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2011 - Some Personal Thoughts

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 31, 2011 2011 is history and looking back on Thailand this past year, it has been yet another eventful year that brought some answers, but many more questions to the wide-spread problems that continues to plague the country in many aspects. However, 2011 brought many chances and changes, shed light on issues and topics left in the dark before, voices echoed by many and opinions uttered by a few, whether you agree with them or not.

This is a (definitely incomplete) list of these stories that happened in 2011...

Lèse majesté sees December surge

Let's start off with the most recent topic that has unfortunately brought Thailand into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons again and that is none other than the problematic issue of lèse majesté that is gripping freedom of speech. The whole month of December was filled with stories about high-profile cases and countless victims of this draconian law, the discussion to amend it and the (irrational) defenders of this law and the institution that is meant to be protected by it.

The recent surge of lèse majesté began in late November with the dubious sentence against Ampon "Uncle SMS" Tangnoppakul, despite doubtful evidence. The 62-year old grandfather is now being jailed for 20 years, five years for each alleged SMS sent. On December 8 the Thai-born US citizen was  sentenced to two and a half years prison for posting translated parts of a banned biography on the King. On December 15 'Da Torpedo', despite winning an appeal resulting in a restart of her trial, was punished to 15 years prison for alleged remarks made in 2008. These are just a few cases that happened in November and December compared to the countless other (partly ongoing or pending) cases over the past 12 months.

But the surge was also accompanied with growing and publicly displayed concern by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States Embassy in Bangkok over the increasing blatant usage of the lèse majesté law, only with the latter to be flooded with irrational, angry hate speeches and also the venue for a protest by royalists in mid-December (and also in a nearly instant iconic display of royal foolishness, the protesters are wearing Guy Fawkes masks, most likely inspired by the #Occupy-movement, but totally oblivious to its historical roots). It was not the first time this year that this issue got attention from the international community, as seen in October.

The government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected into office last July (see below), and while she would have liked to see some change on the application of the law, not to the law itself though, the new ICT minister has vowed to exploit this to the fullest. He was only to be topped by deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung a few months later, who went into full combat mode and declared war on lèse majesté web content with a THB400m ($12,6m) strong war chest, right after a meeting with the military's top brasses. The hopes of many supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, especially the red shirts, are at latest by now fully gone, as this government already has a tainted record on this issue.

But there was also an important protest by opponents of lèse majesté - the "Fearlessness Walk" shows that this issue can no longer be ignored and the consequences of its enforcement are doing exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do. It is drawing attention to the ambiguous nature of Article 112 of the criminal code (as well as the Computer Crimes Act), it is drawing attention to the signs of changing times and those who refuse to see them, and ultimately it will draw more opposition - we will (unfortunately) hear more about this issue in 2012!

(Non-)Culture: Baring the unbearable and monopolizing "Thai"-ness

While we're on the subject on being subjected to the anachronistic ideas of a few, there were several stories in 2011 in the realms of culture that were disconcerting, to say the least. It wasn't so much the incidents themselves rather the reactions by those self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything "Thai"-ness - a phrase I've been using too often in each of those stories: three girls dancing topless on Songkran, the then-culture minister calls for a crackdown on them as if they have attacked everything "Thai"-ness stands for. A few months later the same culture minister suddenly notices that infidels foreigners are getting Buddhist tattoos and calls for a ban (and back paddles after some considerable uproar). Shortly after his ministry senselessly attempts to crack down on a senseless internet meme because it's "inappropriate" and "not constructive". Later this year a rather curious guide for parents was published on their website. And finally a singer's rather raunchy video gets a ton of hits online and a sanctimonious scolding on national TV.

See a pattern here? The selective outcry borders on ridiculousness and fuels Thailand’s National Knee-Jerk Outrage Machine (“กลไกสร้างปฏิกิริยาอย่างไร้ความยั้งคิดแห่งประเทศไทย”, trademark pending), claims to uphold the only valid definition of "Thai"-ness, that isn't even fully spelled out yet, while they have not noticed that the world beyond their minds has moved on and come up with new and different definitions of what else Thailand could be. The problem is that these cultural heralds, by political office or class, claim monopoly on this. Everyone below their wage level is not entitled to even think about it. And if something doesn't fit their point of view, as guest contributor Kaewmala put it brilliantly, "Only taboo when it's inconvenient!"

