The Nation

The month in Thailand: Reshuffles, coup rumblings and the 3G farce

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 1, 2012 October is normally a politically heated month in Thailand, as seen in the numerous street protests, military shenanigans and other political developments in the recent history and in the more distant past. However, the events in this month were less controversial, or the changes were in the detail, or both. Here are some of the stories that show that.

Military promotions and cabinet reshuffle: look who's talking now?

Normally, the annual reshuffle and promotions of countless military officers and civilian ministers is enough source for discord between the government and the armed forces and for both groups within themselves. This year's military merry-go-round has been largely unsurprising - apart from the removal of Defense Permanent Secretary Gen. Sathien Permthong-in - and reassures the ongoing truce with the government. Also, the promotion of Yingluck's nephew is seen by some as a good sign.

The new cabinet of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on the other hand has some interesting changes. Yongyuth Wichaidit has resigned as deputy prime minister and Pheu Thai Party leader, some saying to evade a potential corruption case, while the rest of the Yingluck cabinet has the pundits reaching for very different conclusion. Some are saying Thaksin is slowly reclaiming the party, while others say Yingluck is holding her ground.

Sleeping hawks are awake, confused

One more thing that normally comes up during this time of the year (mostly as a negative outcome of the two issues above): rumors and calls for a military coup - since that is apparently the only time-proofed method to bring in stability and democracy in Thailand, according to some.

Last Sunday saw yet another rally that calls for the current government to be ousted by nothing else but a military intervention. The  group calls itself Pitak Siam (Protect Siam) and their main organizer is Ret. Gen. Boonlert Kaewprasit, chairman of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School (AFAPS) Foundation and Class 1 graduate. He's also been consistent in demanding coups on a regular basis (and having participated in the failed coup attempt of March 1977), citing the cause of protecting the monarchy from lèse majesté. No change this time:

"I'd love to see a coup because I know this puppet government is here to rob the country. Several sectors of society can't take it anymore. If I had the power a coup would have been staged by now," he said. (...)

Over the past year the government has not only stood by as offensive criticism has been hurled against the monarchy, but it has appeared to encourage it, he said. The government has showed itself to be Thaksin's puppet, he said, adding that by installing his sister Yingluck as prime minister, Thaksin had insulted the entire nation.

"Pitak Siam rally hopes to oust govt", Bangkok Post, October 24, 2012

The rally itself was joined by groups (many are PAD-aligned) that can be generally described as ultra-royalist, anti-democratic and nationalist, but also some that are just fed up with the current government. Attendance figures varied wildly between 3,000 (police estimate) and 30,000 (organizer's estimate) - but it's safe to say that they were able to fill the main grandstand at the Royal Turf Club, which holds about 20,000.

What all the coup demands in recent years have in common (apart that it is potentially illegal) is a relentless contempt against Thaksin and the willingness to accept the damage of a military coup with the disregard for the democratic system. The upper echelons of the army at the moment are siding with the government - for now. Gen. Boonlert has announced that there'll be another rally soon and is even more hell-bent to topple this government no matter the costs. However, he and like-minded people should also take into account that another military coup will be even less well-received by the general population than at the last one.

Thailand's eternal 3G farce - the last chapter?

After an almost eternal and tedious waiting period Thailand will finally upgrade to 3G mobile technology making it the second-to-last country in Southeast Asia to do so. It's been a long and painful process but now Thailand's citizens, especially smartphone users, can look forward to finally get wide 3G coverage even before the end of year - or may be not...?!

See, the issue with the 3G implementation in Thailand is a neverending story and - admittedly - much more complicated to explain than the government's rice pledging scheme! The last auction attempt in 2010 was stopped by a last-minute court order after a complaint by a state-owned telecommunications company that the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was not authorized to hold the auction - a mess created by the 2007 constitution.

Now, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) which had the authority to hold this auction. There were in total 9 slots of 5 MHz bandwidth each, three bidders who cannot get more than three each and the results were underwhelming for some.

