Khun Yingluck is trying to propose, a neutral committee while keeping the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Dr. Kanit, is good in a way...

Even though Dr. Kanit's panel has hardly found anything...

It‘s because the now-outgoing administration didn‘t give them anything. It‘s a paper tiger, they don‘t even get the budget they needed - let alone access to all the evidence. So if Yingluck comes in as the prime minister and opens up everything to Kanit‘s committee - that‘s one thing she has to make sure that happens.

The other thing of course is the economic situation. Not all people care for reconciliation, but a lot of them care what is going to be in their wallets and in their stomachs.

And are Pheu Thai‘s policies a real way out? For example, one of the first things they have planned is to raise the minimum wage to 300 Baht...

It's hard to say. I have criticized nearly every party's policies, I don‘t believe in these so-called 'populist platforms'. Yes, Thailand still has gaps and loopholes concerning wages or the welfare system. But to give handouts from the first day will be a strain on the fiscal discipline for the government. What they should have done though, while I agree with the wage raise, is to explain what kind of structural adjustments they would do for the economy. When investors and business people see that for example the minimum wage increase is part of a larger restructuring, they might be more confident over the economy.

Let‘s take a look back for a moment. You said that you have criticized almost every party‘s policies - what made Pheu Thai stand out from anybody else?

Pheu Thai and its previous incarnations (People‘s Power Party and Thai Rak Thai) have a track record - if you look at their economic team, all former cabinet ministers - that is for me and probably for many people enough for us now to have confidence in them.

Where did it go wrong for the Democrat Party then?

On reconciliation - they were not sincere enough about it, they haven‘t provided an official explanation on what happened last year yet, we only got political rhetoric so far. And no cases have gone into the judicial process yet.

What about the economic side?

They have not been able to deal with the rising cost of living. Of course, they would say the export figures are excellent, but they are excellent because we are a food producing country. But the prices on (palm) oil, nearly all prices went up. They haven‘t been able to manage the domestic side, not even the 'trickling down' of these benefits towards the urban population but also to the farmers. I think that‘s why they lost the vote.

Then there was the last-ditch attempt to hold a rally at Rajaprasong, which didn‘t really help them in the end...

Well, I‘m trying to figure out the Bangkok vote, which consists of two factors: first, the Democrats control the election mechanics in Bangkok for a very long time, so they‘re better organized than Pheu Thai in Bangkok. Secondly, Abhisit was continuing to bet on the politics of fear - the fear of Thaksin, the fear of the red shirts. Abhisit was targeting the Bangkok electorate, especially the middle-class.

We have now talked about the reconciliation and economic policies of the Pheu Thai Party. What else should be on top of their list?

Foreign policy. Especially with the neighboring countries, because I think we cannot live among ourselves. The outgoing government has created very bad relations with our neighbors and that doesn‘t help because ASEAN 2015 (the planned establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, ed.) is coming very soon. If you really want to be a real borderless ASEAN, it has to be proven on the mainland and if Thailand doesn‘t have good relations with its neighbors, it will be problematic. The border situation with Cambodia was mishandled very badly from a diplomatic standpoint - it could have resolved bi-laterally long time ago. If there were good relations, we wouldn‘t have any incidents, not even at the UN Security Council or to the International Court of Justice or the World Heritage Committee. That is embarrassing.

Part of the much-discussed reconciliation policy of Pheu Thai has been a potential amnesty plan - if there has been ever one. Is it a smart move to give everybody, convicted of political wrongdoings, amnesty? Is this how a proper reconciliation looks like?

I don‘t agree at all with that. I don‘t see that an amnesty will help anyone. You can forgive, but only after a certain process. I‘m a banned politician for only eight more months and I have never called for an amnesty. But if you absolve all these cases, including Thaksin, the terrorist accusations against red and yellow shirts, the military coup, the defamation cases - you cannot give an amnesty that way, because there are a lot of other people in jail who will call for their own amnesty as well! The best way for reconciliation is not an amnesty, but to make sure that the judicial process is fair and transparent in order to provide real justice.

But does it like it at the moment or does the judicial system need changes?

Once you say you have to reform the whole judicial process, then that‘s a big problem. For example, the government has to find a credible and socially accepted Minister of Justice first...

