Tongue-Thai'ed - With 'love' from Bangkok to Beijing

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 6, 2015

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency" - Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimapakorn _____________________________

This is part XXXI of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It is no big secret that ever since Thailand's military seized power in a hostile takeover with the coup of May 2014, the military junta would face big challenges - among them, on the diplomatic world stage. Thailand just narrowly avoided becoming a pariah state among Western countries (we reported) only because it is still a (geo-)strategically important stakeholder in Southeast Asia. But all the rather soft and symbolic sanctions still couldn't avert Bangkok's diplomatic pivot towards Russia and especially towards China.

We reported back in December:

(...) it did not come as a surprise when then-army chief and still-to-this-day-junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha greeted Chinese businessmen as his first guests shortly after the coup of May 22 in an effort to woo investors back to the country and help jump start Thailand’s struggling economy. That was shortly followed by a visit of Thai military commanders to China.

Other bilateral meetings between Prayuth and Chinese leaders took place during the Asia-Europe Meeting in October, where he met China’s premier Li Keqiang and a month later at the APEC Conference hosted in Beijing with president Xi Jingping. The latter would welcomePrayuth again to the Chinese capital last week, where both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and build a “medium-speed” rail network linking the countries.

"Thai junta seeks deeper ‘China pivot’, lauds Beijing’s leadership style", Siam Voices, December 29, 2014

Since then, the Thai military government has made more advances towards Beijing by fulfilling the navy's long-held dream of buying submarines from China worth $1bn - even though the purchase is on hold for now - while around the same time controversially deporting around 100 Uighur muslims to China.

But what's strikes a bigger chord with the Thai generals is China's authoritarian one-party rule in exchange for economic propensity.

So, it came to no surprise when the Thai military's Foreign Minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn was full of praise for China again, as expressed earlier this week at an ASEAN forum in Kuala Lumpur...

At a joint press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn made a surprise declaration while standing on a podium with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency," he told reporters in English, much to the surprise of China’s top foreign envoy who appeared somewhat unsure how to respond. (...)

"Let’s say we are so close, we are more than friends, just say we are cousins with a long history together," he said.

"We don’t talk diplomatic talk, we talks like personal, like family, like friend," he added.

"Thai junta envoy admits crush on China", AFP, August 5, 2015

Well, that got awkward pretty quickly...

Also, why the need to change gender to express your love? There's no need to be ashamed of expressing one's man crush. And even if the probably biggest one-sided declaration of bromance on the diplomatic stage has been so far not reciprocated, this will most likely not the last we hear of it.

Tongue-Thai’ed! - When human rights are too "extreme"

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 4, 2015 This is part XXX of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It is hard to deny that the human rights situation in Thailand has sharply deteriorated since last year's coup which brought in the authoritative military government and its repressive measures to curtail dissent and criticism against their rule.

We have extensively reported on heavy media censorship, hundreds of arbitrary detentions with some allegations of torture, the relentless prosecution of lèse majesté suspects at home and abroad (two young theater activists have been recently sentenced to jail), the junta's increased efforts to spy online and its intolerance for any kind of protest or mere criticism, especially from abroad. And all that for the junta's often-claimed maintenance of "peace and order", while the country still is under martial law. Whoever isn't keeping calm is being "invited" for "attitude adjustment".

To say the situation is abysmal would be an understatement. Human Rights Watch said in its annual report that Thailand is in "free fall" and Amnesty International stated that the junta's actions are creating "a climate of fear". Meanwhile, the biggest worry of Thailand's own National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) is not the human rights situation itself - even when student activists are being harassed almost right in front of its chairperson - or an impending major international downgrade, but rather they are more concerned about their own existence amidst proposals to merge it together with the Ombudsman's Office.

With all that in mind, the Thai military junta's foreign minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn went to Geneva earlier this week to attend the annual regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Granted, its current member states are also not all what can be considered shining beacons of human rights, but nevertheless Gen. Thanasak didn't have an easy task representing Thailand (which is not a council member at the moment) and its situation to the world.

Thus, his opening statement (which you can see a video of here and read the transcript here) was more on the safe side with commitments to contribute to the work of the UN Human Rights Council. It would have been a rather unremarkably insignificant speech weren't it for these two excerpts:

Human rights exercised in the most extreme manner may come at a high price, especially in unstable or deeply divided societies. It may even lead such societies to the brink of collapse. And in such situations, it is the most vulnerable in societies who suffer the most.

What in the world is the "most extreme manner" of human rights, anyways?! Wouldn't the most extreme form of human rights be that actually ALL people can enjoy the same level of respect, dignity and legal fairness, regardless whoever they are?! And how could that bring a society of collapse?!

It gets even better, when he said a couple of moments later:

Freedom of expression without responsibility, without respect for the rights of others, without respect for differences in faiths and beliefs, without recognising cultural diversity, can lead to division, and often, to conflict and hatred. Such is the prevailing situation of our world today. So we must all ask ourselves what we could and should do about it.

Yes, those are all valid points, wouldn't it be for the pot calling the kettle back.

Thailand could, for example, introduce an official language policy that promotes the cultural diversity of its ethnic minorities, instead of just emphasizing the similarities.

Or it could also investigate a protest of roughly 1,000 Buddhists against the construction of a mosque in the Northern province of Nan earlier this week, while everybody's claiming not be against it for religious reasons, but also showing concern about "noise pollution", "different [read: incompatible] life styles" and potential "unrest and violence" once the mosque is built.