Thailand has raised 41.6 billion baht (US$1.4 billion) from its long-awaited auction of 3G mobile licenses, with the three bidding operators said to have paid "only a small premium".

[...] the three bidders - AIS, Dtac and True Move - managed to secure 3G licenses. The NBTC noted that AIS submitted the highest bid at 14.6 billion baht (US$ 475 million) for three slots of 5 MHz bandwidth. The other two operators each submitted the minimum bid of 13.5 billion baht (US$439 million) for the three slots of bandwidth, it added.

"Thailand nets $1.4B from 3G auction", ZDNet, October 17, 2012

Dtac was the only one to bid slightly above the starting price and overall the auction only gained a plus of only 1.125 bn Baht ($36m) or 2.78 per cent above the reserve price. Amidst that meager profit from the bidding a torrential flood of criticism poured down on the whole event, especially on the NBTC. Most fault them for missing out on a lot of money during the bidding and thus the 'damaging the country' (even leading The Nation to draw up the most ludicrous conspiracy theory or a poor attempt at satire). On the other hand considering that this was a bureaucratic mess almost a decade in the making and the resistance of state companies, one has to wonder what is still left of the real price of infrastructure progress in Thailand.

And meanwhile across the border, Laos is preparing to launch 4G...!

Lèse majesté update: Judiciary upholds constitutionality while suspect is acquitted

Thailand's Constitutional Court has ruled the Kingdom's draconian lèse majesté law unanimously and unsurprisingly as 'constitutional', after Somyos Prueksakasemsuk and Akechai Hongkangwarn (both accused and detained on lèse majesté charges) have contested Article 112 of the Criminal Code in a landmark legal challenge.

Meanwhile, some good news: A 41-year-old programmer has been acquitted of lèse majesté charges. The court ruled in doubt for the  defendant after it was not clear whether or not he was the author of defamatory Facebook messages and that computer evidence could have been even forged.

The best article by The Nation - EVER!

And finally, I present you the best, most coherent article The Nation has written - EVER!

Video: 'Challenging the Sovereign Narrative' - (Social) Media in the Thai Political Crisis

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 23, 2011 (Note: This post was supposed to be up much, much earlier but was pushed back due to the floods and the re-relocation of the author back to Germany. Apologies to all involved for the momentous delay!)

Back in late September I was invited to hold a talk at Payap University in Chiang Mai and I chose to talk about a (social) media topic with the focus on the the 2010 anti-government Red Shirts' Protests, the knee-jerk demonizing of foreign media and what role social media played in this, if at all.

The talk is about 45 minutes long and includes 15 minutes of Q&A. The original full abstract can be found below the video.

Again, thanks to the people at Payap University for the invitation and organizing the event, especially Adam Dedman, Jessica Loh and Paul Chambers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzrtubI8cZM

Challenging the Sovereign Narrative – Media Perceptions of the Thai Political Crisis and the (missing) Role of Social Media”

Speaker: Saksith Saiyasombut

When: Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 5-6pm

Place: Room 317, Pentecost Building, Mae Khao main campus, Payap University

The Kingdom of Thailand rarely pops up on the global news landscape and if so, then it is mostly for a so-called ‘soft’ story. In recent years though, political struggles, often escalating in violent protests on the streets of Bangkok, have dominated the airwaves of the international media outlets, only to disappear shortly after the protests have ended. With the Thai political crisis dragging on for several years now, reporters are struggling to properly report and explain the situation without simplifying this to just a color-coded conflict between two opposing groups. In particular, the anti-government Red Shirt protests of 2010 were a watershed moment for how Thailand and its political crisis are regarded, with many Thais objecting to the foreign media’s coverage, as much as to openly vilify the international TV news networks. On the other hand, the domestic media have failed in its role to objectively explain and provide context to the political developments of recent years.

The more important issue is the rise of social media to counter a sovereign narrative of the mainstream and state media – however, Thailand has yet to see a grassroots revolution fueled by the Internet. Nevertheless, online services like Twitter and Facebook provide Thais a way to read and express alternative viewpoints and also a platform to  fill the journalistic void left by other media outlets, but are threatened by the country’s ambiguously written Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté law.