Now who would that be?

I don‘t know! But it‘s important this person is independent. This government has to set an example, especially for the cases that involve the red shirts and Thaksin. I don‘t think Thaksin wants an amnesty, since he himself said he didn‘t do anything wrong. But if he‘s sure that the judicial process is fair and transparent, he might be able to come back and fight his case.

What I've been up to lately... (aka Shameless Self-Plugging)

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Phew, what a week that was! As regular readers of my blog know, I do not write too many exclusive posts for my personal blog here. Most of the time, all the posts I write for Siam Voices are being republished here and form time to time I post a personal column almost every sixth month - so since my last one was a recap of 2010, a new one is overdue. And you came around at the right time, because there's a lot to tell you about the last few days and weeks...

So, even the last person must have recognized that I'm in Bangkok right now, where I'll spent nearly all of this summer working (as a journalist), researching (for my final thesis) and if there's still time for some little fun (for my own sanity). The first two weeks of my stay so far has been almost entirely work-centric - there was an election nonetheless!

So here's a list of posts I've written or other things I've been involved in (Note: This post, among other articles, should have gone up long, long time ago. Apologies!):

Siam Voices/Asian Correspondent - June 24, 2011 "Thailand’s Democrat Party rally: Reclaiming (the truth about) Rajaprasong" A field report from the Democrat's rally at Rajaprasong, the same place where over a year ago the red shirts seized. Deputy prime minister Suthep Tuangsaban wanted to show 'the truth' about what happened during the violent clashes a year ago, while prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warns people that a vote for the opposition Pheu Thai Party is a vote for Thaksin.

Siam Voices/Asian Correspondent - June 27, 2011 "‘Justice Delayed, Justice Denied’ – A public seminar on last year’s violence and what has (not) happened since" As an interesting contrast to the Rajaprasong rally by the Democrat Party, this public forum at Thammasat University has several speeches on what has (not) happened ever since the violent crackdown on the protests. Spoiler: Not much...

Thaizeit.de - June 29, 2011 "Wir sind ein gespaltenes Land" ("We are a devided country") A Thailand-based, German language website conducted an interview with me about the current political situation. I particularly like the description "Thai-hanseatic" and my answer to the last question (if necessary, put through a translator).

Siam Voices/Asian Correspondent - July 1, 2011 "Pheu Thai Party rallies in Nakhon Ratchasima – a photo essay" Another day on the campaign trail, we followed Yingluck Shinawatra to a Pheu Thai Party rally in Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Korat). I'm surprised that me and my cameraman (I'm on double duty for IHLAS News Agency) were let onto the stage that easily and at the time Yingluck came, there was absolute pandaemonium! After that we were racing to back to Bangkok to be just in time for...

Al Jazeera "The Stream" - June 29, 2011 "Thai Elections: Lions, Tigers, and Bears? Vote 'No'! - Saksith Saiyasombut" Al Jazeera's new social media-centric show "The Stream" has done an Skype interview with me - at 2.30am (since they're based in Washington DC!). I'm kind of surprised that they went with the "Vote No" and the animal posters as the lead and my answers concerning social media and Thai politics probably wasn't what they wanted to hear. This is my third time that I appeared on Al Jazeera program (after appearing on The Listening Post, twice) - can I now be called a 'regular contributor'...?

CNNgo - June 30, 2011 "Saksith Saiyasombut: Get out from under your coconut shell and vote" My first contribution for CNNgo, a lifestyle and travel website, but also always with an eye on the more serious sides of life, including social issues and politics. This column doesn't go into the details of the political mechanisms, but more my feelings about this country and where it is heading to, when we're not careful enough. This piece was done in the same night as the Al Jazeera interview and so was the next piece...

CNNgo - July 3, 2011 "Top 10 strange moments of Thailand's 2011 general election" Top 10-lists always go well as an online article format so I did my very own top 10 of election campaign oddities, and there were many of them this year.

Siam Voices/Asian Correspondent- July 3, 2011 "Live-Blog: Thailand Elections 2011" Throughout the whole election day I live-blogged, partly from my mobile phone on a back of a motorcycle, about nearly all aspects of that day.