Or what about all those times when Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha lashed out against the media for still being too critical again and again or otherwise be utterly cantankerous and highly sardonic towards members of the press (if the junta is not censoring it, of course)? And what about the things that the junta says in general?

You see, it is not "extreme" human rights or freedom of expression that is the problem here, it is the blatant disregard of it that brings societies to the brink. The "extreme" version is to have a population that is not afraid of prosecution or any invisible lines for whatever they are saying and where the responsibility lies with society as a whole and not few powerful ones dictating it.

But then again, what isn't too "extreme" for the Thai military junta?

Tongue-Thai’ed! - Tough week for Prayuth ends in another tirade

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 30, 2015 This is part XXIX of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It's been quite an eventful week in Thailand and a challenging one for the military government. Not only did it feel the need to assert its sovereignty after it was "wounded" by the critical remarks by Daniel R. Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, on Monday (we reported), but also by summoning "inviting" the US Chargé d'affaires W. Patrick Murphy to express its "disappointment" (we also reported on that).

This diplomatic spat with the United States also kept Thai junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha busy, who retaliated declaring that "Thai democracy will never die, because I’m a soldier with a democratic heart," and that it "It saddens me that the United States does not understand the reason why I had to intervene and does not understand the way we work."

Those who expected that things would calm down for the rest of the week were also disappointed, because that's when the military junta really just started to get going. Within 24 hours it summoned four former ministers from the cabinet of toppled former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (Surapong Tovichakchaikul, fmr Min. of Foreign Affairs; Nattawut Saikua, fmr Dep.-Min. of Agriculture; Chaturon Chaisaeng, fmr Min. of Education; and Pichai Naripthaphan, fmr Min. of Energy). This followed their public criticism of the military government, especially after the retroactive impeachment of Yingluck last Friday.

And then on Thursday, the junta ordered the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation to cancel an event scheduled for Friday. The German political NGO intended to present their annual report on the state of the media in Asia.

Given these developments, there was a lot of questions for the military government. So, at a press conference on Thursday, the media were asking General Prayuth about the summons - and this is what he had to say:

Unlike last year's summons, the orders given to the four politicians in recent days were not written into official documents or publicly announced on television.  Junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha explained today that formal notices are no longer necessary. "No need. The [junta] directly contacts and invites these people," Gen. Prayuth said (...). "I don't want it to become big news. When we invite them, we use telephones to call them for talks." (...)

When a reporter asked whether anyone who publicly comments on the political situation in Thailand will be summoned for "attitude readjustment," Gen. Prayuth shot back, "Is it the right thing to say those things? Is it appropriate to say them in this time? That's all. You keep making this a big issue with your questions."

"Thai Junta Renews Summons Orders to Quash Criticism", Khaosod English, January 29, 2015

And this is where Prayuth really got started...

When the reporter pressed Gen. Prayuth to answer, the junta chairman launched into an angry tirade.

"You will be summoned too, if you keep asking many questions like this," he said. "You ask unconstructive questions. I want to ask you, is it a right thing to do, challenging my full power? Even though I have such full power, these people still challenge it like this. If there's no martial law, what's going to happen? You all know the answer. Do you want it to happen?"

He continued, "I know that the media wants it to happen, so that they can sell news ... I am [the head of] the government. I have full power. Is it the right thing to challenge it like this? I have relaxed my power too much already these days."

Responding to a reporter who noted that the NCPO seems to be intensifying its crackdown on criticism, Gen. Prayuth shouted, "So what? So what? In the past, you said I was incompetent. Now that I am intensifying, you are angry. What the hell do you want me to do?"

Swiftly changing the topic, the junta chairman also scolded the media for publishing a photo of him inadvertently pointing his middle finger, which appeared in Post Today.

"I am not mad on power. You don't understand it. You keep picking on me," Gen. Prayuth said. "Yesterday, for instance. How can you photograph me like that? I was pointing my finger. You bastard. You chose to photograph me pointing my finger. This is what they call a lowly mind."

"Thai Junta Renews Summons Orders to Quash Criticism", Khaosod English, January 29, 2015

Just to give you a general idea how much of a tirade it was, just take a look at this video of the aforementioned press conference. As regular readers know, General Prayuth's relationship with the media is always a tense one with the former always being sardonic - but this here takes the cake!

Note: If anybody knows a better translation for the Thai swear word "ไอ้ห่า", please let me know!

Tongue-Thai'ed!: The 3 most ludicrous things said in Thailand this week

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 3, 2014 This is part XXV, XXVI and XXVII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It's been a while since this section has graced this blog and while the past couple of months were not lacking in ridiculousness both in verbal and non-verbal form (but mostly the former) thanks to Thailand's military junta's hostile takeover (like this most recent example by the Thai junta leader and PM himself), the circumstances and consequences of these many announcements were mostly no laughing matter, regardless of their ludicrousness. It takes some special effort to top the mind-boggling developments that are not coming directly from the Thai junta.

This past week, there were three such cases. In descending order of ludicrousness, here they are...

3. Safeguarding Thai cuisine - with a robot?!

A couple of years ago, we talked about the ugly side of Thailand's world-famous cuisine: food chauvinism. The general message by self-proclaimed guardians of Thai food is that nobody will ever be able to create genuine Thai dishes unless he or she has grown up with it in the motherland - so foreigners shouldn't even bother attempting to cook renowned and popular classics like green curry or Tom Yam Gung.