The 2011 General Elections

Will he or will he not? In the end, Abhisit Vejjajiva did dissolve parliament and paved the way for early elections in May and also set off quite a short campaign season, which not only saw a few strange election posters and illustrious characters running for office, but it also saw the emergence of Yingluck Shinawatra as the lucky draw for PM candidate of the opposition Pheu Thai Party. After much skyping to Dubai discussion within the party, the sister of Thaksin was chosen to run and it turned out to be the best pick.

The Democrat Party were banking heavily on negative campaigning (a precursor to the upcoming, inevitable Thaksin-phobia in 2012), which reached its climax in the last days with their rally at Rajaprasong, the same venue where the red shirts protested a year ago. In this event, then-deputy prime minister Suthep Thuangsuban claimed to give the "full truth" on what really happened during the violent crackdown of May 19, 2010. What followed were hours of fear-mongering in case of a Pheu Thai win and an incident that almost caused a major misunderstanding:

The big screens flanking the stage on the left and the right are bearing a gruesome view. Footage of at times badly injured people from last year’s rally are being shown when suddenly at the sight of blood people started cheering – as it turns out, not for the brutally killed victims of the anti-governments protests of 2010, but for a woman with an Abhisit cut-out mask waving to the crowd behind her.

"Thailand’s Democrat Party rally: Reclaiming (the truth about) Rajaprasong", Siam Voices, June 24, 2011

The last days of the campaign were spent outside of Bangkok, for example Pheu Thai in Nakhon Ratchasima before the big day. On Sunday, July 3, election day of course meant a full-day-marathon for a journalist. Not only did it mean covering as many polling stations around town as humanly possible, not only to crunch the numbers of exit polls (which turned out to be total BS!), but also of course running the live-blog at Siam Voices. In the end, it went very quickly: Abhisit conceded, Yingluck smiled and at a lunch meeting later there was already a new five-party coalition.

The worst floods in decades: a deluge of irrationality

790.

This is the current death toll of the what has been described as the "worst floods in decades". Floods are an annual occurrence in Thailand during the rainy season. When the water was sweeping through Chiang Mai already back in late September, this natural disaster was somehow going to be different. But it took some considerable time, despite the unprecedented damage it has created in Ayutthaya to the ancient temples and the vital industrial parks, until the capital was drowned in fear of what was to come.

It was curious to observe that those who were least likely to be affected (read: central Bangkok) were losing their nerves the most. Back in November I attempted to explore one possible reason:

One of the real reasons why the people of the city react the way they did though is this: After a military coup, countless violent political protests and sieges of airports, government buildings and public roads, this city has a sense of anxiety not unlike New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: a sense of being constantly under siege by something or somebody that separates Bangkok from the rest of the country even more. An incident at Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate (we reported) is a perfect example of the conflict between inside and outside Bangkok in miniature form.

"The Thai floods and the geographics of perception – Part 2: Certain fear of uncertainty", Siam Voices, November 23, 2011

On an anecdotal note I remember people around me hoarding bottled water, moving their belongings upstairs and barricading their houses waist-high - while I can understand these precautions, I was astonished to say the least when I started to read social media updates that accuse the government so much so to the point of deliberately drowning the people of Bangkok and other outlandish conspiracy theories, including the now ubiquitous "blame it on foreign media"-card.

There's no doubt that this natural disaster has not only shown the worst in people, but also it's helpful and charitable side (not only towards humans exclusively). During my work reporting from the floods for foreign news crews (hence there weren't many posts on Siam Voices), I admired the apparent resilience and defiance I saw from many victims of the floods - some of which are now struggling with rebuilding their lost existence. And a lot of clean-up will be needed to be done, both literally as well as politically, in order to prevent such a disaster from happening again!

What else happened in 2011? (in no particular order)

- Then-prime minister Abhisit urging then-president of Egypt Honsi Mubarak to respect the will of the people - while being totally oblivious that he exactly did not do that a year ago because, well, "They ran into the bullets" themselves!