This talk looks at the perceptions of the international and domestic media of the Thai political crisis and why this struggle has not translated into an online uprising yet and aims to examine opportunities for “filling in the blanks” left by the mainstream media.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai political blogger and journalist. He wrote for his hometown newspapers Weser Kurier and Weser Report in Bremen, Germany, before working as an editorial assistant for Asia News Network and contributing reporter at The Nation. He started blogging about Thai politics on his personal website  www.saiyasombut.com in early 2010 and since September 2010, Saksith now writes for Siam Voices, a collaborative blog on Thai current affairs on the regional blog and news network Asian Correspondent. He is also currently a graduate student of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

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.

Tongue-Thai’ed! Part IX: The 'Cib that Frabs' - Dems target PM Yingluck's gaffes

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 5, 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.

Last Sunday the Twitter account of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was 'hacked' - or rather somebody knows the password already or has guessed it correctly, which isn't necessarily 'hacking'.

There is a German saying that goes, "Who has the damage, doesn't need to provide for the ridicule". And to add injury to insult,  Miss Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, the daughter of the executive vice-president of Singha Corporation, thus often-referred to as the “Singha-heiress” and now deputy spokeswoman for the now opposition Democrat Party (read about her debut here), has tweeted on Monday morning:

สื่อของ ยิ่งลักษณ์ นับวันจะถูกบีบให้เหลือน้อยลง สัมภาษณ์สดก็ไม่ได้ ออกทีวีก็ไม่เป็น ออกวิทยุก็พูดผิด ทวิตเตอร์ก็ถูกปิด ทีมงานเหนื่อย!

Yingluck's media outlets are dwindling by the days - she doesn't give live interviews, doesn 't do TV, mixes things up on [her] radio [show], now [her] Twitter [account] got closed! Her staff's exhausted!

Tweet by @TANTchitpas on October 3, 2011 at 08:41:48 , translation by me

This is the latest in a string of mocks and roasts against Yingluck and her government ever since the Democrat Party was booted out. Here's just a selection of attacks by the Democrat Party. Astonishingly and strangely enough, in a The Nation article on Yingluck's Twitter mishaps the editors somehow sneaked in a whole paragraph with something that has nothing to do with the actual story:

Yingluck also came under criticism from Democrat spokesman Chavanont Intarakolmalyasut for mispronouncing ya faek (vetiver grass) as ya praek (pesty grass). "Even when the prime minister was reading a script, she read it wrong," he said.

She should apologise for her slip-up during her weekly radio address, he said, adding that he did not think it would be funny if 15.7 million Pheu Thai supporters decided to grow weeds instead of vetiver grass for flood prevention.

Democrat MP Watchara Phetthong said Yingluck had made too many gaffes lately. Her misleading remarks about the Navy's submarine procurement request came just last week, followed by the inability to distinguish between the grass to prevent soil erosion and the weed, he said.

"Hacker of PM's twitter account 'identified'", The Nation, October 4, 2011

Before that several Democrat MPs have called the either Yingluck or her government a "puppet PM", being "obessed with helping Thaksin" and one even her a "ninja" - all that only just happened last September!

But the cake takes the aforementioned Watchara Petchthong who said this after Yingluck's radio slip-up:

"ผมถือได้ว่ารัฐบาลชุดนี้หลอกลวงพี่น้องประชาชน น่าจะเรียกได้ว่าเป็นรัฐบาล “แปตอหลู” และผมยืนยันว่าจะเรียกรัฐบาลว่าอย่างนี้ (...)"

"I say that this government has fooled the people, so you can say this government is a "cib that frabs" and I insist to [continue] call this government [like this] (...)"