That doesn't stop Thai institutions from finding ways to monopolize what they think Thai cuisine is and also attempt to prosecute those eateries abroad that seemingly violate the mostly unwritten rules of Thai cooking. For one such self-proclaimed guardian, the culprits are pretty clear:

“There are many Thai restaurants all around the world that are not owned by Thai people,” said Supachai Lorlowhakarn*, an adviser to the National Innovation Agency, which is in charge of the Thai Delicious program. He added, almost apologetically, “They are owned by Vietnam or Myanmar, or maybe even Italian or French.”

"You Call This Thai Food? The Robotic Taster Will Be the Judge", New York Times, September 28, 2014

Even though there are some god-awful pseudo-Thai places out there, that opinion ignores some genuine Thai restaurants owned by actual Thais bringing Thai food to the masses worldwide, while trying to compensate for the fluctuating (but steadily improving) supply of more exotic ingredients.

Nevertheless, they are still going ahead methodizing and standardizing Thai food. One such effort was been presented earlier this week in the New York Times:

A boxy contraption filled with sensors and microchips, the so-called e-delicious machine scans food samples to produce a chemical signature, which it measures against a standard deemed to be the authentic version. (...)

The [National Innovation Agency] has spent around one-third of its budgeted 30 million baht, around $1 million, on Thai Delicious, including around $100,000 to develop the e-delicious machine, according to Sura-at Supachatturat, a manager at the agency. (...)

The machine evaluates food by measuring its conductivity at different voltages. Readings from 10 sensors are combined to produce the chemical signature.

"You Call This Thai Food? The Robotic Taster Will Be the Judge", New York Times, September 28, 2014

The project was launched in July 2013 after then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (and presumably many other officials) were dissatisfied with the Thai food options abroad. But the problem with the very notion of this device is the mindset of Thai authorities that Thai cuisine - and by extension Thai culture - needs to be "protected" from foreigners "diluting" the dishes, while many are (deliberately?) oblivious that the origins of Thai cuisine aren't without foreign influence either (namely chili being introduced by Portuguese missionaries).

*By the way, if the name Supachai Lorlowhakarn sounds familiar to some of you: he was director of the National Innovation Agency and convicted of plagiarizing his PhD dissertation after a long legal battle against the original author and a foreign investigative journalist. So, looks like he's still attached to the NIA...

2. Le Tour de France in Thailand?!?!

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has knocked out this unbelievable press release - unbelievable as in: I literally do not believe this!

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is in talks with Paris-based Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) for the possibility of staging the world’s biggest cycling race, the Tour de France, in Thailand in 2015, the year when the entire Southeast Asian region will integrate under the ASEAN Economic Community framework. (...)

[TAT Governor Mr. Thawatchai Arunyik] added, “By playing host to a world famous cycling race as the Tour de France, we are saying that Thailand is ready to host any international sporting events of all types and sizes. (...)”

"Tour de France to be held in Thailand next year", TAT press release, October 2, 2014

It seems to be a bit of a forgone conclusion by TAT that the Tour de France will certainly come to Thailand. While the prestigious annual cycling race had stages outside of France (namely the starting locations) all across mostly central Europe, it sounds very unlikely that the organizers are willing to lift the entire race to a different continent. What could be possible though is that the TAT (which operates under the Ministry of Tourism and Sport) might have asked the Tour de France-organizers ASO for help to hold a high-profile cycle race in Thailand - which still doesn't explain the deliberate overstatement by the TAT itself - without any apparent signed deal - apart from creating buzz at all costs, risking widespread ridicule.

This wouldn't be the first attempt by Thai authorities in recent years to bring in a world-class sporting event to Thailand. After a disastrous FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2012 when Bangkok authorities failed to build an arena on time and strong efforts to host a Formula 1 race in the Thai capital were ultimately killed off after the proposed inner-city circuit failed to get official approval, confidence in Thailand's ability to host an international sporting event is reserved to say the least - and it certainly doesn't help when the Thai authorities are already foolishly setting it in stone already.

UPDATE: As expected and reported by The Guardian, the ASO has dismissed the TAT's claim noting that "something was lost in translation" and indeed (as predicted) were in talks about merely organizing a one-day cycling race in Thailand.

1. Safety for tourists - with ID-tags?!?!?!

And today's "winner" is the Thai junta's Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. After the recent murder of two British tourists two weeks ago and following messy police investigation that resulted in the rather suspicious arrest of two Burmese men, the minister's idea to increase tourist security was this...

Under the new plan, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said hotels would hand out wristbands to tourists on check-in that would show a “serial number that matches their I.D. and shows the contact details of the resort they are staying in”. It was not immediately clear whether tourists would be obliged to wear the wristbands. (...)

Minister Kobkarn added Tuesday: “The next step would be some sort of electronic tracking device but this has not yet been discussed in detail.”

"Thailand considers ID wristbands for tourists", Asian Correspondent, September 30, 2014

This just defies any explanation and almost rivals the recent comments of her boss in sheer outlandishness...

Tongue-Thai’ed!: Whistle blown on Abhisit's spurious pleas for reform

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 9, 2014 This is part XXIV of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

Ever since deciding not to compete in the upcoming snap-elections on February 2 after a lot of meandering, the implosion of the opposition Democrat Party has left Thailand's political party in a bit of an existential downward spiral as it tries to echo the anti-election protesters' mantra of "reform before elections", while still grasp at the last bits of political relevancy the party has. In an effort to maintain that, the Democrat Party has launched its non-election campaign to discourage convince people to follow their boycott.

Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva held a speech at a party event called "Eradicate Corruption, Committed In Reforms" in Bangkok on Tuesday, when this happened:

Here's a description of what happened:

[...] an unidentified man stood up in the audience and blew his whistle. The audience mistook him as a supporter of Mr. Abhisit, since whistle-blowing has been a trademark of the anti-government protesters, and no one restrained him until he held up a sign which read - in English - "Respect My Vote!".

The heckler then shouted at Mr. Abhisit, "If you cannot even reform yourself, how can you reform the country?". Mr. Abhisit was visibly surprised by the incident, but the former leader tried to manage the confrontation by thanking the man for his remarks.

However, the heckler went on to shout, "When you were the government, why didn't you do it? Stop the discourse about anti-corruption. You have intimidated other people, so can they not intimidate you as well?".

"Heckler Tells Abhisit To 'Respect My Vote'", Khaosod English, January 7, 2014

The heckler was later identified to be a 34-year-old Bangkok businessman referred under his Facebook handle "Ake Auttagorn" who told Prachatai that he staged the one-man protest "out of frustration" at the political discourse now and that "Thailand already had this lesson many times before" with the Democrat Party "always at the center of it".

And this is how Abhisit reacted to the heckler...

"This is an example of reasons why we need reforms," Mr. Abhisit told the audience, "This is the form of Democrat Party′s rivals", to which the heckler shot back, "I am not your rival, I am the people!"

Security guards later surrounded the man and led him out of the room. After the heckler has been removed, Mr. Abhisit told the crowd that such harassment is a reason why the upcoming election on 2 February 2014 would not be a fair one.

"Heckler Tells Abhisit To 'Respect My Vote'", Khaosod English, January 7, 2014

While he at least didn't snap back at the heckler (and could have said something like, you know, "stupid bitch"), Abhisit failed to ackowledge that the need for reform is not because of a heckler disrupting him, but rather because of an uncompromising deliberate escalation by the political opposition and the anti-election protesters originating from a long-held contempt for electoral democracy, those who vote for their political rivals and the failure of the opposition to effectively present itself as a viable political alternative. The Democrat Party has chosen to be part of the problem rather than being part of the solution, no matter how loud the whistle is being blown on them.

Tongue-Thai’ed!: Chalerm's back in charge, his successor disagrees!

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 22, 2013 This is part XXIV of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

The latter half of 2013 was not very kind to veteran Thai politician Chalerm Yubamrung. (In)famous for his hotheaded, downright incendiary outspokenness, the MP of the ruling Pheu Thai Party was forced into an unexpected career change in the summer during a cabinet reshuffle which saw him being transferred to labor minister. It was a shock for the then-deputy prime minister overseeing national security issues, given that his job fixing the ongoing insurgency in the southern Thai provinces was far from being done, even though he managed to visit the region only once, but at least managed to set up a snazzy-sounding command center to take care of it - in Bangkok!

Chalerm did not take that sudden ministerial move very well, as he railed on everyone he thought caused his downfall, even turning on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (we reported) and calling her aides the "ice-cream gang" (a thinly veiled euphemism for brown-nosers). This bitterness even dragged onto his first day at his new job when he spent "more than an hour complaining about his transfer" in front the media and his new colleagues, who were surely eager to work with him after that outburst.

So one can understand why he wants his old job back and with the anti-government protests in the capital growing after the government's amnesty-bill-fiasco earlier this month and leading up to the impending verdict at the Constitutional Court earlier this week, Chalerm hoped even more than ever that he'd be called back to his old job - and lo and behold…

Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung said Tuesday that he has been assigned by the prime minister to monitor the anti-government protests by various groups. Chalerm said the situation control room of the protests has been set up at the Labour Ministry. The situation monitoring officials will hold a meeting at 10 am everyday, Chalerm said.

"Chalerm assigned to head protest monitoring", The Nation, November 19, 2013

This came at a surprise for most people, especially since his successor, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok, was already put in charge to deal with the protesters and also the lack of an official announcement from somebody other than Chalerm himself. But Chalerm had an answer for that as well:

"วอร์รูมเพิ่งตั้งเมื่อวาน เขาเพิ่งบอก 24 ชั่วโมง ผมไม่ได้อาสาทำ ผมจะไปอาสาได้ยังไง ผมเป็นจับกัง 1 และท่านนายกฯก็ไม่ได้มาเชิญด้วย แต่เป็นการสั่งทางวาจาไม่ได้มีหนังสือมอบหมาย แต่ทั้งนี้ก่อนที่ผมจะมารับงานผมกราบเรียนนายกฯยิ่งลักษณ์แล้วว่า ท่านต้องบอกท่านประชา ผมเจอท่านประชาแล้ว ท่านบอกว่าไม่เป็นไรน้อง เราช่วยกันดู (…)" ร.ต.อ.เฉลิมกล่าว

"The war room has just been set up yesterday. She [PM Yingluck] just told me 24 hours ago. I didn't volunteer, how am I supposed to? I'm still labor minister and the prime minister didn't send an invite but gave me a verbal order, not a written one. But before I took on this job I told Prime Minister Yingluck that she should tell Mr. Pracha. I already met him and he said 'no problem, we help each other, (...)'" said Chalerm.