- Half a dozen Thais walking through the border region with Cambodia and surprised that they're being arrested, in an arbitrary way to dispute the border demarcations between the two countries. This ongoing conflict, largely fueled by the ever-shrinking PAD, sparked into a brief armed battle. Two of the strollers are still sitting in a Cambodian prison.

- The one-year-anniversary of the crackdown of May 19 and my personal thoughts on this.

- The somehow strangely toned-down five-year-anniversary of the 2006 coup.

- Army chef General Prayuth Chan-ocha going completely berserk at the press.

- The fact that Thailand got its first female prime minister and the (un)surprisingly muted reactions by Thailand's feminists.

- The saga of the impounded Thai plane on German ground, the curious case study on how Thai media reported it, the juristic mud-slinging, and how this mess was eventually solved. Which brings us to...

- The German government allowing Thaksin back into Germany, after heavy campaigning by a bunch of conservative German MPs. Still boggles my mind...!

- And while we're on topic, we are saying good-bye to a regular contributor of outrageous quotes - no one has been so focused to do a different job than written his business card than Thaksin-hunter and former foreign minister in disguise Kasit Piromya!

I'd like to thank my colleagues at Siam Voices for building a diverse and opinionated collective, our editor who keeps everything in check and YOU, the readers! THANK YOU for the support, feedback, criticism, links and retweets!

Here's to an eventful, exciting 2012 that brings us news, changes, developments to discuss for all the right reasons! Happy New Year!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg, Germany again (*sigh*). He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Thai Police Chief Also Vows to 'Personally' Crack Down on Anti-Monarchy, Rotten 'Tomatoes'

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 2, 2010 After the commander-in-chief of the Thai army Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha insisted over and over again that his top priority task is to protect the monarchy, national police chief Wichean Potephosree didn't want to be outdone and has announced this:

The police chief warned that those trying to challenge and abuse the monarchy would face the full wrath of the police force. He also said he took the issue seriously on a personal level. "With 25 years in service at the Office of the Royal Court Security Police, I am seriously concerned about this issue," he told the Bangkok Post.

He said all police officers were duty-bound to arrest anybody who tried to bring down the monarchy and to protect the royal institution.

"Wichean Takes It Personally", Bangkok Post, November 1, 2010

To underline his determination, he also promises this:

Other projects he has promised to implement in the next six months are to "clean up the house", foster unity in the force and improve services at police stations.

Police were criticised during the anti-government rally led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship from March to mid-May. Many described them as complacent, of ignoring orders to put an end to the protest and even of sympathising with the demonstrators.

Pol Gen Wichean admitted the existence of "tomato" police, a term used to describe red shirt sympathisers within the force. "But I strongly believe that police officers who do not take sides can survive," he said.

"Wichean Takes It Personally", Bangkok Post, November 1, 2010

While Prayuth takes care of the so-called 'watermelon soldiers', Wichean makes sure that his rotten 'tomatoes' in the police force are being sorted out. With the these clear statements, both chiefs are preparing to set their forces align with the political stand of the current government and even if there'll be a new one eventually, the forces will fight to keep this stand alive.

Pongpat's Acceptance Speech - A Lèse Majesté Case?

Note: This article was originally published on July 31, 2010 in a series of guest blogger posts for Bangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent.

On May 16, when the street battles between the soldiers and the anti-government protestors were bringing large parts of Bangkok to a grinding halt for days already, elsewhere life went on as nothing has happened as for example the Nataraj Awards, the national television and radio awards, took place that evening.

The most notable moment during the award ceremony was the acceptance speech of actor Pongpat Wachirabanjong for best supporting actor. Here's the video with English subtitles.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/6xYfbUIGqW4&w=600&h=360]

The speech has, as evidently seen in the video, touched many Thais and hit a nerve among a certain people. It was forwarded via email, Twitter and heralded as the 'best speech ever' or 'or true patriotic act of loyalty'.

Last week, the very same actor has been hit with a legal charge for lèse majesté...

Actor Pongpat Wachirabanjong will be summoned to hear his lese majeste charges on July 29, and if he fails to show up after two summons have been issued, police will seek an arrest warrant for the man, Deputy Bangkok Police Chief Pol MajGeneral Amnuay Nimmano said yesterday.