"ส.ส.ปชป.ให้ฉายา'แปตอหลู' จี้นายกฯขอโทษพูดผิด", Thai Rath, October 2, 2011

Now, in order to understand what Watchara has called this government, we have to explain what "cib that frabs" or in original "แปตอหลู" (pronounced bae-dtoh-loo) actually means: If you want say something indirectly in Thai, people like to swap out letters that results in total gibberish. But if you put it into the right order, you would get "ปูตอแหล" (pronounced "pou-dtoh-lae"). ปู ("Pou") is Yingluck's nickname, while "ตอแหล" ("dtoh-lae") means to lie or to fib, though this word is only used for women. All in all then we would get the "crab that fibs" - which is a rather convoluted way to say that this government is lying.

While it is important that an opposition keeps the government in check and gives a nudge here and there when the occasion arises, it is interesting, if not revealing, to see how they criticize and for what and also what they actually say.

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

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

Announcing: Talk at Payap University on September 27, 2011

This is an open event, anyone is invited to come and you can RSVP on the Facebook event page. Also, you have any suggestions and hints for material, links, videos etc. send me an email, tweet or post on my Facebook page.

"Challenging the Sovereign Narrative - Media Perceptions of the Thai Political Crisis and the (missing) Role of Social Media"

Speaker: Saksith Saiyasombut

When: Tuesday, 27 September 2011, 5-6pm

Place: Room 317, Pentecost Building, Mae Khao main campus, Payap University

The Kingdom of Thailand rarely pops up on the global news landscape and if so, then it is mostly for a so-called ‘soft’ story. In recent years though, political struggles, often escalating in violent protests on the streets of Bangkok, have dominated the airwaves of the international media outlets, only to disappear shortly after the protests have ended. With the Thai political crisis dragging on for several years now, reporters are struggling to properly report and explain the situation without simplifying this to just a color-coded conflict between two opposing groups. In particular, the anti-government Red Shirt protests of 2010 were a watershed moment for how Thailand and its political crisis are regarded, with many Thais objecting to the foreign media's coverage, as much as to openly vilify the international TV news networks. On the other hand, the domestic media have failed in its role to objectively explain and provide context to the political developments of recent years.

The more important issue is the rise of social media to counter a sovereign narrative of the mainstream and state media - however, Thailand has yet to see a grassroots revolution fueled by the Internet. Nevertheless, online services like Twitter and Facebook provide Thais a way to read and express alternative viewpoints and also a platform to  fill the journalistic void left by other media outlets, but are threatened by the country’s ambiguously written Computer Crimes Act and lèse majesté law.

This talk looks at the perceptions of the international and domestic media of the Thai political crisis and why this struggle has not translated into an online uprising yet and aims to examine opportunities for "filling in the blanks" left by the mainstream media.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai political blogger and journalist. He wrote for his hometown newspapers Weser Kurier and Weser Report in Bremen, Germany, before working as an editorial assistant for Asia News Network and contributing reporter at The Nation. He started blogging about Thai politics on his personal website  www.saiyasombut.com in early 2010 and since September 2010, Saksith now writes for Siam Voices, a collaborative blog on Thai current affairs on the regional blog and news network Asian Correspondent. He is also currently a graduate student of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

The impounded Thai aircraft and lessons from the Thai media

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 20, 2011 You may have heard by now that last week a Boeing 737 airplane of the Royal Thai Air Force was impounded by a German liqudator and is now in a hangar at Munich airport. And by now you might have also heard that this plane belongs to Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn - or does it? The outgoing Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya is claiming and trying to prove to the German judiciary that this plane is not Thai government property, but the Crown Prince's personal aircraft. The German court is not convinced and sees this plane as of the Royal Thai Air Force plane and thus as a government vehicle.

This is where things stand at the moment before said German court will, after the examination of countless documents provided by the Thai side, decide on Wednesday if the plane remains impounded or not. For more on the background on why this plan was seized in the first place, read Bangkok Pundit's coverage here and here.

