corruption

Thailand's NACC ruling: Why it happened and what it means

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 8, 2014 Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) will charge 308 lawmakers, most from interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party, for proposed amendments to the country's constitution adding more uncertainty over its candidates for the upcoming federal election on February 2.

The proposed changes would have changed the Senate into a fully-elected chamber with 200 members, whereas currently only 76 elected and 74 appointed senators make up the 150-strong upper House (Article 111 of the Constitution). The amendments would have also affected passages that bar direct relatives of MPs, political party members and recently retired MPs to run for Senate (Articles 115.5, 115.6 and 115.7, respectively) and would have done away the one-term limit of six years (Article 117). The draft passed both the House and the Senate in all three readings.

In November, the Constitutional Court quashed the draft amendments and declared them unconstitutional, citing a violation of Article 68 of the Constitution stating that a fully-elected senate would “overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State,”  and insisting that all these changes would enable "a domination of power" by both chambers. Additionally, the Court noted irregularities (some Pheu Thai MPs were caught using their colleagues' voting ID cards) and discrepancies (the original draft is not the same that was later submitted to parliament, mainly regarding Article 117) in the parliamentary process.

However, the Court stopped short of dissolving the Pheu Thai Party. Instead, the opposition Democrat Party (whose MPs and like-minded appointed senators had originally brought this case to Constitutional Court) asked the NACC to investigate the 383 MPs and senators - including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the presidents of the House and the Senate - that have proposed and voted in favor of the amendments, seeking their impeachment.

The NACC announced on Tuesday that after a 7:2 decision it will press charges against 308 lawmakers - 293 of them have proposed and voted in favor in all three readings, while 15 did so in one of the readings. The key reason is this discrepancy:

"The NACC [at this point] based its decision on the Constitution Court's ruling which also covers the part about the falsified draft charter amendment, (...) Basically, the 308 MPs and senators were involved in proposing the draft, so they should be aware that the draft was fake and they should be responsible for their actions," [NACC member Vicha Mahakhun] said.

"NACC to charge 308 lawmakers", Bangkok Post, 8 January, 2014

They also decided to dismiss charges against 73 lawmakers, including interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, finding their part in the process to be "insufficient" and protected by Article 130 of the Constitution, which sets out an MPs' or senator's right "in giving statements of fact or opinions or in casting the vote by any member" to be "absolutely privileged".

65 of these lawmakers voted in favor in the third and final reading, while only eight did in the first and/or the second, but none of them actually proposed the amendments. Two other lawmakers have been dropped from the complaints.

Also, in a separate case, the NACC will charge Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont and his deputy, Senator Nikom Wiratpanij, for their roles in passing the proposed amendments, accusing both of abusing their power. Both men will hear their charges Friday.

The big questions now are what will happen next and what impact it could have for the upcoming elections on February 2, as many of the 308 lawmakers are running for office? As of now, the legislators are asked to testify to the NACC in the next two weeks and can remain in their positions until then. The NACC will then decide on their cases and whether or not the MPs and senators will face impeachment. In that case, Article 272 of Constitution applies here, which states that if the NACC finds "that the accusation has a prima facie case (evident to be true until proven otherwise)," the accused should "not perform his or her duties until the Senate has passed its resolution".

Amidst the ongoing anti-government and anti-election street protests (with protesters set to up the ante again on January 13 with a city-wide "shutdown" in the capital Bangkok) aimed at suspending electoral democracy indefinitely in favor of an appointed "People's Assembly", fears of a coup of some sort have increased. Comments by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha on a military coup (“Don’t be afraid of things that haven’t yet happened ... But if they happen, don’t be frightened. There are [coup] rumours like this every year.”) have done very little to calm things down.

A "judicial coup" has become a little more likely with the NACC's decision to press charges against hundreds of lawmakers from Pheu Thai,  Thailand's most electorally successful political party, and their fate will be decided in two weeks - just days before election day on February 2.

Siam Voices 2013 Review - Part 1: Blowing the final whistle on Thailand's political calm

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 27, 2013 Welcome to the Siam Voices 2013 year in review series, where we look back at the most important and interesting headlines, issues and stories that happened in Thailand this past year. Today we start with the political 2013, which looked very different when it started compared to the chaos on the street we have now - and it is far from being over.

NOTE: This was written before Thursday's escalation of violence that killed a police officer. Furthermore, the Election Commission is openly calling to indefinitely postpone the February 2 snap-elections, which was rejected by the caretaker government.

For a while, it looked like the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was seemingly unshaken by almost everything this year. Neither the increasingly erratic and rabid opposition in and outside parliament nor the problems of their own policies threatened the relative stability of this rule - almost.

The government launched or continued a series of populist policies that were well-intended but not perfect. The rice-pledging scheme did not lift international market prices as anticipated and Thailand lost its top exporter spot. Instead, the country sits on millions of tons of stockpiled rice it cannot get rid of - if so, only at a loss. Furthermore the scheme was tainted by alleged corruption and scaremongering over its safety.

Other incentives didn't bring in the desired effects either, such as tax rebates for first-car-buyers that proved to be a short-term success but backfired later with car owners defaulting on their purchases, or the raise of the daily minimum wage to 300 Baht (about $10) that benefitted a lot of employees but was met with resistance by their employers, especially small and middle enterprises. Also, the 2 trillion Baht borrowing scheme drew considerable criticism, despite the fact that an overhaul of the country's crumbling infrastructure is much-needed.