The police are also planning to invite witnesses, lawyers and Thai language experts to listen to the actor's acceptance speech at this year's Nataraj Awards as part of the investigation. Amnuay said the case should be concluded within a month.

Despite media and social networks describing Pongpat's speech as a moving declaration of his love for His Majesty, singer Phumpat Wongyachavalit filed a lese majeste complaint against the actor on June 23, accusing him of using inappropriate words.

 

"Pongpat summoned to hear charges", The Nation, July 22, 2010

Of all people he is now charged with lèse majesté?! So what is the inappropriate use of words?

Police Wednesday summoned Pongpat to surrender to face lese majesty charge after a singer filed complaint with police, alleging Pongpat had insulted His Majesty the King by simply calling His Majesty as "father".

"PM says police should consult special advisory panel on Pongpat's case", The Nation, July 22, 2010

This is certainly a very odd case, since the use of the word "father" (or more correctly "Father") in connection to HM the King is widely used in Thai language.

Even the prime minister got involved in this case and has suggested that the police should contact a recently set-up advisory board that deals with these kind of cases. The result came back very quick and the case against Pongpat has now been (unsurprisingly) dropped.

Nevertheless this whole strange act again shows the discrepancies of the authorities dealing with lèse majesté cases. (I'm NOT discussing the law itself!) One can be amazed by the speed the police has dealt with this charge - from filing until the dismissal it took only just more than a month. Also, no efforts have been wasted, language experts have been invited by the police to determine whether the use of word in this context was illegal or not. There are other more obvious cases that are still lingering in legal limbo.

The other point is Pongpat's speech itself. The key phrase "If you hate our Father, if you don't love our Father anymore, then you should get out of here!", which was followed by the audience cheering and applauding enthusiastically, sets a worrying subtext of "if you're not for us, you're against us" - and even more scarier was the reaction by the crowd.

The Unbelievable Rise of Col. Sansern's Popularity

Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd at work (Screenshot from CRES announcement, May 16)

Let's make this short: there are many things that I cannot simply understand! This is one of them.

For some incomprehensible reason Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, military spokesperson and as seen on dozens of CRES TV announcements during the red shirt riots in earlier this year, has become a darling of the local Thai media.

It all begun late last month when The Nation ran a series of high-praising articles of him including this journalistic gem:

He's been on primetime television every other day recently. He's that guy in uniform who catches every woman's eye. He makes viewers giggle despite the tension, and has a smile to melt the coldest heart. With his winning personality, he has to be a strong contender for Man of the Year award. (...)

However, since the red-shirt protests began in March, he has become a favourite across the whole country - and many women's secret crush. Right now, he's even beating big-screen heartthrob Theeradej "Ken" Wongpuapan in the popularity stakes.

As one of his avid supporters, I've joined every fan club for Sansern on Facebook, watched every video clip of him posted on YouTube and even looked up his profile through Google. And yes, when I met him, I was star-struck! The chance to meet my hero came when a senior reporter I am shadowing at The Nation said she was going to interview the colonel. I begged to tag along.

"Saluting the kingdom's coolest colonel", The Nation, May 30, 2010
Then there is this 'interview' including hard-hitting questions such as:

Why are you so admired for your role as CRES spokesman? / You got higher votes than popular actor Ken Thiradej in a recent poll. Why could that be? / Has Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva persuaded you to enter politics? / Has your wife teased you about your fan club? / Given the fan club and the popularity you have as CRES spokesman, do you think your job is successful? / What makes you good-humoured?

Taken from: "Staying cool under fire", by Budsarakham Sinlapalavan & Nathapat Promkaew, The Nation, June 28, 2010

To top it off there is this exclusive video showing the contents of his bag. Notice the lady reporters reaction when he pulls something specific out...

But that is still not the end of his media tour de force. In the last days and weeks, Col. Sansern did appears on not one, not two, but three frigging high-gloss magazine covers (or cover stories)!

Seriously ladies, what is it with this guy and the sudden popularity? Is it because he appeared more often on TV than Abhisit did in recent times?  This is one of the stories that truly deserve the "WTF?!"-tag...