""เฉลิม"ผงาดคุมวอร์รูมม็อบ สั่งตั้งด่านบ้าน"สุเทพ"-เข้มรถจากใต้เข้า กทม.", Matichon Online, November 19, 2013

With that sorted, he went on to business right away and immediately took aim at his predecessor (in every sense of the word) Suthep Thuagsuban of the Democrat Party, who is leading the anti-government protests:

"(...) เมื่อคืนที่ผ่านมา ตำรวจก็ค้นขบวนรถของนายสุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ 4 คัน คุณจะชุมนุมมีสิทธิ แต่คุณเดินทางเป็นขบวนแล้วพบว่ามีอาวุธปืน แต่ไม่ใช่อาวุธสงคราม ตนบอกตำรวจแล้ว (…) ซึ่งตนบอกไปว่ารอบบ้านของนายสุเทพให้ค้นหมด และให้มีด่านตรวจทั้งหมด รถใครมาตรวจหมด ส่วนรถที่ขึ้นมาจากภาคใต้ถ้ามีจังหวะก็ให้ค้นทุกคัน" ร.ต.อ.เฉลิมกล่าว

"(...) last night, the police spotted Suthep Thuagsuban's four-car convoy. You have the right to rally, but if you're going with a convoy to it, you're carrying weapons - but not war weapons. (...) So I told [the police] they should round up at Suthep's house to search everything, every arriving car and every car coming from the southern provinces [where Suthep originates]," Chalerm said.

""เฉลิม"ผงาดคุมวอร์รูมม็อบ สั่งตั้งด่านบ้าน"สุเทพ"-เข้มรถจากใต้เข้า กทม.", Matichon Online, November 19, 2013

However, before Chalerm really went to work with that plan there was one small problem...

Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok was forced today in Parliament to clarify that former Deputy PM Chalerm Yoobamrung was not in charge of the governmental body that monitors the ongoing anti-government protests as claimed by Mr. Chalerm. (…)

Mr. Chalerm′s threats have apparently alarmed Democrat MP Wachara Petchthong, who demanded during the parliamentary session that Pol.Gen. Pracha explain the authorities of Mr. Chalerm.

Replying to Mr. Wachara′s question, Deputy MP Pracha clarified that Mr. Chalerm was not tasked by the government to head any operation concerning the protests. "The government has delegated the responsibility to me only," Pol.Gen. Pracha said, "Mr. Chalerm was only involved by occasionally giving advice".

"Chalerm Not In Charge Of Protests Monitor: PM Deputy", Khaosod English, November 21, 2013

Oops, looks like we have overlapping duties here. In any case, the fact alone that Chalerm apparently single-handedly gave himself a promotion is yet another proof that you might shoo him away to a undesired position, but he will always find a way back to the center of attention. Or all he needs is some little ice-cream to calm down.

Tongue-Thai’ed!: Democrats' Surin and Godwin's law, again!

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 8, 2013 This is part XXIII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

With the anti-amnesty bill protests in full swing all week long in the capital Bangkok, the opposition Democrat Party have stepped up their game apparently also their rhetorics - but not necessarily to new heights.

Nearly all senior party members have come out to rile up the crowd led by former deputy prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban, a regular on this section. But today's “Tongue-Thai’ed!” comes from somebody else in the Democrat Party: Surin Pitsuwan is a seasoned politician with a lot of experience, especially in foreign affairs. No wonder, he was deputy foreign minister and just until recently secretary-general of ASEAN, as he came back from Jakarta to Bangkok back into the fold of his party earlier this year. Since then, he was mostly in the background but now also took to the stage of the rally at Thammasat University to show his opposition to the flawed broad amnesty bill.

Apart from saying the usual á la "Thais should stand up and reclaim their honor" and being more concrete along the lines of "This government is unacceptable for the ASEAN stage". However, there was another one that stood out while referring to an article by the Council of Foreign Relations that says the ruling Pheu Thai Party is "operating like an elected dictatorship". Here's what Noch Hautavanija (the assistant to the recently resigned party deputy Korn Chatikavanij) tweeted:

Translation: "Hitler also came [to power] through elections and it was a dictatorship" Mr. Surin

Here we go again! After Suthep and former foreign minister Kasit, we have yet another senior figure of the Democrat Party invoking Godwin's Law when talking about the government of Thaksin Shinawatra and its associated successors and unfortunately it seems to be one of the more level-headed figures in the party. Seriously, is it now a requirement in the party to draw a Hitler comparison whenever speaking about the political rivals?

For the last time, here's why the argument the Hitler-came-to-power-through-elections-so-democracy-is-bad is just wrong:

Hitler never had more than 37 percent of the popular vote in the honest elections that occurred before he became Chancellor. (…) Unfortunately, its otherwise sound constitution contained a few fatal flaws. The German leaders also had a weak devotion to democracy, and some were actively plotting to overthrow it. Hitler furthermore enjoyed an almost unbroken string of luck in coming to power. He benefited greatly from the Great Depression, the half-senility of the president, the incompetence of his opposition, and the appearance of an unnecessary back room deal just as the Nazis were starting to lose popular appeal and votes. (source)

Sounds familiar? You can criticize the current (and the past Thaksin governments) for being arrogant (especially with the current push on the blanket amnesty bill), or even politically overbearing - but to compare it to one of the darkest periods in German history and also being factually wrong at that is not only unworthy of the name the party is bearing, but also of the international standing Surin has.