Round-up of day one after Thailand's elections

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 4, 2011 Just in case you haven't been following our live-blog yesterday, the opposition Pheu Thai Party (PT) have won the majority of the votes paving the way for Yingluck Shinawatra to become Thailand's first female prime minister. Bangkok Pundit has his take about the morning after, which I initially wanted to write about as well. But over the course of Monday after elections, things moved very quickly:

First off, outgoing prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has resigned from his position as leader of the Democrat Party and seeks no re-election even if the party members want him to. He's taking responsibility from the big election defeat and makes room for a new party leader, that could be either outgoing finance minister Korn Chatikavanij or former Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin.

Then over noon, Yingluck has met with several representatives of other parties over lunch for coalition talks, just already to announce a five-party governing coalition after it, with Chat Thai Pattana (as of now, unofficially 19 seats), Chat Pattana Phua Pandin (7), Palang Chon (7) and Mahachon (1), together with Pheu Thai's 265 forming a comfortable majority of 299 seats of the total 500 in the parliament. Why 299 you might ask? "299 is a beautiful number," is what Yingluck said...

Of course, all eyes are also looking at the military whether they will accept the outcome of the elections or if they will intervene, fearing a return of Thaksin. So far, they seem to stay put - outgoing defense minister General Prawit Wongsuwon told AFP he accepts the results and, after having talked with military leaders, will not get involved. Speaking of, the normally very outspoken commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has essentially given himself a gag order until a new government has been formed. Also,

In the meantime, there're still a lot of questions left from Sunday's election, like...

Why did the exit polls get it so horribly wrong? Right after the polls closed at 3pm, the exit polls predicted a huge landslide win for Pheu Thai with about 270 to well above 300 seats. But in the late afternoon and evening these number have proven to be greatly exaggerated - the margins of error where somewhere from 13.8 per cent to a whopping 22.8 per cent. Nevertheless, many people (including this author) got very excited in the heat of the moment and already were calling it based on these numbers. We should have known better that all these Thai polls have a notorious track record of being very wrong - so we all got eggs on out faces, but the pollsters have now some explaining to do:

Turakij Bandit Poll director blamed uncontrollable factors for the high error margins. He said that although the sampling process followed standard procedures, pollsters could not get enough Democrat Party supporters to take part in the exit polls, whereas Pheu Thai supporters such as red shirts who are politically active were more willing to speak their minds. Dusit Poll director Sukhum Chaloeisub agreed, saying most Democrat supporters were not accessible, while Pheu Thai backers were more politically expressive.

"Exit polls blasted for huge margins of error", The Nation, July 4, 2011

What's the voter turnout? Again, prediction and reality have proven to be two different things, even though not to such a large extend concerning the voter turnout. Many pundits have projected that at least 75 per cent of the electorate will go to the polls, while the Election Commission has now announced that it could be 66 per cent, which is of course much lower than expected. Throughout Sunday, voters were urged to cast their ballots sooner or later since in many parts of the country bad weather was fore-casted, but we'll have to wait for the official results, which brings us to...

When will we know the full unofficial results? It was announced to be published on Monday noon, but it has been postponed to Tuesday, because the results from a few districts in Mae Hong Son and Ranong province are not yet in, since these are reportedly cut off due to bad weather. Let the conspiracy theories begin...!

There are still many questions yet to be answered and many new questions will arise over the next few days, e.g. who will get which cabinet post? What will the new opposition do? Who got a seat in the House and who didn't? And were there less frauds in this elections? The next days will still be interesting!

Pheu Thai Party rallies in Nakhon Ratchasima - a photo essay

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 1, 2011

On June 29, 2011 - the last week before the election - the leader and prime minister candidate of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, Yingluck Shinawatra was on a campaign tour through the north-eastern part of the country, also known as Isaan. Stations include Ubon Ratchathani and Si Saket. The last station of her swing through Isaan was in Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). Before her arrival, the supporters waiting in front of the city hall were warmed up by red shirt leader and MP candidate Nattawut Saikua. With a small delay, Yingluck arrived at the stage and was greeted by the ecstatic cheers of estimated 6,000 supporters.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith.

Thailand's Democrat Party rally: Reclaiming (the truth about) Rajaprasong

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 24, 2011 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.