Politically, Yingluck herself faced a volley of criticism, for example about her constant absence in parliament or the back-and-forth fallout after her uncharacteristically sharp and committed Mongolia-speech in late April. Even the various anti-government (and utterly mislabeled) groups over the year - "Pitak Siam""Thai Spring", "V for Thailand", "PEFOT" etc. - were not able to do much, but in hindsight were a sign of things to come later that year.

Despite all this, Yingluck managed to maintain a tense, but relative calm in the Thai power struggle at least for the first half the year. Even the military didn't mind that much to have Yingluck taking up the defense minister portfolio in the last cabinet reshuffle.

Maybe that was the reason why her government and the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT) felt so confident that they thought it could ram a broad amnesty bill through both parliament and senate. Initially only meant to absolve political protesters from the rallies between 2006 and 2010 but not their leaders (and none convicted of lèse majesté either), a parliamentary committee dominated by PT MPs did an audacious bait-and-switch and re-wrote to expand those "accused of wrongdoing by an organisation set up after the coup of 2006" - which would have included former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's conviction in 2008 and paved him his return to Thailand after years of self-imposed exile.

Protesters' explosion and Democrat Party's implosion

The Pheu Thai Party absolutely underestimated the outrage the bill would spark. It managed to create an amnesty bill broad enough to upset nearly everybody, even their own red shirt supporter base, since it also would have covered those responsible for the violent crackdown of 2010. Thaksin, who undoubtedly still wields considerable influence from afar - has gambled away his ticket home and it'd take a long while until he or his party can try another attempt.

Despite the bill unanimously struck down in the senate and repeated pledges by the government not to resubmit it again, the controversy ignited the anti-amnesty protests which re-united the anti-Thaksin forces and brought them together as a motley crew of self-proclaimed "saviors" against corruption and for "true democracy". After the bill's demise, the movement unmasked itself as an all-out anti-government campaign led by veteran Democrat Party politician Suthep Thuagsuban. The Constitutional Court's rejection of the government's proposed charter amendments did change a little at that time already, as did the House dissolution and scheduling of snap-elections on February 2, 2014.

A lot has been already said here about the protesters and their intentions lately, but it still bears repeating: this drive is not a push against corruption and for true, sustainable political reforms, but an undemocratic power grab that keeps on escalating until there is a complete derailment of the democratic process and the resulting vacuum is replaced by a system (e.g. in form of the appointed "People's Council") that is aimed at disenfranchising a large portion of the electorate only in order to prevent Thaksin and his political influences taking hold in Thailand again, no matter how high the cost. The fact that somebody with such a chequered past like Suthep can now brand himself as the "people's champion" is a cruel punchline of the flexible moralities in Thai politics. Corruption and abuse of power in Thai politics existed before Thaksin and surely will not end with his often demanded "eradication" - somebody like Suthep should know it best.

This is the result of the opposition's pent-up frustration at the electoral invincibility of Thaksin-affiliated parties and the failure to adapt to the changing political and social landscape - especially in the North and Northeast, of which many of the protesters hold dangerously outdated views (e.g. "uneducated rural", "dictatorship of the majority", "vote-buying") of them. The steady demise of the opposition Democrat Party was illustrated by repeated antics in parliament and party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva calling Yingluck a "stupid bitch". After much meandering, the Democrat Party decided not to be part of the democratic solution but part of the anti-democratic problem by announcing to boycott the elections of February 2 and thus declaring political bankruptcy.

This year and especially the last two months have left us with an uncertain future for the state of the country's political stability; divisions are greater than ever before with compromise never further away as we inch ever closer to the brink of chaos. The elections will help little to ease the tensions, but alternatives are no better. The question is now: how do you fix democracy? Surely not by taking down the whole house and letting it be only rebuilt and inhabited by a selected few.

The Siam Voices 2013 year in review series continues tomorrow. Read all parts here: Part 1: Politics - Part 2: Lèse Majesté & the media - Part 3: The Rohingya - Part 4: Education and reform calls - Part 5: What else happened?

Thai Culture Minister slams SNL 'Rosetta Stone' sketch

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 5, 2013 About two weeks ago, the long-running US-American TV-show "Saturday Night Live" on NBC* had a skit lampooning the language-learning software Rosetta Stone (see embedded video below). In the parody commercial, some of the testimonials claim to use the software to learn Thai, order "to go to Thailand - for a thing...!" Of course, given that these are sketchy-looking white male - that 'thing' could mean only one thing: these men are learning (surprisingly accurate) Thai phrases to engage with prostitutes - including the groan-inducing ping-pong reference.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZCXy8XIIfk

Now, since the show is hardly shown anywhere but the United States and the 'meh'-sketch of course is tailored to an American audience by a comedy show that had its best days - you would think that this would go away very quickly, right? Not really: a bootleg was put on YouTube for the whole world to see until it eventually made its way to Thailand. And that's how the story kicked off.

While this doesn't qualify as 'viral' (that video only had slightly more than 120,000 views), the sketch sparked outrage and heated debate online among Thais. Most of the comments cannot be reproduced here, but you can read some of them (mostly in Thai) here. This story was quickly picked up by local mainstream media outlets like Channel 3, ThaiPBS and Thai Rath. While it is understandable that some Thais would take offense, some of the reactions were perhaps over the top.