Tongue-Thai’ed!: Democrat poster boy Abhisit loses his manners

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 10, 2013 This is part XXII of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

Former Thai prime minister and leader of the opposition Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva was and still is by some regarded as a well-mannered politician who would never lose his temper or resort to the use of direct derogatory language towards political opponents or critics. We wouldn't expect anything less with his oft-mentioned Oxford-educated (English language) eloquence and general high-brow public image.

Abhisit Vejjajiva

However, with the increasing frustration of being in the opposition against a government that is seemingly unbeatable at the polls, the Democrat Party recently started to imitate the governing Pheu Thai Party's political rallies and has taken to the streets to get their message across and mobilize their supporters. Freed from the restraints of parliamentary debates and press conferences, party members can unabashedly slam the government, its policies and everything else related to it.

At one such event in Bangkok on Saturday, Abhisit took the stage and among many other points in his speech, he criticized Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's regular absence in parliament and regular foreign trips, and her failure to tackle the problems back home while launching trivial projects like the upcoming reality TV show "Smart Lady Thailand" to advertise the Thai Women Empowerment Fund.

And here is when things went downhill for Abhisit:

นายกรัฐมนตรีก็หลบเลี่ยงปัญหาเหล่านี้ ผมก็ดูไม่ออกครับว่าที่อยู่ในประเทศมา 1 อาทิตย์ที่ผ่านมา ไปทำอะไรบ้าง เมื่อเช้าเห็นแว้บๆ มีข่าวไปทำอะไร โครงการอะไร Smart Lady แปลว่าอะไร ผมก็ไม่ค่อยเข้าใจทั้งหมดหรอกครับ เหมือนกับว่าจะประกวดใช่มั้ย หา Smart Lady แปลว่าอะไร Smart lady นี่ผมถามอภิมงคลแล้ว แปลว่าผู้หญิงฉลาด แต่นี่ผมก็ถามว่า อ้าว แล้วถ้าทำโครงการนี้เนี่ย ทำไมต้องทำ ทำไมต้องหาผู้หญิงฉลาด ทำไมต้องประกวดผู้หญิงฉลาด เพราะว่าเขาบอกว่า ถ้าแข่งขันหาอีโง่ ไม่มีใครไปแข่งได้ 

The Prime Minister is dodging these problems. I don't know what she was up to in the past week in the country. This morning I spotted what project she was doing - "Smart Lady". What does that mean? I didn't fully get that. It's like a competition, right? What does it mean to find a "Smart Lady"? So I asked Apimongkol [Sonakul, Democrat MP] and he said it means 'smart lady'. But I ask why do they do this project, why do they have to find a smart lady, why do they make a competition out of this? Because if they are looking for a stupid bitch, there would be no competition!

"คำต่อคำ นายอภิสิทธิ์ หน.ปชป.ในการปราศรัยเวทีประชาชน เดินหน้าผ่าความจริง วัดดอกไม้ ยานนาวา", Democrat Party Thailand, September 7, 2013 - translation by me

Now, อีโง่ (pronounced "ee-ngo") is not very easy to directly translate into English. However, the prefix อี ("ee") is only used to address somebody in a very rude manner - think of it like "that ..." in a very condescending tone. Since โง่ ("ngo") means 'stupid' or 'the stupid one' and Abhisit was talking about the female prime minister, it is safe to assume that not only he made a derogatory remark about her intelligence, but also specifically about her gender.

(READ MORE: What was Abhisit thinking when he made his stupid “bitch” remark?)

Unsurprisingly, a lot of negative reactions followed these remarks from Pheu Thai Party members and government personnel. Also unsurprising was the repeated silence of the country's prominent feminists, as previously seen here and here - despite the fact that prime minister at times faces nasty sexist remarks. Meanwhile, Yingluck herself is currently (somehow ironically yet again) on a foreign trip to Europe.

On Monday, Abhisit was seemingly unfazed by the controversial gaffe he created:

Mr. Abhisit did not apologise for his now-notorious remark when reporters questioned him at the Democrat Party headquarters earlier today. He claimed that he did not refer to Ms. Yingluck specifically when he said those words on the stage. "I was merely following what I saw on Google," Mr. Abhisit insisted (typing "stupid bitch" in Thai on Google search would bring up images of Ms. Yingluck). [and there's also a dedicated Facebook page for it]

"I don't know which newspaper has reported the news in such negative manner," Mr. Abhisit told the reporters, "I suppose it's the same old one that likes to distort [my words]. And if it's Khaosod, I would not know what to say about it because that newspaper is beyond any remedy". Asked by a reporter what he has to say to the people who are offended by his remark, the visibly irritated Mr. Abhisit shot back: "Offended about what?"

"Abhisit Unapologetic For 'Stupid Bitch' Remark", Khao Sod English, September 6, 2013 

The media is definitely now reporting on it, as seen by the Bangkok Post and The Nation - both having considerably softened the translation to "stupid woman".

A colloquial and at times rowdy beer tent-esque atmosphere is to be expected at such political rallies from all parties. However, with harsh rhetoric provoking vulgar crowd reactions (again, something other parties are not discouraging either) and erratic displays of antics in parliament - just last week a Democrat MP was throwing chairs - the Democrat Party are increasingly descending into gutter politics and will stop at nothing to damage the government, even at the cost of any political progress.