In Case Against The Open Letter Against CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

Nothing Clear On The 'Roadmap to Reconciliation' Yet, Reds Still To Stay

After a day of relative political silence due to coronation day and thus a public holiday on Wednesday, the battle of words broke out again on Thursday as the red shirts as well as the PAD (the yellow shirts) have voiced their doubts or rejection of Abhisit's 'roadmap to reconciliation' offer. Whilethe prime minister was able to get support by his own Democrat Party and also the coalition partners, even the opposition Puea Thai Party, this week, the biggest opponent of the 'roadmap' were of all groups were those that have paved his way to power in the first place. In a press conference, the so-called People's Alliance for Democracy (the yellow shirts) have heavily condemned Abhisit for giving the red shirts "a shameful deal which will spawn the growth of terrorist and anti-monarchy activities nationwide," and he should either stop it or else resign. Even a meeting between Abhisit and PAD representatives hours after these statements has not resolved any doubt.

Prime Minister Abhisit promised the PAD not to grant amnesty to any persons or join hands with the opposition Pheu Thai Party to form a new government after an election, said PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan.

The PAD has its own New Politics Party (NPP) but Panthep said they did not discuss party matters with the prime minister (...)

Abhisit explained he would not dissolve Parliament for a new election (...) [and] would not amend the constitution for the benefit of politicians or his own Democrat Party, Panthep said.

Both sides did not reach common ground yesterday because they did not negotiate adjusting their stance but just simply exchanged views, said PAD leader Pipop Thongchai.

(...) Abhisit said after the meeting he needed to clear the way with all concerned parties on the implementation of the road map. He would meet Dr Tul Sittisomwong, leader of multicoloured group today, to exchange views as the group remained in disagreement with the plan to dissolve the Parliament.

"Roadmap still in balance", The Nation, May 7, 2010

As if they were still not impressed, the PAD emphasized again after the meeting with Abhisit that "snap poll might cause a vacuum of power, causing  the civil servants to neglect to prosecute the terrorist suspects and the anti-monarchists" and that the time frame until November is an "insufficient time to restore normalcy ahead of the fresh election." (Source) And as if they did not make themselves clear enough, the PAD has called for martial law to be invoked, so that the army can 'finally' clean up.

Meanwhile in the red camp, the leaders of the UDD are still waiting for more concessions from the government, or "more sincerity" in their words, despite a qualified nod to the 'roadmap'. The main point is when the red shirt protesters are (finally) packing their bags and are going home. The Democrats and Abhisit insist that the reds do that before anything happens, but on Thursday red leader Nattawut was still in a defiant mood.

Red Shirt Co-leader Nuttawut Saikua said Thursday the red shirts would still continue their occupation at the Rajprasong intersection unless Prime Minister Abisit Vejjajiva comes up with a final solution from all parties about the reconciliation. (...)

"Now that the PAD wants to the Prime Minister to step down from his post, we are confused as they have the agenda like ours. So PM should clear with the PAD first and also seek approvals from the coalition parties about the reconciliation first. When all matters are cleared, PM can bring the final solution to us. As for now, we will continue to stay here,'' said Nuttawut.

"Red shirts will continue to rally: Nuttawut", The Nation, May 6, 2010

On Friday things looked a bit different as there was another meeting of the red leaders. One of the them, Kwanchai Praipana, jumped the gun and hinted that Monday would be the last day of the protests. However...

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship on Friday reaffirmed its intention to join Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's road map for reconciliation but stopped short of saying when to end the rally.

Speaking after more than two hours of meeting of core members, Nathawut Saikua said the UDD was firm on its intention to take part in a reconciliation plan initiated either by the government or any other organisations which adhere to seeking a peaceful resolution to the political conflict. However, he said the meeting had not reached a decision when to end the rally, which started from Mar 12.

UDD leaders would on Saturday hold another meeting to mete out its conditions for further talks with the government. The UDD would consider when to end the rally if the government responded positively to the conditions yet to be made and ensure safety for the protesters, Mr Nathawut said. He called for the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) to stop intimidating the protesters.

"UDD says it will join reconciliation road map", Bangkok Post, May 7, 2010

Natthawut said the red shirts would today [Saturday] propose to the government their own version of the road map. One of the conditions is the government lift the emergency law. "If the government agrees, the protest will be over, and we'll walk together [towards reconciliation]," Natthawut said yesterday. Responding to the red-shirt condition, Prime Minister Abhisit said he would not end enforcement of the emergency law until the situation eased and the red-shirt protest was over.