And then the Thai Culture Minister chimed in...

Culture Minister Sonthaya Khunploem** said on Monday that the Culture Watch Centre is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an effort to have the video removed from the world's most popular video sharing website.

The government will also inform the United States embassy that the commercial spoof is tarnishing Thailand's image and will ask the embassy to explain the situation to the producer of Saturday Night Live, Mr Sonthaya said.

"Government to demand takedown of sex-trade spoof", Bangkok Post, February 4, 2013

Yes, the self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything “Thai”-ness that we like to call the "ThaiMiniCult" are back and they inadvertently caused the Streisand effect to take place. While the YouTube video was removed, most likely because it too many people flagged it as spam (and not as Thai officials would like to think that YouTube has granted their request), more copies have popped up elsewhere, including the one embedded above.

And by moaning complaining to the US Embassy, it reveals the misguided conception by Thai officials that foreign officials can wield the same influence in their country as they do (or like to think they still can) here in Thailand, as the recent controversy over a cancelled soap opera and rumors about political interference has shown.

In general, Thailand tends to be very sensitive by negative perceptions of the country, especially if there are being pointed out by foreigners: Last summer upon her arrival in Bangkok, pop artist Lady Gaga tweeted her desire to buy a fake Rolex watch. The comment sparked outrage that climaxed with the Commerce Minister's official complaint at the US Embassy.

It is understandable that Thailand wants to protect its image, given the value of its booming tourism industry. However, there is no real attempt to address real and serious issues like the sex industry and in general, many inconvenient truths are being swept under the carpet for the sake of the Kingdom's image. It is an image (whether it is accurate or real is the topic for another debate) that Thais are strongly defending - while at the same time much of Thai entertainment promotes stereotypes about its neighboring countries and even about their own people - why else are people from the rural Northeast still being called 'water buffaloes'?

May be Thais can counter the SNL sketch. Global Post's Patrick Winn has a good suggestion:

So here's an idea for any Thais intent on a rebuttal. Film a Rosetta Stone parody of misfit Thais learning English. Why English? So they can fly to America and purchase assault rifles.

"Thai government aghast at SNL's "Rosetta Stone" sketch", by Patrick Winn, GlobalPost.com, February 4, 2013

*What a shame that the comedy series "30 Rock" has wrapped up its run - would have loved to see how they would have handled it!

**By the way: The current culture minister Sonthaya took the post not too long ago after his five-year ban from politics ended, during which time his wife kept this seat warm for him. Also, his father is currently in some serious trouble...!

Thailand: What we missed in August 2012

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 27, 2012 In a new section on Siam Voices, we look back at some news stories that made the headlines in Thailand this month.

Thailand's Olympic medal winners: Sporting hurt pride

Earlier this month, the 30th Olympic Summer Games took place in London. As usual, Thailand's Olympic ambitions included the expectation of some medals, having won seven gold, four silver and 10 bronze medals at previous games in the weightlifting, boxing and taekwondo competitions. That was not the exception this time around again, as silver medal winners Pimsiri SirikaewKaeo Pongprayoon and bronze medalist Chanatip Sonkham won medals at exactly these sports respectively.

However, it wasn't all smiles and joy: especially in the case of light flyweight boxer Kaeo Pongprayoon, many Thais took offense to his loss in a controversial final against China's Zou Shiming due to some questionable officiating and actions by Zou. Predictably the Thai fans couldn't shake off the feeling that 'they' got robbed and some of them predictably took their anger online, partly in very poor taste. An example of nationalism-fueled rage was to be seen on the Facebook page of the International Boxing Association, whose picture of a celebrating Zou Shiming got over 65,000 comments, most of them negative and still counting two weeks after the end of the games.

And generally, despite the fact that Thailand did quite well compared to its neighbors, these games were a disappointment for the officials, who hoped for two gold medals as a target (that's nothing compared to the secret German medals target that was missed by lightyears) and now have to think about how to improve the support for athletes, both olympic and paralympic, whose summer games are starting later this week.

Pheu Thai's rice scheme: The Price is Right?

It bears many names: pledging scheme, mortgage scheme, fixed pricing scheme - but they all mean the same rice policy of the Yingluck government that has been one of the essential cornerstones of Pheu Thai Party's campaign before the election and of the current administration since last October. In a nutshell, the government buys rice at 15,000 Baht (about $480) per ton - that is 50 per cent more than the market price. What was primarily aimed to help the around 8 million rice farmers in the country was met with criticism and concerns that it will either lead to a global price hike, a loss of Thailand's status as the world's top exporter of rice or both.

Almost a year after its introduction, the criticism has increased in recent months, as export numbers are declining and projections that Thailand will lose its number one position in global exports. And so the critical analysis pieces go on, and on, and on, and on - but the consensus was the same: the government's rice policy causes private rice millers and exporters to suffer and the governments sits on a huge pile of rice that they can't get rid off in bi-lateral deals, as it is about to spoil. Nevertheless, the government will continue it. More details can be read over here at Bangkok Pundit's post.

Policemen found guilty of extrajudicial killing - and released on bail!