What's interesting to see was how the Thai media handled this story - or not at first, given the sensitivity of the subject. This story broke exclusively on Financial Times Deutschland (google for “Der Insolvenzverwalter des ehemaligen deutschen Baukonzerns Walter Bau streitet sich mit Thailand um Millionen”) last Tuesday, which quickly was reported in German and international media - only in Thailand the media was predictably silent.

This was until outgoing foreign minister Kasit Piromya called in for a press conference on last Wednesday evening shortly before he got on a plane to Germany (a regular Thai Airways flight, mind you!) to get this plane back, thus effectively making this issue a state affair. Still, despite explaining the legal reasons (the debt to be paid by the Thai government), many Thai media outlets were treading a fine line on what to mention and what not. Let's take this article from The Nation as an example:

Thailand will make all efforts to release a Thai national's Boeing 737 impounded in Germany due to a payment conflict between the government and a German construction firm, outgoing Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said yesterday.

"Germany made the great mistake of confiscating property that does not belong to the Thai government," Kasit told reporters yesterday. (...)

"I made it clear that this matter has nothing to do with the royal court," he said. "It is a huge mistake for Germany to do this and we will not allow this issue to jeopardise relations between the two countries."

"Thailand's making 'all efforts' to end aircraft spat: FM", The Nation, July 15, 2011

As you can see, no references to the Crown Prince were made here. But slowly over the course of the next day the newsrooms realize they couldn't tell the story without the owner of that plane. So bit by bit they started to mention the Crown Prince as the owner of this aircraft, for example Thai Rath, Bangkok Post and also the evening news on Thai TV (with ThaiPBS even leading in with this story on Friday). Only The Nation was most likely the last media outlet to hold off mentioning the Crown Prince's name - even when they put articles together from foreign news agencies as they referred to it only as a "Thai national's personal plane". It took them until Sunday, two whole days after everyone else, when they have finally mentioned his name, albeit again only with agency material.

The only original content from The Nation on this whole plane saga was an opinion piece by a certain Alexander Mohr, who wrote:

(...) first of all, the seizure of a plane from a royal fleet is simply not the most straightforward approach. One cannot help thinking that the insolvency manager went for the most sensational approach. Seizing a plane from the Thai royal fleet guarantees media attention and exposure. (...)

But while the identity of the aircraft's owner may remain unclear, the action of seizing a vehicle used by a member of the Royal Family exceeds all bounds of a reasonable approach towards a solution. The damage is done.

The Thai side tried to solve the issue on a political level last week. Foreign Minister Kasit flew to Germany where he met with Cornelia Piper, an under secretary of the German foreign ministry. The German side does not want to intervene in the case and refers to the independence of the judiciary. (...)

It is very likely the dispute will be settled soon. However, the avoidable damage caused to bilateral relations between Germany and Thailand is done, with both the economic and also political ties suffering.

"Plane stupid: the damage is done", by Alexander Mohr, The Nation, July 19, 2011

First off, the author is billed as a "partner for International Relations at the government relations firm Alber & Geiger in Brussels",which is a "political lobbying powerhouse (...) known for representing foreign governments" - so pretty much this was most likely written for the Thai government who wants to get their message across. What this piece reveals as well is that the Thai side seems genuinely astonished that the German government cannot influence its judiciary whatsoever and that only the they see the bilateral damage, since they made it a state affair.

It was an interesting lesson in how the Thai media handles such sensitive stories - if at all. After the void of total silence at first was mostly filled by the international media and the internet, the floodgates opened as soon as this was made into an affair of upmost national importance by the foreign minister. Granted, due to the legal restraints no one is allowed to publicly say why the Crown Prince and that plane is in Germany in the first place...

Thailand: Pressure mounts to amend lese majeste law

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 26, 2011 The debate about Thailand's draconian lèse majesté law, Article 112 of the Criminal Code, gains more traction with several groups either discussing or demanding to at least amend the law, which forbids any discussion about the royal family and can be punished with up to 15 years in prison - and there's at least one discerning person who begs to differ...