"Road map gets red boost", The Nation, May 8, 2010

One of the other key points of the statement Friday evening is the emphasis that they do not seek amnesty from terrorist and lèse majesté charges. The Department of Special Investigation is on the case and have already charged nine of the red shirt leaders.

If they turn themselves in on May 15 as promised, all nine leaders of the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship will be immediately charged with terrorism and other crimes, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) said yesterday. Director general Tharit Phengdit said the nine leaders could be released temporarily on bail or face "confidential measures" prepared by the DSI if they failed to surrender on the date earmarked.

The DAAD [or UDD] leaders' alleged crimes are divided into four categories: terrorism, intimidating officials, assaulting state officials and the public, as well as possessing war weapons. The DSI is only relying on the arrest warrants issued under the Emergency Decree, he added. (...)

"Their charges will only be revoked if they are given lawful amnesty as agreed upon by the government and the Parliament," Tharit said. "The amnesty must stipulate specifically what crimes they will be pardoned for and which crimes would need to be further processed."

Tharit said he was leading a separate DSI investigation into anti-monarchy issues and the probe would begin next week.

"DSI waiting for red-shirt leaders to surrender", The Nation, May 7, 2010

And that is, unusual for Thai crime fighting authorities, the last statement of the DSI we are going to hear from them on this case for some time.

"Stupid Foreigners...!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aung San Suu Kyi vs Thai Government, Round 2

Sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction... Just yesterday I wrote about the Thai government's reaction on Aung San Suu Kyi's comments about the current political situation. I was thinking about to end with a joke if she was paid by anybody (preferably by Thaksin, of course) for these comments but I didn't (Bangkok Pundit and S_Narut did though). I thought it was too stupid, even for Thailand.

Well, as I said, sometimes real life is stranger than fiction...

นายประสงค์ นุรักษ์ ส.ว.สรรหา กล่าวถึงกรณีที่ นางอองซาน ซูจี แกนนำฝ่ายค้านในประเทศพม่า กล่าววิพากษ์วิจารณ์รัฐธรรมนูญและรัฐบาลไทย จนทำให้ประเทศไทยเสียหายในสายตานานาชาติว่า คนที่กำลังจะจมน้ำตายแต่เหตุใดกลับมาเอะอะโวยวายสอนให้คนอื่นว่ายน้ำ

"ผมจึงรู้สึกผิดหวังมาก เพราะนางอองซาน ซูจีน่าจะเข้าใจประเทศไทยดีกว่านี้ จึงขอให้หาทางตรวจสอบ (...) ว่า [นางอองซาน ซูจี] มีการรับเงินสนับสนุนจากบุคคลใดบ้าง"

Appointed senator Prasong Nurak has commented on the remarks of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who criticized the Thai constitution and the government, saying it [her remarks] damages Thailand's image internationally, "Why do you want to teach the other how swim, when he is currently drowning?"

"I'm disappointed because Ms Aung San Suu Kyi should know better about Thailand. That's why I would like to find a way to investigate (...) if [she] has received any donation money by whom."

"ส.ว.ฉุน"ซูจี"วิจารณ์ไทยทำเสียหายสายตาชาวโลก จี้ตรวจสอบเส้นทางการเงินรับสนับสนุนจากใคร", Matichon, April 26, 2010

Just to give you some context, Prachatai has some background on this appointed senator.

นายประสงค์ เป็นคน จ.ชุมพร เป็นแกนนำพันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตยรัฐไอโอวา รัฐแคนซัส และรัฐอิลลินอยส์ ชุมนุมขับไล่ พ.ต.ท.ทักษิณ ชินวัตร ในปี 2549 (...)

โดยในระหว่างที่นายประสงค์ดำรงตำแหน่ง ได้ร่วมเคลื่อนไหวกับกลุ่ม 40 ส.ว. และพันธมิตรฯ ในการชุมนุมปี 51 โดยตลอด เช่นหลังจากพันธมิตรฯ สามารถยึดทำเนียบรัฐบาลได้แล้วในวันที่ 26 ส.ค. 51 [ต่อมา] ในวันที่ 28 ส.ค. นายประสงค์ได้ติดตาม (...) เดินทางมาให้กำลังใจผู้ชุมนุมพันธมิตรฯ โดยมีผู้ชุมนุมขอจับมือให้กำลังใจ ขอลายเซ็น และถ่ายรูปกับคณะ ส.ว.กลุ่มนี้ตลอดทาง

Mr Prasong, originating from Chumporn province, is a leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy of Iowa, Kansas and Illinois, protesting to chase out Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 (...)