In early August the Criminal Court in Bangkok found five police officers guilty of the murder of a 17-year old man. The teenager was arrested by these policemen in 2004 in the southern province of Kalasin for allegedly stealing a motorcycle. That was during the time of the "War on Drugs", a heavily-propagated campaign by the Thaksin administration that targeted drug dealers and traffickers, but also ensured security officials to use a heavy-handed and violent approach, in which, according to rights groups, over 2,500 people were killed - many of them extrajudicially - and over 1,600 died in prison or custody, about 131 of them as a result of police brutality. The 17-year-old was one of them, as he was detained for over a week and later found dead in another province.

Three police officers have been sentenced to death for premeditated murder and hiding the young man's body, one to life imprisonment for premeditated murder and the Police Colonel was sentenced to seven years in jail for abusing his power to cover up the murder. However, despite the convictions, these men are walking free on bail pending appeal. Understandably, the key witnesses are concerned over their safety, since their witness protection program ironically ended with the court verdict. Calls for new witness protection have been so far unanswered.

Thaksin's US travels spark anti-American tantrum

Yeah, Thaksin is still traveling freely around the world, even more so since many countries have re-granted him entry. The United States was the latest to do so and that issue alone has stirred up some diatribes from his enemies, most of all the self-proclaimed Thaksin hunter, diplomatic wrecking-ball and former foreign minister Kasit, who immediately called to severe ties with the US, should they not extradite him to Thailand. If only when he and his cabinet issued an extradition request for Thaksin when they were in government - but they didn't!

The fugitive former prime minister traveled to New York first and then was scheduled to appear at a red shirt gathering in Los Angeles - but Thai media reported that some "700 to 2,000" yellow shirts have allegedly foiled the event and Thaksin had to bail out. The problem is that the numbers were from a Thai community paper in LA and cannot the independently verified. And let's be honest: an assembly of 2,000 similarly dressed people would have made local news already over there - only it didn't! Meanwhile, back in Thailand the anti-Thaksin protesters gathered at the US Embassy and have come up with some rather bizarre conspiracy theories. Let's see where Thaksin goes next...

Thai Senator 'accidentally' kills secretary with uzi - or pistol - or wife - or cousin...!

In mid-August, a news headline from Thailand went around the world that was both shocking and bizarre: "Senator 'accidentally' kills secretary with Uzi". Mae Hong Son Senator Boonsong Kowawisarat was carrying the firearm during dinner at a resort when it accidentally discharged and killed a woman believed to be his secretary. Of course, these circumstances were perfect ingredients for yet another 'quirky' news item from Asia for Western media - and when even Gawker was reporting it (predictably not without mistakes), you know something has hit critical mass.

But the next morning, the circumstances weren't that clear anymore as nearly every detail of this incident was put in question: What was the weapon and who did it kill? In the end it emerged that the Senator's pistol, a 9mm Jericho 941 (also named Uzi Eagle), fired a bullet into the stomach of Chanakarn Detkard, his domestic partner with whom he has two children.

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

Thai Buddhist cult claims to know afterlife of Steve Jobs

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 21, 2012 A Thai Buddhist cult movement claims to know the whereabouts of Steve Jobs in the afterlife. In a TV special on DMC.tv, the satellite TV channel of the Dhammakāya (pronounced "tah-mah-guy") Movement, and its website have given their take on the question hardly anyone was asking in the first place: Where is Steve Jobs now? The Apple co-founder and CEO passed away in October 2011 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.

This question was asked by a man called "Tony Tseung" - who claims to be a senior engineer at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California - to Phra Thepyanmahamuni, the abbot of the Wat Phra Dhammakaya (their main temple). The movement was established in the 1970s and puts the focus of their teachings by literally interpreting Dharmakāya, which equates obtaining Nirvana as the "true Self", also known as atta - contrary to the main Theravada Buddhism teachings most Thais are following in which Nirvana is the ultimate goal, in which Self ceases to exist (anatta).

The abbot's answer is very elaborate to say the least:

หลังจากที่คุณ Steve Jobs ได้ละจากโลกนี้ไปแล้ว ก็ได้ไปบังเกิดใหม่เป็นเทพบุตรภุมมะเทวา (...) รวมกับอัธยาศัยพื้นฐานของตัวเขาซึ่งเป็นคนที่มีความรู้ความสามารถทั้งทางด้านวิทยาศาสตร์และสุนทรียภาพทางศิลปะสูงมาก (...) ตัวเขาก็ได้ไปบังเกิดใหม่เป็น “เทพบุตรภุมมะเทวาระดับกลางสายวิทยาธรกึ่งยักษ์” ที่มีที่อยู่ที่อาศัยซ้อนอยู่บนโลกมนุษย์ใกล้ๆ กับที่ทำงานเดิมของตัวเขาในทันที

"ภุมมะเทวาสายวิทยาธรกึ่งยักษ์" นั้นมีลักษณะเป็นอย่างไร (...) ก็คือภุมมะเทวาที่มีอัธยาศัย 2 อย่างมาผสมผสานกัน ได้แก่ อัธยาศัยของวิทยาธรที่รักในการเรียนรู้ศาสตร์และความรู้ต่างๆ กับอัธยาศัยของยักษ์ที่มักโกรธ ขี้โมโห (...)

After Mr. Steve Jobs has passed away, he reincarnated as a divine being (...) encompassing his characteristics: a person with the knowledge (and a great appreciation) for both science and arts (...) His reincarnation is a "Thepphabhut Phumadeva [divinity] of middle rank - half a Witthayathorn, half yak" that lives in a parallel universe not very far away from where he was as a human.