Some of his supporters would welcome that Abhisit Vejjajiva is 'finally' not pulling any more punches (as in the past that was left to e.g. his former deputy Suthep as extensively documented here, here and here), but while it is one thing to appear folksy and aggressive, it is an entirely another unacceptable thing to resort a misogynistic remark. There's no doubt that Abhisit Vejjajiva is no more Mr. Nice Guy.

Tongue-Thai'ed!: Has Thailand's self-proclaimed chief censor crossed the LINE?

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 14, 2013 This is part XXI of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, in which we encapsulate 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.

Thailand has a long line of officers, politicians and other authority figures who think they have more authority than their job entitles them and they're not afraid to show it.

For those of you who missed it, last weekend saw the emergence of Police Maj.-Gen. Pisit Pao-in as the new brash, self-proclaimed chief censor of Thailand. The director of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) chief crashed on the scene in the last couple of days after he instructed the summoning of four people for posting coup rumors on Facebook, one of them a red shirt and the other a political editor for ThaiPBS.

The Nation had an exclusive interview with Pisit Pao-in  on this matter and he explains his true 'rationale' for this action, which speaks for itself...

Q : Are asking if clicking “like” is now against the law. [sic!]

A : It will be if you ‘like’ a message deemed damaging to national security. If you press ‘like’, it means you are accepting that message, which is tantamount to supporting it. By doing so, you help increase the credibility of the message and hence you should also be held responsible. (…)

A : The TCSD action is just meant to have a psychological impact.We don’t want these four persons to be jailed. We just questioned them and it’s okay for them to say they didn’t mean to create panic. After this action, people are now more careful [about their Facebook messages]. I am mainly aiming at social peace. (…)

‘Liking’ political rumours is a crime“, by Pakorn Puengnetr, The Nation, August 11, 2013

Just to reiterate, he admits using scare tactics to curb political rumor-mongering online and at the same time seeks to criminalize Facebook 'likes', since he apparently believes in guilt by association.

On Tuesday, it emerged that Pisit has set his sights on another medium that seems to be just spewing with harmful contents...!

Thai police asked the operator of the popular ‘‘Line’’ instant messaging app for access to records of online chats, raising concerns about intrusive surveillance despite promising only suspected criminals would be targeted.

Technology Crime Suppression division chief Pisit Paoin said Tuesday that police want to review the data of users they suspect are involved in crimes, including making statements against the Thai monarchy, arms trading, prostitution and drug dealing.

"Thai police seek to monitor chat app for crimes", by Thanyarat Doksone, Associated Press, August 13, 2013

The Nation put out another story (likely done during the same interview from last week) again showing his line of thinking and also crying foul against foreign companies...

"We have been talking to them [the operators of social media] a lot, but they do not want to cooperate. When they want anything, they expect to get it, but when we ask them for something, they rarely help us. They have taken a lot from Thailand but refused to cooperate with Thailand. I won't let them go if they make any mistakes," he warned. (...)

"We are not violating anybody's rights, as the checking is being done overseas. So you can't really attack me for this," he said. (...)

"If I want, I can investigate all the information on smart phones. We can investigate all the crimes done via computer systems."

"Police seek to check Line posts", by Pakorn Puengnetr, Asina Pornwasin & Chanikarn Phumhiran, The Nation, August 13, 2013

Those evil foreign social media companies refusing to openly disclose user information and their private chats - that are probably full of stickers anyways - to the Thai police without a warrant or any other legal mandate, even they have been requested to do so! However, the Korean-Japanese company behind the LINE application have repeatedly stated on Tuesday that they have never been officially contacted by the Thai police before.

On Wednesday - amidst a flood of bemusement and ridicule of Thai social media users - he clarified his plans to monitor the estimated 15m LINE subscribers...

According to the commander, the plan to keep tabs on messaging app users will not violate people's right to privacy, because the TCSD has software to monitor messages with words that pose threats to national security, such as coup, monarchy, lese majeste, drugs, counterfeit goods and prostitution.

The plan is intended to safeguard political, social and national stability, maintain peace and order in the country, and protect the morality of Thai people, he said.

"Police to keep tabs on Line users", Bangkok Post, August 14, 2013

As usual, no real explanation is given on what actually constitutes a "threat to national security". The only thing that is transparent here is Pisit's total disregard for freedom of expression without fear of restraint, seeing it as an obstacle to his work.

Tongue-Thai'ed! Part XX: Of protester 'garbage', ancient kings and deputy PMs

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 12, 2013 This is part XX of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, in which we encapsulate 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.

Chiang Mai will host the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit this week. Leaders from 50 different countries and countless of other participants from academia, the public and private sector are expected to come to discuss anything related with water management from irrigation to security - and one Thai deputy prime minister has shot off his mouth again, but not the one you might be thinking about!

Thailand of course has had a lot of experiences in recent years with the liquid element, in particular with the 2011 flood crisis as unprecedented amounts of rain and the inadequate responses by the Kingdom's dams have caused widespread floods across the country, killing hundreds of people.

The national government relief efforts were hampered by constant squabbles with the local Bangkok Metropolitan Authority. However, it was then science minister and overseer of the flood relief efforts Plodprasop Suraswadi who cemented the government's image of a bumbling mess when he jumped the gun before anybody else and ordered on national TV a premature evacuation order for a local Bangkok district - only for it to be called off later by somebody else.

Since then, Plodprasob lost his place at the Science and Technology Ministry and has been appointed deputy prime minister (one of six) overseeing water management and also in charge of a THB 350bn (US $11.8bn) budget for flood prevention projects.