First off was a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT) on Tuesday evening on that very subject, with veteran social critic Sulak Sivaraksa, academic David Streckfuss and Benjamin Zawacki of Amnesty International Thailand. Particularly the presence of Zawacki and his views on the law raised some high interest. More background on that at Bangkok Pundit. We will have more on the FCCT panel in the coming days.

In a separate development, the National Human Rights Council's (NHRC) sub-committee on civil and political rights has announced to look into the content of the law and how it's been used.

NHRC sub-committee chairman Niran Pitakwatchara said on Monday that the controversial use of the lese majeste law was urgently called into question, since it could be a condition leading to violence in society.

The NHRC sub-committee held its first hearing on the problem of the application of the lese majeste law last week with some 60 participants, including those being imprisoned, harassed and implicated as a result of people citing Article 112.

Dr Niran said after the four-hour-long session that the sub-committee was hopeful that in the next few months its research into the subject would be completed and a report forwarded to the government and the public for consideration.

He said the sub-committee, which included well-known human rights activists Somchai Homla-or, Jon Ungphakorn, Boonthan T. Verawongse, and Sunai Phasuk, would examine human rights abuses in the cases of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a trade unionist and a red-shirt editor of the Voice of Thaksin, and Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a senior historian at Thammasat University [as a study platform]. (...)

"Dealing with the issue has never been an easy matter and I could not pledge how much we can do to resolve the problem as we are also surmounting internal self-adjustment difficulties within the (NHRC) office," said the chairman of the sub-committee on civil and political rights.

"NHRC to study lese majeste clause", Bangkok Post, May 23, 2011

The two cases mentioned in the article are of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, the editor of a pro-Thaksin publication and a trade unionist who most likely got arrested for collection signatures for a petition to repeal Article 112, and Thammasat historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a vocal critic agains the lèse majesté law, who went public saying that he has been threatened and eventually charged, possibly for the contents wrote in an open letter to Princess Chulabhorn about a recent, much discussed TV interview.

Another story dealing with this law was published earlier this week, when a group of 100 young writers joined in an open letter calling to amend the law and stop its use as a political weapon.

Signatories include wellknown youngergeneration mainstream writers such as Probed Yoon and Waning Prasertkul [sic! the whole sentence!]. In an open letter issued yesterday, they urged other writers, irrespective of their political ideology, to defend freedom of expression as a fundamental aspect of a free society.

"We believe you agree that enjoying freedom of expression and freedom of expression is a fundamental part of being writers in a democratic society, disregarding whatever genre of writing one subscribes to," part of the open letter reads. It also called on the army to stop using the monarchy institution as an excuse to crush its opponents.

"100 young writers join forces calling for change in lese majeste law", The Nation, May 21, 2011

The authors are actually named Wansing Prasertkul, Prabda Yoon - but that can happen at The Nation, especially since they misspelled the name of the son of The Nation's executive editor Suthichai Yoon! Many of these writers, including Binla Sankalakiri and Sakariya Amataya, are winners of the prestigious S.E.A. Write Award. The full open letter in Thai can be read here.

So, all in all a lot of debate about Article 112, that undoubtedly has severely damaged Thailand's freedom of speech in both the real and the online world and with very few people in power realizing that the more they stress the need to protect the royal institution from a perceived threat, the more it apparently backfires.

More staggering is how self-proclaimed herald of 'Thai-ness‘ and culture minister Niphit Intarasombat responded to this petition in Matichon, which the colleagues at Prachatai have translated:

On 22 May, Niphit Intarasombat, Minister of Culture and the Democrat Party candidate for Phatthalung, said, in response to a public call to amend the law made by a group of writers last week, that he did not see any problem with the lèse majesté law and its enforcement. (...)

‘I’ve never seen Article 112 being used as a political tool, and over 99% of politicians have no problem with the law. I’ve travelled to several countries which used to have monarchies. People there all said in unison that they regretted that they no longer had monarchs, and they wished to have them restored as head of state and a unifying figure. But Thailand still has a monarch as head of state and a unifying force, so we should have the law to protect the institution,’ he said.