What is this divine being like? (...) It is a being that has two characteristics mixed together which includes his thirst for knowledge of sciences [his Witthayathorn half] together with his yak half, that is prone to be angry and hot-headed (...)

"ปรโลกนิวส์ ตอน สตีฟ จ็อบส์ ตายแล้วไปไหน ตอนที่ 1", DMC, August 21, 2012

Aha, Jobs is now apparently "half a Witthayathorn" - a term the abbot came up by himself - and, apparently because of his well-known temper, "half a yak" (not the animal), a giant demon that is mostly seen 'guarding' Buddhist temples in Thailand.

When the abbot went on describe how the life of Afterlife-Steve Jobs looks like, things get even more interesting:

ส่วนวิมานหรือที่อยู่ที่อาศัย ของท่านเทพบุตรใหม่จะมีลักษณะเป็นวิมานที่เรียบๆ ง่ายๆ ขนาดปานกลาง ที่สูงประมาณตึก 6 ชั้น ซึ่งตัววิมานจะประกอบด้วยโลหะสีเงินสีขาวและแก้วผลึกขนาดใหญ่ที่มีขอบเขตกว้างขวาง และอยู่ไม่ไกลจากที่ทำงานเดิมในสมัยที่ตัวเขายังเป็นมนุษย์ (...) นอกจากนี้ ท่านเทพบุตรใหม่ยังมีบริวารอันเป็นทิพย์ที่คอยรับใช้ดูแลอยู่ประมาณ 20 ตน ซึ่งทั้งหมดนี้ก็เกิดจากผลแห่งบุญที่ตัวเขาได้เคยทำบุญแบบสงเคราะห์โลกเอาไว้ในสมัยที่ตัวเขายังเป็นมนุษย์ เช่น บริจาคทั้งเงิน สิ่งของ ความรู้ให้แก่ผู้อื่นและสังคม

Concerning the living space of this new divine being: it is a very clean-cut, simple and middle-sized, six-story in height, which is built with silver metal and crystal in large quantities and that is not very far away from where he used to work in his human form. (...) Apart from that the new divine being has about 20 celestial servants at his service which comes from karma he obtained from charitable nature during his human form like donating money, objects and knowledge for others and society.

"ปรโลกนิวส์ ตอน สตีฟ จ็อบส์ ตายแล้วไปไหน ตอนที่ 1", DMC.tv, August 21, 2012

Anybody who dares to read the full explanation can go to their webpage here - even though it is only in Thai, the pictures should give an idea...! Also, there'll be a part two of the TV special on DMC.tv...

That last sentence is exactly the way of the Dhammakāya Movement many critics find fault in: give enough money for charity (preferably to Dhammakāya) and you might also reincarnate with your personal living space that coincidentally resembles an Apple Store and with your own personal Geniuses...erm, I mean servants!

The practices and methods by the movement are something more akin to what some say Christian TV evangelists with a giant temple on the outskirts of Bangkok, opulent mass-ordination ceremonies, the aforementioned TV channel with some production value, grand-scale downtown pilgrimages by monks, nationwide promotions such as a special credit card with a special perk to convert the bonus points into money donations to Dhammakāya, among many other actions.

And where does the money come from? Of course from donations by devotees, who are encouraged to donate large sums in exchange for great merits in order to ensure enough good karma for the afterlife. It basically blends religion with capitalism - a fact that may be why this movement had an increase of followers among the Bangkok middle class in the 1990s as this scientific article argues. This practice parallels to the selling of indulgences in Christianity during the middle ages until the 16th century, which was one of the points German reformist Martin Luther was protesting against in 1521.

Also, the Dhammakāya Movement is considered as one of a few Buddhist groups that have some to large supporters in Thai politics, as this cult is rumored to be closely linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The other noteworthy group is the Santi Asoke sect, which practices and propagates a more ascetic lifestyle that is opposed to materialism and mass consumption - in some ways the diametrical opposite of the Dhammakāya Movement business model. Followers of the Santi Asoke also took part in numerous protests against the government(s) of the aforementioned Thaksin Shinawatra and its reincarnations.

This whole story is intended as a lesson of karma and their take on what happens next after one has passed away. And of course this story is also yet another attention-grabbing PR stunt by the Dhammakāya Movement to gain new followers (and if you have been reading until this point you know why) by purely making up blatantly speculating predicting the afterlife of a worldwide-known figure. Not to mention the potential new devotees abroad, since this movement also has branches in 18 other countries including an open university based in California.

Steve Jobs was certainly influenced, if not even inspired, by Buddhism of various teachings. But he was not known as a devotee - not by practice and certainly not any of Thailand's various Buddhist's groups. Also, the abbot suggests that Jobs was concerned with life after death - contrary to his well-documented remarks that he regards death itself as "very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” He also said in the same commencement speech to university graduates in 2005: "Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking."

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

Tongue-Thai'ed! Part XV: Of causality and casualties - Dr. Pornthip and the GT200

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 25, 2012 “Tongue-Thai’ed!” encapsulates the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures – in short: everything we hear that makes us go “Huh?!”. Check out all past entries here.

The renewed controversy over the fraudulent bomb-detecting GT200 has revealed the reaffirmed faith in the bogus devise by Thailand's top ranking military officers after their admission that it is still in use. This revelation was also accompanied by its unashamed endorsement by the army chief, supreme commander and the defense minister (who was the one responsible for the purchase during his time in the air force), absolutely disregarding multiple scientific tests that have proven the ineffectiveness of what is essentially an empty plastic shell with a dowsing rod.