Thursday's rally of the governing Democrat Party rings in the final days of a fiercely contested election campaign and the chosen venue was not a coincidence: Rajaprasong Intersection, where a little bit more than a year ago the red shirts held their rally for the better part of their nine and a half-week-campaign to force the government of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva out, only to be dispersed in a chaotic crackdown by the military on May 19. 87 people lost their lives, more than 2,000 were injured and, for some a symbol of the 'red chaos', Central World, one of Asia's biggest shopping malls, burned down. The red shirts have returned a few times since then to remind people what happened.

Now the government has chosen this (almost) very same spot to show their version on the events of May 19, 2010. Unsurprisingly, the announcement to a rally at that place has been widely regarded as a deliberate provocation to the red shirts, who view this intersection as a symbol of state brutality and political oppression. The more anxious were the expectations on what or if they would do anything to disrupt the event in any way. Despite the Pheu Thai Party discouraging its supporters to stage a counter-protest, some smaller groups had hinted at convening at the site in some form. But during the whole evening, there have been no such incidents reported (though I heard there has been a cursing ritual at the nearby Erawan Shrine the day before).

Contrary to concerns that streets have to be closed off for yet another political rally, the Democrats have chosen the large plaza in front of the Central World. Since this is a private property, the approval of the owners was a privilege the red shirts didn't have and most unlikely will ever get. The stage, primarily in blue and with a big Thai flag as a background, was positioned in front of the burned down section of the mega-mall that is being rebuilt - another symbolism of the evening.

Supporters started to flock in hours before the event started with a jubilant mood, while many placards and signs are being handed out, many of them showing '10', the number on the ballot paper where the Democrat Party is listed. Several politicians and government ministers were warming up the estimated 5,000-strong crowd, while the same two Party's pop songs were blaring from the loudspeakers. Even two heavy rain showers were not enough to dampen the mood of the mostly older attendees.

The rally kicked off at 6pm with the National Anthem, when deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban shortly thereafter begun his speech, which he has previously touted as the definite 'truth' about the crackdown. Suthep went straight ahead to his account, citing many pieces of evidence and lines of arguments that have been previously presented in some shape and form before. Suthep, broadly speaking*, argues that armed militia groups, dressed in black have caused casualties on both sides. But, according to him, no one has been killed directly at Rajaprasong, pointing that the other casualties have happened at places near the rally site. Additionally, the deputy prime minister hints that the late rogue Maj Gen Kattiya Sawasdipol aka "Seh Daeng" has been killed because of an internal argument over the leadership of the red shirts movement.

Of course, he could not resist taking a jab at the opposition, referencing their PM candidate Yingluck Shinawatra statement that she could not control the red shirts from heckling. Suthep understood her sentiment, only to add that the red shirts have 'hijacked' the Pheu Thai Party. "22 convicted criminals are on the ballot paper," mentioning the red shirt leaders running for office, "the worst case would be [jailed red shirt leader] Jatuporn Phromphan becoming a security minister - I'd better start hiding."

The next two speeches were held by former prime minister Chuan Leekpai and the party's campaign strategist Korbsak Sabhavasu, who (like all speakers) were interrupted with loud, approving cheers whenever a swipe at the red shirt leaders or Pheu Thai executives was made. Especially when Korbsak read some of the names on Pheu Thai's ballot, each name was replied with a disapproving, at times disgusted roar, to which he added: "You cannot have any reconciliation with these people!"

The long evening reached it's climax at 9pm, when a long video clip was played. This video montage, set to "O Fortuna", showed several quotes by red shirts leaders and Thaksin (including the infamous "We'll burn down the country"speech by Nattawut), accompanied by scenes of destruction, all allegedly done by red shirts, evoking some kind of Thai apocalypse. It was followed by another clip, which actually is the "We're sorry, Thailand"-ad from last year, which has created some controversy. But instead of showing the original slogan of the clip ("Seeding positive energy, changing Thailand [for the better]"), a portrait of Abhisit was shown.