"Minister of Culture sees no problem with lèse majesté law", Prachatai, May 24, 2011

So, he claims to have never seen the law being used as a political weapon? He probably isn't aware that this law actually politicizes the royal institution to a worrying extent. Second, of course why should any politician be against this law and commit career and social suicide, especially everyone since seems to overbid themselves with their loyalty (also arguably a political tool). And finally, I don't know to which former kingdoms he has traveled to and to whom he has spoken to (surely he doesn't ask the common man on a European street, does he?), but I cannot imagine that many people in France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Austria, Greece, Persia (Iran), Iraq, Mexico etc. all want their former monarchs back?

P.S.: Niphit is now the second government minister after finance minister Korn who has openly asked if a former monarchy is sad that they have no king anymore. If only the countries in question could respond...

The heiress, the athletes and the pimp... Thailand's celebrity candidates

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 13, 2011 Ever since prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has announced the dissolution of parliament, thus paving the way for new federal elections on July 3, all political parties (and other groups) are now in full campaign mode giving all their best intentions to win over voters.

While the Puea Thai Party, the biggest opposition party, still hasn't decided on a front-runner yet (but most likely to field Thaksin's younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra as a PM candidate), many names are slowly popping up on the party-lists. Many of them are well-known, but not necessarily for their political work, rather for their illustrious past. Here are some of them...

The Nation writes about a young, attractive woman having a go at a constituency for the first time in her life - and it is not about Yingluck...

Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, a new Democrat Party MP candidate for Bangkok's Dusit-Ratchathewi constituency, is visiting residents around Sriyan Market to introduce herself before the coming election. "This week I'm still introducing myself because I am a 'newbie' and next week I'll be campaigning for the party," she said.

Although, she has been called a "new face", Chitpas is not really a "newbie" in politics. (...) She has been secretary to the Information and Communications Technology minister since 2009 and has been closely involved in politics. (...)

The Democrat Party is highly democratic and has a good political ideology because it is not "led by a capitalist", she said.

"'Newbie' hopes to make political waves", The Nation, May 12, 2011

What the article glaringly omits though is the real background of the 25-year-old: Chitpas Bhirombhakdi is the daughter of Chutinant Bhirombhakdi, executive vice-president of Singha Corporation - and often referred to as the 'heiress' of the beer brewery.

However, the biggest glaring omission of that article (and telling for The Nation's work) was she had more work experience than just at the MICT: Chitpas was a staff member of the PM's secretariat office. In late 2009, her parents' enterprise produced a raunchy pin-up calendar to promote "Leo" beer, a product of the Singha Corporation. The depicted, body-painted ladies caused a stir (very reminiscent to the recent Songkran brouhaha) and it also legally forbidden to advertise alcoholic drinks - no matter if these calendars are given out free or for purchase - and circulation has been stopped. And then this happened:

The hot, hot, hot Leo calendar brought heat to the Bhirombhakdi family that controls Singha Corporation when a Singha heiress brought them to work – the Government House (Thai Prime Minister’s office).

On Wednesday, Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, a 23-year-old daughter of the executive vice-president of Singha Corporation, took out two boxes of calendars from the trunk of her BMW and distributed them at the Government House in Bangkok.

Government House officials (including deputy government spokesmen Phumin Leetheeraprasert and Supachai Jaisamut), MPs, police and journalists (covering the Government House beat) lined up to accept Chitpas’ generosity and within a few minutes, about 200 copies were snapped up.

"Stir over girly calendar", by Philip Golingai, The Star (Malaysia), December 19, 2009

She later resigned from her post after much, much public pressure and issued an official apology - displaying a more sincere behavior than all the officers who hounded her to get one. This is by no means meant to discredit Miss Chitpas, who at least showed more responsibility than many senior political figures, rather this is supposed to showcase the glaring omission the author of the article has (willingly?) done.