When in office, Mr Prasong was involved in a group of 40 senators and the PAD during the protests in 2008 after the PAD successfully seized Government House on August 26, 2008. [After that] on August 28, 2008 Mr Prasong came to [the rally site with the 39 other senators] to show support for the PAD protesters by shaking hands, giving autographs and taking pictures with the senators.

"ส.ว.สรรหาไม่พอใจ "ออง ซาน ซูจี" ทำให้ไทยเสียหายระดับโลก จี้ตรวจสอบเส้นทางการเงิน", Prachatai, April 26, 2010

Just to make this clear, he is an appointed senator who profited from the new 2007 constitution drafted by the military and thus proving Suu Kyi's point in the first place. Needless to say, he is an open PAD supporter!

But then again, this argument seems to be too logic for some if a certain fugitive former prime minister can be somehow framed in an international anti-Thai conspiracy...

h/t to S_Narut for the links on both stories

A Thai History of Violence About to Repeat Itself?

"The level of hate in Thailand" (picture courtesy of Mark MacKinnon)

The Economist has yet another article about Thailand that might caused the magazine not to appear on the newsstands there. While there was one topic that certainly was the main reason for the non-distrubuting, the other one is worth discussing in my opinion. Key excerpts:

Can further bloodshed be averted? Two factors suggest not. First, in Thailand violence is more embedded than most care to admit. (...)

The violence first. The shootings on April 10th, in which five soldiers and 18 protesters died, raised the spectre of previous military slaughters of innocents, which also happened in 1973, 1976 and 1992. True, the army has shown restraint this time. It first applied modern crowd-control techniques—water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets. But the crowds refused to disperse. Worse, the army was caught after dark in civilian-filled streets, which smart commanders know to be a recipe for disaster. Soldiers fired into the crowds, in self-defence (they said) against armed “terrorists”. Then they fled for their lives, abandoning a column of armoured personnel carriers. Humiliated, junior officers want revenge.

Violence is not a military monopoly. Thailand can be a vicious place. Crime and vigilante justice are rampant, hitmen are cheap, militias abound and a Muslim insurgency rumbles on in the south. Under Mr Thaksin, extrajudicial squads killed thousands of suspected drug-pushers and other criminals.

From the start, the red shirts have had a thuggish element. Most reds are disciplined, conscious that a good image counts for much. But a minority has long carried sticks and knives and lobbed petrol bombs. (...)

Both army and protesters, then, have their grievances. And now, after months away, the yellow shirts are back. These are the pro-establishment People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) whose own minority of black-clad guards once used guns and explosives against the police and which stockpiled golf clubs as weapons—nicely reflecting the group’s milieu. On April 18th leaders of the PAD called for martial law and gave the government a week to end the protests or, they said, they would order their own people back on to the streets. All this amounts to one big reason to believe peace will have to wait.

"Banyan: Bloody shirts in the city of angels", The Economist, April 22, 2010

There is an ever-present potential of violence since the beginning of the protests and with recent developments showing no sign of easing off tensions at both sides, the possibility of a 'civil war' (especially when the yellow shirts are coming back) is being thrown around. Seven days after the PAD has urged the government to wipe off the red shirts out of Bangkok, the protests are still there. It is yet to be seen if the yellow shirts will up the ante against the red shirts now.

But how likely is it? Patrick Winn examines:

According to analysts, it’s unlikely.

Many academics define civil wars as conflicts that tally at least 1,000 deaths per year and witness the weaker force inflicting at least 5 percent of all fatalities.

The probability of such a large-scale conflict remains “quite remote,” said Federico Ferrara, a National University of Singapore political science professor and author of "Thailand Unhinged: Unraveling the Myth of Thai-Style Democracy."

“The two sides are very unlikely to engage in open warfare with one another,” Ferrara said.