Now Plodprasob is heading this week's water conference and is hellbent to not only show Thailand's commitment to water management and flood protection, but also to show the city of Chiang Mai as a splendid conference venue. And everything seemed to go well, if it weren't for those pesky environmental and water preservation activists that have announced to protest at the Water Summit...

สำหรับกรณีที่อาจจะกลุ่มมวลชนที่ทำงานด้านทรัพยากรน้ำมาเคลื่อนไหวชุมนุมและแสดงความเห็นระหว่างการประชุมในครั้งนี้นั้น นายปลอดประสพ กล่าวว่า หากมีการชุมนุมประท้วงจะให้เจ้าหน้าที่ตำรวจทำการจับกุมดำเนินคดีทั้งหมด เพราะสถานที่จัดการประชุมในครั้งนี้ไม่ใช่สถานที่จัดการประท้วง ซึ่งขอเตือนผู้ที่จะชุมนุมประท้วงว่าอย่ามาเด็ดขาด จะสั่งจับให้หมด [...] จะมีก็แต่จัดคุกไว้ให้เท่านั้น และจะไม่มีการพูดคุยเจรจาใดๆ ทั้งสิ้น จับอย่างเดียว [...]

Concerning the potential protests by water conservationists' groups against the summit, Plodprasob said that in that case that the police should arrest them all, because this summit this not meant for protests. He urges protesters not to come at all, since they are going to be arrested [...] and detained right away without any warning [...]

“มาก็จับ ทำผิดกฎหมายก็จับ มันไม่ใช่ที่ที่จะมาประท้วง ฝากบอกไปด้วย มาประชุม [...] ไม่มีที่ไหนใครเขาไปทำร้ายใคร บรูไนเขามาพูดเรื่องบรูไน อิหร่านเขาก็มาพูดเรื่องอิหร่าน เกาหลีเขาก็มาพูดเรื่องเกาหลี คุณจะมาประท้วงอะไร อย่ามานะ ทำผิดกฎหมาย สั่งจับเลย และคนเชียงใหม่ก็ไม่ควรปล่อยให้พวกขยะเหล่านี้มาเกะกะ คุณเขียนอย่างผมพูดเลย กล้าเขียนหรือไม่” รองนายกรัฐมนตรี กล่าว

"When they come, they'll get arrested. When they break the law, they'll get arrested. Let them [the protesters] know, [...] nobody [coming to the summit] is coming to harm us - the Bruneians are gonna talk Bruneian issues, the Iranians about Iranian issues, the Koreans about Korean issues - what are you protesting against?! Don't come here! Break the law and you'll be arrested right away! And all the people of Chiang Mai should not allow this garbage to obstruct [us]. You can write it down like this - I dare you to!" said the deputy prime minister.

"‘ปลอดประสพ’ตรวจสถานที่ถกผู้นำด้านน้ำเอเซีย-แปซิฟิก ว๊ากห้ามม็อบป่วนเด็ดขาด : ข่าวสดออนไลน์", Khao Sod, May 12, 2013 - translation by me


Furthermore, the Prime Minister's Office Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan was quoted urging protesters not to, um, protest for the sake of putting "national reputations first because this summit is an academic meeting of global importance," echoing many countless past examples (e.g. Prayuth) that put 'national image' above any substantial discussion of various issues.

And the deputy prime minister Plodprasob is further going to uphold Thailand's image and promote the Kingdom's values and history to international delegates by - and I'm not making this up - by taking part in a large-scale stage performance playing the 13th century Lanna King Mangrai - and the 'best' part: he's going to be in full costume...!

According to media reports the play will the tell the story of King Mangrai's role saving the the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam from floods, whereas the historical King Mangrai simply moved the capital of the Lanna Kingdom to what nowadays is Chiang Mai. No word on if and how much money of the THB 350bn flood prevention budget has gone into this production.

Unsurprisingly, the (unflattering) sight of a government minister in charge of flood prevention playing an ancient king apparently known for his flood prevention efforts is just one single magnet for very obvious ridicule. Others criticize the potential historical misrepresentation and the role of the King being grossly miscast - to which the deputy minister also has a blunt answer...!

"ส่วนเอ็นจีโอกังวลการแสดงบิดเบือนข้อมูลนั้น คนที่พูดเรื่องนี้เป็นคนที่น่าเกลียดที่สุด ผมเล่นตามบทประพันธ์ ตามประวัติ ซึ่งทำเป็นลายลักษณ์อักษร จะไปบิดเบือนอะไร เขาไม่ได้นิสัยโกหกอย่างพวกคุณ [...] กรุณาอย่าถามผมเลย ผมรู้สึกรังเกียจที่จะรับฟังและตอบ" นายปลอดประสพ กล่าว

"To those NGOs that whine the play will twist historical facts, those are the most despicable! My role will be according to the play and based on history, what's there to twist?! They're not lying like those [the NGO activists]! [...] Please don't bother me with such questions, I feel annoyed to listen and answer to those," Plodprasob said.

"'ปลอด'ฉุน!อัดคนต้านเล่น'พญามังราย'", Khom Chad Luek, May 15, 2013

For somebody who is very concerned to put on a good show to the world, Plodprasob has certainly already made quite an impression before the summit week. In a normal world his antics would have led him to exit stage left - but since this is Thailand, it might take a few more chapters until the final curtain falls on him.