Not to be outdone, the Democrat Party really seems to leave nothing to chance, since their literally all-star party-list includes "30 electoral candidates who are celebrities and heirs of political families". Another party that banks on a similar strategy is the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party (quite a mouthful name, I know), a hybrid of two parties, which were part of the government coalition. This party goes all out on one particular niche:

The coalition Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party yesterday formally introduced former soccer hero Piyapong Piew-on as a new member. He is the latest athletic celebrity to join the party, which boasts sports heavyweight Suwat Liptapanlop as its de facto leader.

The party has already enlisted Paradorn Srichaphan, who reached ninth in the world professional men's tennis rankings, and Yaowapa Burapholchai, who bagged a bronze medal for women's taekwondo at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

"Sports heroes carry parties towards election goals", The Nation, May 11, 2011

This all-star-team comes with a whole laundry list of sport-specific policies, which includes the creations of sports complexes and more financial support for all national sporting associations. Other parties have also enlisted former sport heros, such as olympic boxing gold medalist Somluck Khamsing, who will run with three other former boxing champions for the Chart Thai Pattana Party (not to be confused with the other party with the similar name) - hoping to follow the same example set by another boxing champion in the region.

And to round up the luminary list of curious electoral contenders, an old veteran returns to the political stage in his trademark fashion:

Outspoken politician Chuwit Kamolvisit has launched his own party, aided by a bull terrier.

Mr Chuwit launched his Rak Prathet Thai (Love Thailand) Party at his home in Sukhumvit Soi 10 yesterday. His home will also serve as the party's headquarters.

The massage parlour tycoon-turned-politician who has tried to portray himself as an anti-vice and corruption crusader said his party would work on the opposition benches to monitor the government. (...)

During his party launch, he showed his pet dog, a bull terrier, saying the dog was a symbol of loyalty and honesty.

"Chuwit out to hound govt with new party", Bangkok Post, May 13, 2011

Weighing in with a field of 10 electoral candidates (untypical modest for Chuwit), the primary goal is to be the opposition watchdog (pun intended) to the next government. Unlike all parties mentioned above, the now self-proclaim 'Mr. Clean' claims not to field celebrities but ordinary people - many would say that Chuwit is the star of the party anyways! Certainly Chuwit is one of the most colorful personalities in Thai politics and always a source for head-turning (and sometimes -scratching) activism.

So, there have it: a beer-heiress, several former athletes and a flamboyant former massage parlor-tycoon - if it the current situation wasn't so serious, the backbenchers make up for a very entertaining two-month-campaign.

h/t to a reader for links

In Case Against The Open Letter Against CNN

An open letter against CNN's coverage of the deadly clashes as posted on Facebook. Excerpt:

As a first-rate global news agency, CNN has an inherent professional duty to deliver all sides of the truth to the global public (...) not merely one-sided, shallow and sensational half-truths. (...) CNN should not negligently discard its duty of care to the international populace by reporting single-sided or unverified facts and distorted truths drawn from superficial research, or display/distribute biased images which capture only one side of the actual event.

Mr. Rivers and Ms. Snider have NOT done their best under these life-threatening circumstances because many other foreign correspondents have done better. All of Mr. Rivers and Ms. Sniders' quotes and statements seem to have been solely taken from the anti-government protest leaders or their followers/sympathizers. Yet, all details about the government’s position have come from secondary resources. No direct interviews with government officials have been shown; no interviews or witness statements from ordinary Bangkok residents or civilians unaffiliated with the protesters, particularly those who have been harassed by or suffered at the hands of the protesters, have been circulated.

"Open Letter to CNN International" by Napas Na Pombejra, May 17, 2010

Bangkok Pundit has dissected the open letter sentence by sentence and asked the question "Is CNN's coverage really biased?". (SPOILER ALERT: The answer is NO!)

But that still does not stop many people from unquestioningly praising that letter (see the comments in BP's blog post and also the links below), especially The Nation seem to really love this letter and run with it, like the publisher Suthichai Yoon tweeting it and even reprinting it  in Wednesday's paper edition...

Further reading:

"Stupid Foreigners...!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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