Still, future stand-offs between Red Shirts and troops, rival demonstrators or both could very well serve as flash points for more bloodshed, he said. “Given the firepower and strength of the two sides, the conflict definitely has the potential to create mass casualties.”

The current Thai preoccupation with civil war is more than hysteria, said Kevin Hewison, director of the Carolina Asia Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The civil war threat, he said, has been invoked by the government itself, which has warned that Red Shirts are pursuing a potentially violent overhaul of Thai institutions.

Bitterness is compounded by the insults such as “buffaloes” [see picture above] and pro-government columnists’ insistence that rural voters are uneducated and easily swayed by corrupt politicians.

“For the Red Shirts who fall into this category, this is a terrible rejection of their world and their lives,” Hewison said. This class rage is further stoked by protest leaders’ stage rhetoric, which frequently derides the prime minister and his allies as “murderers and tyrants.”

"Is Thailand headed for civil war?", Global Post, April 25, 2010

Winn then goes on tackling the issue of the 'watermelon soldiers' (as discussed here) and concludes that even though the country will not spiral into civil war but an ugly "urban-rural divide and sporadically violent demonstrations."

The arrogance of many middle-class citizens of Bangkok certainly was there before and is one of the main reasons of the whole political conflict, the ruling establishment has simply neglected much of the rest of the country. All essential decisions are made in Bangkok and now the rest of the country wants to take at least a piece of the power back to themselves.

Some recent incidents outside of Bangkok, most noticeably the seizing of an army train by red shirts in Khon Kaen, indicate that the political conflict may spread out in the countryside and the government now has not only has a frontline in the South, but in the Northeast as well.

Thai Gov Responds to Aung San Suu Kyi's Comments, Hilarity Ensues

Thailand's political crisis shows that a constitution drawn up by the military can never deliver stability, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Saturday, according to her party. (...) 'A new government coming to power under a constitution drawn up by the military will never be stable,' he cited her as saying. 'We do not need to see very far. We just see Thailand,' she said. 'Thaksin was an elected person. The military seized the power from an elected person. The constitution was drawn up by the military,' she said.

'After that, what happened with the first (government)? It was not stable,' she said of the short-lived administration that followed the coup. 'This was a result of the constitution being written by the military.'

Nyan Win said Suu Kyi was not giving an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Thailand, where red-shirted campaigners largely loyal to Thaksin are calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"Crisis: Perils of military rule", The Straits Times via AFP, April 24, 2010

It did not took long until the Thai government's answer to the Burmese democracy icon. Enter government's spokesperson Panitan Wattanyagorn...

"ผมคิดว่าคนไทยคงไม่รู้สึกว่าไทยจะเข้าใกล้เหมือนประเทศพม่า และไม่เหมือนกันเลยเพราะว่าเรามีระบอบประชาธิปไตยมายาวนานหลายประเทศยังไม่ได้เป็นประชาธิปไตยเลย นอกจากนี้ ประเด็นหนึ่งของการรับรู้ข่าวสารของต่างประเทศเราคงต้องทำเพิ่มมากขึ้น เพราะบางประเทศอาจได้รับข้อมูลไม่มากเนื่องจากในเรื่องของภาษาและช่องทางการสื่อสารที่ถูกปิดกั้นโดยระบบ ฉะนั้นสารก็อาจไม่ครบถ้วน (...)" นายปณิธานกล่าว

"I don't think the Thai people feel that Thailand is becoming similar to Myanmar and [they also feel that] the two countries are not alike at all because we have the democratic system for a long time back then when other countries did not. Apart from that, regarding on how foreign countries get their news [about Thailand], we need to step up more. In some countries they do not get enough information, because of language or because ways of communication are systematically blocked. So information is not fully passed on, (...)" Panitan says.

"สื่อเทศเชื่อไทย"นองเลือด"ก่อนเจรจา "ปณิธาน"โต้"ซูจี"ยันไทยไม่เหมือนพม่า หลายชาติยังให้กำลัใจ"มาร์ค", Matichon, April 25, 2010

Hm. "We need to inform the people more" and "Some do not get enough information" are phrases that have been applied to Western foreigners, journalists, rural red shirts and pretty much on everyone who disagree with the government's spin.

h/t To a reader