Another very prominent defender of the GT200 is scientist Dr. Pornthip, a forensic scientist who is well known for her flashy hair styles. She had already fallen from grace when she defended the bogus bomb-sniffer right after it failed government tests (out of 20 tests, it only worked 4 times!) in early 2010.

Now, she has come out again with these stunning statements defending the device:

The head of the the Justice Ministry's Central Institute of Forensic Science believes bomb attacks in the deep South have increased as a result of the CIFS's decision to stop using the GT200 bomb detector. (...)

She also said there were too many variables involved when using the GT200 for it to be infallible. Khunying Pornthip said there have been more frequent bomb attacks in the South since then.

"'More attacks' since GT200 phased out", Bangkok Post, July 24, 2012

She still seems to ignore that there's only one solid variable concerning the GT200: it doesn't work at all! What Dr. Pornthip should know is that there's a difference between causality and casualty when it comes to understanding the role of this bogus bomb-sniffing gadget: the former requires a cause for an effect, the latter is the result of ignoring the cause.

If you come across any verbosities that you think might fit in here send us a email at siamvoices [at] gmail.com or tweet us @siamvoices.

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

Pupils' hunger strike exposes corruption in Thai school admissions

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 31, 2012 SEE UPDATE AND CORRECTION BELOW!

A hunger strike by schoolchildren who have been barred from advancing to the upper secondary level at their Bangkok school has highlighted the ever-existing problem of corruption when it comes to parents finding a place to learn for their children in Thailand.

Last year we looked at then education minister Woravat Auapinyakul's remarks concerning the long-existing practice of tea money for school admissions. But instead of combatting this customary bribing for a better education, Woravut has suggested to make these more 'transparent' - while still enabling children from richer social backgrounds to have a more competitive edge over others.

Now, under the new education minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, the victims of this common 'tradition' had enough and staged a hunger strike:

Four students of Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School continued their protest at Government House for a second day yesterday, calling on school management to admit all Matthayom 3 [Grade 9] students into Matthayom 4 [Grade 10] to further their studies at the school.

[Education Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech] said he believed the students were being used as a political tool by a certain group of people. He instructed the Office of Basic Education Commission to lodge a police complaint against the people he believes are behind the protest. The minister refused to name the people he suspected.

The protesting students said they finished Matthayom 3 at Bodindecha school with a GPA of over 2.0, but were not selected to continue their studies because the management had allocated some seats for new students.

"‘Politics’ behind hunger strike", Bangkok Post, May 21, 2012

Suchart's suspicions of some political conspiracy are typical of the tendency to try to solve a problem at the end, rather than at its roots. What groups does he think could be utilizing teenagers for a hunger strike? Or is he trying to deflect the attention from the bribes problem?

Nevertheless, the education ministry actually intervened:

The Education Ministry has told Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School to accept 57 students it earlier rejected and ordered a probe against the director for bribery.

The move ended the hunger strike of four students outside Government House which started on Friday in an attempt to pressure the authorities.

The ministry's order came after a meeting between Pornpichit Sukannan, adviser to Education Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, and parents who suspected irregularities in the school's admission system after their children were denied seats.

"School bribe inquiry ordered", Bangkok Post, May 22, 2012

Whether or not the investigation will result in anything remains to be seen, as the Anti-Money Laundering Office has received a petition investigate another 20 school heads for bribery. At least this intervention gave the students and their parents some peace of mind to plan the next few years in school until a day later...

Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec) secretary-general Chinnapat Bhumirat said Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni) School has admission regulations and education management standards to uphold and cannot accept as many students as it had agreed.

The move reversed an agreement between Pornpichit Sukannan, an adviser to Education Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech, and parents on Monday that the school would enrol all 57. Obec's decision follows a meeting yesterday between parents, Obec representatives and the education minister.

The decision sparked uproar from parents. One left a note in the meeting room accusing the Education Ministry of leaving the children scarred. (...) Mr Chinnapat said the agency will try its best to find places for students who miss out and called on parents to try to understand.

"School about-turn angers parents", Bangkok Post, May 23 , 2012

So, the education ministry has prematurely stormed forward with a too-simple solution that is now crumbled by an apparently very strict system.

For the families and their children the past weeks have been one single up-and-down experience, as they have been simply lucked out for betting on school grades alone to advance to upper secondary level instead of paying a bit extra. In a last-ditch move, a group of parents and schoolchildren, after having submitting a petition to prime minister Yingluck Shinatwatra, have now approached General Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the privy council, for help.

However, even if the teenagers will get a place at Bodindecha or some other school, this still doesn't solve the problem of paying bribes for a school admission. Even worse, there have been already reports of bullying against the protesting students, who eventually got to continue attending at that school.

UPDATE: In a bizarre development on Thursday, education minister Suchart is going to sue the student protesters and their parents for "providing wrong information to the press and even burning an effigy" of him. He also stated that the whole conflict was sparked from a "misunderstanding, that their children are not allowed admission because of 'tea money'."

CORRECTION: Contrary to what is reported in the news snippets, a number of the striking children are apparently well below the required score to technically advance to upper secondary level. The corresponding sentence in the post has been struck through. Apologies to our readers!