The prime minister immediately took the stage, welcomed by load cheers. "We're here not to put more oil into the flame," said Abhisit, "but to show that this place is like any other place in the country, a place for all Thais." Before he continued, he asked from for a minute of silence for all victims. "The truth must be told", he continued and recounted the events of recent years ever since he took office, including the 2009 and 2010 protests, from his point of view. "People are saying I do not show much emotion," Abhisit said, "but on the night of April 10, I cried!"

The prime minister went on attack on Thaksin and the opposition in the closing moments of his speech:

"Why does their big boss hinder reconciliation? I don't understand! His followers are living a difficult life! (...) Like in the past, Thaksin thinks, the red shirt leaders act. This time it is the Pheu Thai Party that acts!"

"Society needs to help those who are legitimately angry and punish those who use them to incite violence!"

"If you don't vote at all or for us, fearing that the reds will come out again, then you'll be a hostage of those who incite fear! (...) If you want the country get rid of the poison that is Thaksin, then you should vote for us and vote for us to get more than 250 seats!"

The rally is an attempt by the government to (symbolically) reclaim Rajaprasong not only as a public space, but also to reclaim the sovereignty of interpretation over what has happened during the crackdown. The gloves are clearly off and the Democrats did not leave out a single opportunity to blame Thaksin for the 'mob'. The governing party is, if the polls are anything to go by, losing ground even in Bangkok. So in a sense this is also a reclaiming of the capital as their home battleground. Abhisit and his Democrat Party, having previously claimed to move on, are apparently not quite done yet with the past.

*Author's note: This article is aimed at re-telling the atmosphere of the event, rather than disseminating the 'facts' presented by the speakers bit by bit. This may or may not be addressed in another post.

Thailand’s army chief dive-bombs into election campaign, urges to vote for ‘good people’

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 16, 2011

In a column for The Nation back in April, Pravit Rojanaphruk has labeled General Prayuth Chan-ocha as "An army chief who dons too many hats," pointing out the many roles the commander-in-chief was playing rather than his actual occupation: top diplomat (vetoing the government's decision about the Preah Vihear issue), lèse majesté proponent, unconvincing denier of coup rumors and of course, top-loyalist. Now he has donned another big hat.

Despite repeated claims to stay in the background, Thailand's commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has barged his way into the election campaign by basically mouthing off how he imagines the polls should unfold. In a 40-minute pre-recorded 'interview' on the army-owned television Channel 7 (and later re-aired on Channel 5, also army-owned), Prayuth blatantly sounded off this advice to the national electorate:

การแก้ปัญหาชาติบ้านเมืองด้วยการออกมาเลือกตั้งเป็นสิ่งสำคัญ และต้องเลือกคนดีเข้ามา สุดท้ายขอให้ประชาชนทุกหมู่เหล่าช่วยไปเลือกตั้งทราบว่า มียอดผู้มีสิทธิ์ ๓๐ – ๔๐ ล้านออกมาเลือกตั้งให้เกิดการเปลี่ยนแปลง หากท่านปล่อยให้การเลือกตั้งเป็นเหมือนเดิมๆ เราก็ได้อะไรแบบเดิมๆตลอด อยากฝากให้ทุกตนเลือกตั้งใช้สติมีเหตุผล รู้จักคิดว่า ทำอย่างไรบ้านเมือง สถาบันจึงจะปลอดภัย ทำอย่างไรคนดีจึงจะได้มาบริหารชาติบ้านเมือง ประชาชนอย่าให้คนเขาดูถูกว่า ท่านชักจูงง่าย โดยไม่ได้ดูว่า คนนั้นดีหรือไม่ มีคุณธรรมหรือไม่ เขาทำผิดกฎหมายหรือไม่ ตนบอกว่า กริยาที่นักการเมืองบางท่านใช้ไม่เหมาะสม แล้วจะเลือกเขาเข้าไปทำไม เลือกคนที่ดี คนที่สุภาพ ตั้งใจทำงานเพื่อชาติบ้านเมืองเข้าไปทำงานแล้วกัน

To solve the nation’s problem through election is very important and (you) must elect good people. Lastly, (I would like to) let every group of people who will go vote know that around 30-40 million eligible voters should vote for change. If you let the election be the same as before, we will get the same old things forever. I would like to remind voters to use consciousness, reason, knowhow to think what to do so that our nation and the institution are safe; and (to know) how to get good people to manage our country. People, you should not let others look down on you that you are easily roped in without carefully thinking if those people are good or not, (if they are) ethical or not, (or if they) have violated the law or not. I have said that some politicians act inappropriately, then, why do you still want to vote for them? (You should) vote for good and polite ones who intend to work for the nation to work for you.

