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.