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

Arbitrary Thai survey blames Facebook for teen pregnancies

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 28, 2012 We recently had Valentine's Day and like every year, the Thai Moral Taliban Police has been patrolling the streets to crack down on young lovebirds who might commit the crime of love (making) - since some survey suggests that many teenagers are hell-bent to loose their virginity on February 14.

Well, apparently some other arbitrary survey has found another root of evil for the unintended consequences of the sexual urges of young people:

According to the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), the famous social networking site, Facebook, has partly contributed to the cause of unwanted teen pregnancies.

The NESDB has revealed that people in the age group of 18-24 are the biggest group of Facebook users, accounting for 40% of all users.

The Board said that the social media growth is partly to blame for the teen pregnancy problems as some youngsters post seducing messages or video clips online.

According to the NESDB, Thai mothers under 20 years old accounted for 14% of all mothers who delivered babies in 2009 and 2010. From this percentage, the UNICEF has placed Thailand on top of the list of teen pregnancy in Asia.

The public health survey in 2010 indicated that out of 760,000 babies born, 411,000 had died. The NESDB said that the figure shows that a number of mothers decided to have abortion.

"NESDB: Facebook partly cause of teen pregnancies", National News Bureau of Thailand , February 28, 2012

Of course the largest social network is to be blamed for the all the steamy content that drive teenagers to have unprotected sex. Or it could be the much more simple explanation  - Thailand has a severe problem with sexual education.

The annual public ridicule that the stupid nature of the O-NET exam questions get, in particular the questions from the health education section (which includes the infamous suggestion for kids to play football when having a sexual urge), are just the tip of the iceberg. If the moral outrage could be put to one side, the powers that be might be able to see that the only reasonable solution to avoid teen pregnancies is to have proper sexual education and face the naked truth about the existence of sexuality instead of tucking it away.

But then again, for them it's probably easier to ban Facebook altogether...!

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.

Thai 'anti-corruption vigilante' Chuwit: Cleaning up in his own ranks

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 22, 2012 We have featured the former massage parlor tycoon turned anti-corruption vigilante Chuwit Kamolvisit before (see here), whose Rak Thailand Party surprisingly scored a few seats in the House at the elections last year (and where Chuwit also knew how to make a first impression) and positioned themselves as an opposition watchdog. Since then, he has regularly exposed illegal gambling dens and prostitution rings, most of them operating with the knowledge and involvement of police, politicians and other officials.

And if the case we are highlighting today is anything to go by, he is not stopping at his own party either:

Chuvit Kamolvisit, leader of the Rak Thailand Party, has submitted a request to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) seeking an investigation into whether an MP of his own party had abused his political post for self-interest.

Mr Chuvit accused Chaiwat Krairiksh, a Rak Thailand list MP, of using his political poskition to divert funds of the Rural Roads Department for building a road passing in front of his house in Pak Phanang district of Nakhon Si Thammarat province. (...)

Along with the request, Mr Chuvit submitted to the NACC a video clip which he said was evidence against Mr Chaiwat. 

"Chuvit seeks probe into own MP", Bangkok Post, February 8, 2012

In the mentioned video (viewable in Thai here), filmed from an obviously hidden camera, Chuwit is seen talking with Chaiwat, the latter candidly talking about his plans, pretty much confirming the allegations (at about the 2:00 minute mark when asked by Chuwit "Why all this?", he replies "Because it's in front of my house!"), even being aware of the legal implications (1:20 min: "I know it's against the law!") and hinting at a possible concession by the potential contractor who will build the road in front of his house (1:39 min: "I didn't say I won't get my share, I WILL get my share").

Chuwit also mentions an incident in parliament last November, during a vote of no-confidence against justice minister Pracha Promnok for his involvement during the flood crisis as head of the Flood Relief Operations Command. Chaiwat voted in favor of Pracha, much to the anger of his party chief (4:05 min: "...and last time [in parliament], you **** made the wrong vote - even after I told you to change it!"), since the party is in the opposition, and suspects Chaiwat of pandering to the government in hope for benefits in exchange (4:11 min: "You got to finally admit that you're with the government. You think their budget, you're jumping through hoops for, is easy to get.") - to which he firmly admits of deliberately voting for Pracha.

One aspect that makes this case somewhat interesting is the decades-long friendship between these two. In an interview with Matichon Online, Chaiwat notes that they have been friends since school ("ผมเป็นเพื่อนเรียนที่โรงเรียนเทพศิรินทร์มาด้วยกัน"), but parted way during university with him becoming a lawyer and Chuwit earning his (in)famous reputation as a massage parlor tycoon. He also claims that it was him who introduced Chuwit to politics, who was not interested before - so much so as he had never used his right to vote ("วันนั้นคุณชูวิทย์ ยังไม่รู้จักการเมือง คุณชูวิทย์ยังไม่เคยไปใช้สิทธิ์เลือกตั้ง"). Together, they formed the First Thai Nation Party (พรรคต้นตระกูลไทย) in 2003, with Chaiwat being the party's general-secretary.

Fast forward to 2011 (and several party changes later), Chuwit grew increasingly contempt with Chaiwat, triggered by the deliberate vote in favor of Pracha, to which Chuwit stated that he accidentally made a rookie mistake (source). In January, Chaiwat resigned as secretary-general of the party (source). A few days later, Chuwit talked to Chaiwat, telling him that he was aware of his potential abuse of power, to which the latter supposedly reacted with the exit of the party shortly afterwards.