""ประยุทธ์"รับใบสั่งเทือกออกทีวี ย้ำอย่าเลือกพวกล้มเจ้าเข้าสภา", Manager/ASTV, June 15, translation by New Mandala

Prayuth has further stated that there's intelligence on "widespread violations against the [royal] institution," also from overseas. Specifically, he singled out exiled former Thaksin spokesman Jakrapob Penkair and exiled academic and red shirt supporter Giles Ji Ungpakorn. The general also lashed out against the media outlets of both red and yellow shirts for causing "divisiveness" and specific "incidents" and also pondered on whether their broadcasting is "appropriate or not", while completely oblivious to the fact that he himself was venting his frustrations on national TV stations owned by the armed forces. Is that appropriate? (For more quotes from Prayuth, read Bangkok Pundit's take here)

This rather thinly veiled endorsement to vote for the status quo has predictably set off a large media echo (see the BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Voice of AmericaAFP for just the international coverage), who all interpreted his TV appearance as him "meddling" or "intervening" for the first time in this campaign season - that is not the case though. Already back in April, even before prime minister Abhisit has called for a snap poll, Prayuth has called for "a high voter turnout (...) to safeguard the monarchy and bring about change under a democracy," (source) while at the same time mixing up some numbers of eligible voters.

The timing of Prayuth's speech comes as no surprise, given that the opposition Pheu Thai Party and their PM candidate Yingluck Shinawatra are leading in the various opinion polls in several regions of the country, including Bangkok - an unacceptable situation for the outspoken anti-Thaksin general, despite, according to reports, having stationed loyal military officers in the opposition strongholds and, as alleged by a Pheu Thai MP, intimidating red shirt supporters and potential voters in an anti-drug raid. The army fired back and accused said MP and his team of swearing and threatening the patrolling soldiers, to which Prayuth has furiously lashed out against the MP ("How dare you intimidate our officers? I won't allow them to do so. If three soldiers encountered such a problem in their community, I will send 50 soldiers. If 50 soldiers can't stop them, then I will send 100 soldiers there!"). Then there's also the anxiety about a potential new Pheu Thai-led government that might seek revenge for the violent crackdowns of recent years by reshuffling key army officials, including Prayuth.

Prayuth's comments further underlines that on one part he seriously needs media training in order to avoid stepping on one verbal mine after another. Secondly, he (unsurprisingly) contradicts himself, who has said before that we should not "look down on the Thai people. Let's give them the opportunity to think, elect and make their own decisions. Don't give them too many guidelines," (source) which he exactly did though with his most recent speech. The army chief has donned yet another hat that is evidently too large for him.

This leaves the voter with nothing else than to take the army supremo at his words and vote for the real good people and a real change - although the fate of some people is not in the hands of the ordinary people.

Bangkok youth still pessimistic about current state of poltics

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 6, 2011 Last year, we blogged about a survey that found out that 60 per cent of the Bangkok youth did care little to nothing for politics, most of them irked and weary because of conflicts, untrustworthy politicians and generally headache-inducing complex issues. So much so that 90 per cent said that there's no way under the current circumstances they'd enter politics.

The Nation picked up on the story about the country's (a)political youth (on a much smaller scale) and has done a straw poll among a few university students. Unlike the previous survey, the opinions are more diverse this time:

"Thailand's colour-coded politics is far from over and will remain so even after the election," said Wiripone Artitraungroj, 19, from the Faculty of Science at Kasetsart University. (...)

Kasetsart University's Na-Bhattara Ongwaranon and Montree Somjai said they often discussed politics and the election among close friends, but steered away from talking with others whose political views they did not know.

"Politics is really a boring topic for youth," said Noppadon Sroything of Dhurakij Pundit University's Political Science Faculty. "But [taking part in] the election, I think, is better than street protests." (...)