However, Chaiwat denied having ever signed such a document despite Chuwit's claims that several party members have witnessed the signing and these documents have been handed to the Election Commission (EC). The now former party secretary-general himself lodged an inquiry to the EC stating that he is not leaving the party and that his signature has been forged (source), thus accusing Chuwit of lying to the EC. In the video, Chaiwat has offered Chuwit to withdraw said inquiry (5:11 min), while also being determined to go through with his road project (5:21 min "But first: I really want to do this project. Second: yes, I will benefit from this project! That is the truth").

In the Matichon interview, Chaiwat defended himself from the accusation that he has not done any work from the party and not attended any meetings, since according to him there were no meetings ("มีด้วยเหรอประชุมพรรค" ชัยวัฒน์ตอบทันทีและว่า ... เพราะพรรคผมไม่ได้มีการประชุม") and whether it's politics or his businesses, it's ultimately Chuwit who decides the direction ("ทั้งพรรคทั้งบริษัท คุณชูวิทย์กำหนดทิศทางพรรคคนเดียว"). Chaiwat said that on the day of the filmed meeting with Chuwit, he has been invited by the latter for a chat 'as friends' ("เขาเป็นคนโทรศัพท์คุยกับผมเองว่า มาคุยกันในฐานะเพื่อน"). He insists that he's in the opposition and not with the government ("ผมอยู่ฝ่ายค้าน ไม่ได้อยู่ฝ่ายรัฐบาล"), even though in the clip he openly admits pandering to them.

Ultimately, Chaiwat asks the question whether or not somebody, who is secretly filming, setting up a scene and conveniently cuts everything together is in the right after all ("ส่วนในคลิปนั้น คุณจัดฉาก ตั้งกล้องแอบถ่าย ตัดแต่งเรียบร้อย สังคมก็กล่าวหาว่าคนแอบถ่ายเป็นคนถูก อย่างนั้นหรือ?"). And that is the crux of the whole story - while Chaiwat was clearly caught red-handed doing something more than questionable, it begs the question if Chuwit's means sometimes is justified. But that won't stop the anti-corruption vigilante from exposing the shady businesses of officials - even if it means he has to get his hands dirty and lose a long-time friend.

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 VIII - Tea Money left to learn: Minister touts transparent bribes for schools

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 13, 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.

Education is one of the many problems hindering Thailand from being competitive compared to its regional neighbors, often due to anachronistic attitudes towards teaching (for example foreign languages). While Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a press conference in July that the Thai education system has to change in order to support "life-long learning", the new government has not made any far-reaching proposals yet other than handing out free tablet PCs to school children (more on that in a future blog post).

One of the issues plaguing Thai parents is to get their children into better schools. And normally, when there are no good schools in the district they're living, they of course would try for one somewhere else more prestigious - in many cases parents are willing to pay bribes in order to send their children there.

The new education minister Woravat Auapinyakul wants to tackle this problem head-on, but not in the way many would have thought...

นายวรวัจน์ เอื้ออภิญญกุล รมว.ศึกษาธิการ เปิดเผยกรณีมีแนวคิดเปิดช่องคนรวยจ่ายแป๊ะเจี๊ยะเข้าโรงเรียนดัง ว่า (...) ต้องยอมรับว่ามีการจ่ายแป๊ะเจี๊ยะกันอยู่ ตนอยากจะเอาสิ่งที่อยู่ใต้ดินมาอยู่บนดิน (...) ต้องไม่กระทบสิทธิคนอื่น

Woravat Auapinyakul, Minister of Education, has hinted at the idea to pave the way for rich people to pay 'additional fees' for the attendance to prestigious schools, saying (...) that "we have to accept that there are some 'hidden payments' being made. Thus, I want to bring out what's hidden below to the surface (...) It must not affect the rights of others"

(...) สิ่งที่ทำแบบหลบๆซ่อนๆ มีการฝากกันเพื่อให้เข้าเรียนในโรงเรียน แต่ไปเข้ากระเป๋าคนบางคน ต่อไปต้องรายงานและชี้ให้ศธ.รู้ใครอยากจะรับก็รับได้แต่ต้องบอก (...) ตนไม่อยากให้มองว่าเป็นเรื่องการแลกที่นั่งเรียนอย่างเดียว

"Money paid for a school entry has been done in secret [in the past], but that [money] sometimes goes into someone's pockets. From now on, they have to report [such payments] to the Ministry of Education - whoever wants to receive can do that, but they have to report. (...) I don't want the people to think that this is just [an issue of] exchanging money for a school seat!"

"รมว.ศึกษาดัน“แป๊ะเจี๊ยะ”ขึ้นบนโต๊ะ", Daily News, September 12, 2011, translation by me

Woravat suggests that this money should be used to in order to improve the school and this initiative should provide more transparency where actually that money goes into. While never directly uttered by the minister, the use of the word "แป๊ะเจี๊ยะ" in that article is noticeable, which actually means "tea money" (as in bribe). So, in an effort to prevent the payment of bribes in order for parents to send their children to prestigious school, Woravat basically endorses the payment of bribes (as long as it is 'transparent') and thus also supports the idea of competitiveness among schools and parents instead of trying to raise the quality standards of all schools onto the same level.

But hey, if there's enough money left to burn, then there's enough money left to learn - except for those who don't!

h/t to a reader for the link

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.