Wattanapol Charoenpongteera, 21, from Srinakarinwirot University said people of his generation should pay more attention to politics and, if possible, have a role in it.

"Students believe July 3 election won't end political conflict", The Nation, June 6, 2011

When asked about a favorite who they'd give their vote to, the almost unanimous result is somehow surprising:

Many students said they liked Chuwit because of his extreme, colourful, straight and funny campaign.

"Personally, I think Chuwit campaigns colourfully while other parties are simply boring," said Wiripone.

Other political parties have simple campaigns of visiting and greeting people, but Chuwit's is interesting, said Watthanavut. "It is easy to recognise and remember Chuwit's posters while others are all the same," he said.

"Chuwit is interesting as he has a clear stance and looks sincere, not pretentious," said Boonporn.

"Students believe July 3 election won't end political conflict", The Nation, June 6, 2011

Yes, you read that right - Chuwit Kamolwisit, the outspoken and highly entertaining former massage parlor tycoon seems to be a favorite among the young Bangkokians, very likely for his straight-talking, no-holds-barred, in-your-face campaign posters and his announcement to be an opposition watchdog.

Even though these are just a few voices, they seem to draw a different, more diverse picture of opinions on the current state of affairs. Nevertheless, if the title is to be trusted, most are all realistic enough to see that elections alone cannot solve the deep political problems (with education being one of the more severe issues). But it is still no reason not to vote - especially if it's your first time!

Tongue-Thai'ed! Part VI: Wifebeating campaign poster edition?!

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 1, 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.

The campaign season offers many curious incidents and sightings that only appear during the run-up to the elections, political campaign posters are one of them. Usually, they display the constituency candidate, the list number, the name of the party and a more or less witty and memorable slogan. Sometimes, the parties go the extra mile and somehow (deliberately or not) stick out from crowd - whether for the desired effect or not is another story. This year it's no exception and some posters are drawing eyes and raised eyebrows for various reasons.

On Wednesday, Bangkok-based journalist Patrick Winn from the Global Post has tweeted this poster:

It's a poster for the Bhumjai Thai Party, the largest coalition partner of the most recent government and considered to be a potential kingmaker for the next one. The slogan is "เลี้ยงเมีย ต้องตบ" which can be translated to "To take care of your wife, you have to beat" - beat what? Your wife, as Patrick suggested? Is this a reiteration of the proverb "เลี้ยงเมีย ด้วยเข่า" ("To take care of your wife, you got to knee her!") to get the folksy vote? Are they endorsing domestic abuse? What do they want to say? Are we lost in translation somewhere?

The answer is tucked away right under the number and above the name of the party. It says: "'สู้แล้วรวย' สร้างศูนย์ฝึกนักกีฬาอาชีพ" ("'Fight to become rich' [We will] build sport centers for professional athletes). So, they're not saying you should beat your wife but beat (or strike) the tennis ball to get it rolling to personal welfare! (Read James Goyder's post on Bhumjai Thai's godfather Newin and his ventures in local football here)

This is also a move to counter rival coalition partner Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party's sport centric policies, who recruited a number of former sport stars running as candidates. One of them is former tennis star - or rather he was supposed to be, because he now not on the party list since he didn't vote in the last local elections in 2008 and thus not eligible (source in Thai here)!

Meanwhile, Bangkok Pundit has blogged about another note-worthy election poster:

This is Sophon Damnui also running for the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party in Bangkok's constituency number 5. To answer Bangkok Pundit's question why they choose this motive and the panda, one has to look at all the clues: Bangkok's 5th is Dusit, where also Dusit Zoo ist located. Mr Sophon is also the director of the Zoological Park Organization, which overlooks all zoos in the country. And guess who that panda is? Yes, this is Thailand's new national mascot, Lin Ping. And Mr Sophon also credits himself that this cuddly panda can stay in Thailand a little bit longer before the Chinese want him back.

So, the message is clear: "Vote me and Lin Ping will stay" or something like that - and besides, who can resist such cute cuddly thing...? (Author's note: This animal has created a bigger and more annoying hype in Thailand than Knut the polar bear ever did in Germany!)

A lot of stupid things will be said and a lot of strange posters will appear during the election campaign in the coming months. 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 still based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith.