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One year on: Future looks grim under Thailand's ruling junta

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 22, 2015 When Pink Floyd’s vocalist and bassist Roger Waters wrote the 1979 rock classic 'Another Brick in The Wall', he was thinking about the authoritarian teaching and rote learning he encountered in his school days that would produce, in his opinion, more proverbial bricks in the wall of mental detachment.

I recently came across somebody online pointing out the difference between a teacher and a professor: a teacher makes sure that students learn, a professor on the other hand (ideally) only points them to the general direction and leaves it up to them once they encountered the ”fountain of knowledge”. He then went on to say that a government should be similar to the professor’s job, which creates a free environment where discussions can be held and ideas can flourish. The current Thai government is more like the teacher that not only decides what we have to learn, but also when and how.

And boy, what a teacher we have right now!

It’s been exactly a year since Thailand’s military has launched the country’s 12th successful coup, toppling what was left of the embattled and besieged government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. It was the end of over half a year of anti-government protests that eventually morphed into anti-democracy rallies, but it was just the beginning of Thailand under martial law and military rule. On that day, we saw the death of Thai democracy as we knew it.

While martial law was revoked earlier this year (with the now already infamous Section 44 in its place instead), the military junta still has a tight grip on the whole political discourse and is busy re-writing and revamping almost everything about it.

The blueprint of the country’s political future is being drafted in the next constitution. But all signs show that this charter does nothing but constitutionally enshrine the steady regression of democracy by massively curtailing the powers of elected governments or otherwise leave the door open for extra-parliamentary interventions. Amidst these legislative changes, The Economist has aptly called it a "baby sitter’s-charter”.

Perhaps this is a better way to describe how the Thai military junta government rules over the country: Not only is it like a bad teacher that expects its students only to obediently memorize the stuff, but also like an overbearing nanny overlooking us on every step.

And no other person exemplifies this "teacher-nanny-in-chief"-dom than junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Driven by what I once described as "compulsive loquaciousness", Gen. Prayuth sees himself forced and challenged to say something about everything, no matter how ill-advised or confrontational it comes across. Same goes for his weekly TV addresses every Friday night (in a total of 40 hours of airtime since last year).

But it’s not only the former army chief himself who has delayed his retirement. Several other military officers have become either junta members, cabinet ministers, or more often than not both - mostly old men who may or may not have been good at commanding troops, but so far have failed to command the country to their liking.

The economy is at best floundering. But the military junta and their supporters have not realized that they are not part of the solution but an essential part of the problem - a delusion that has befallen them for a year now.

This week also marked the 5th anniversary of the deadly crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protesters. Back then, at the very early beginning of my blogging career, I said that "the worst isn’t over - the mess has just begun". Unfortunately, it seems that I was right.

In the past decade, there has been no real sincere, lasting effort from both sides of the political divide to repair the gaping wounds in the nation’s fabric. Instead, it has been covered by exactly the same "blanket over the ever-increasing rift and [blind preachings of] ‘peace, love and unity’ until the next escalation" that I warned about in 2010 - and what we got since then were more escalations and more blankets. But at this point, the wounds are wider and deeper.

It is this political short-term memory loss and cognitive dissonance that has led Thai democracy astray, weakened and easy prey for those firmly not believing in it and adamantly opposing. It is quite sobering to see those in command of the 2010 crackdown now ruling the country.

The near-term future looks rather grim. The junta has recently approved a referendum on the country’s next constitution, but at the cost of delaying possible elections until September 2016 - and even that is not guaranteed, as Gen. Prayuth threatened to stay on if the charter is rejected.

The past 12 months have contributed truckloads of bricks in the mental wall that has been growing and growing in this political crisis, making it even more difficult and daunting to tear it down.

In May 2010, I expressed my doubts that a lasting change towards a more open, free and democratic Thailand will happen anytime soon.

Five years and a military coup later, I’m still waiting.

Opinion: Thai opposition boycott a slap in the face to voters

Orginally published at Siam Voices on December 22, 2013 Thailand's opposition Democrat Party is to boycott the February 2 elections, prolonging the current political crisis. But this move will hurt the country's oldest political party in the long-run, writes Saksith Saiyasombut

When Sukhumband Paribatra was reelected as Governor of Bangkok in March this year he did it with a record number of over 1.25m votes, maintaining the Democrat Party's stranglehold on Thailand's capital. However, the rival Pheu Thai Party was able to make ground, especially in the city's outskirts. In a city of roughly 12 million people, only 5 million are registered in Bangkok, while 4.2 million of them were eligible to vote. That means only about a third decided on the future of the other two-thirds. I commented back then that it was important for the Democrat Party to look beyond the city borders to the rest of the country since the next general election would likely be their "very last chance" to make a nationwide impact at the polls.

On Saturday, they slammed the door on that chance.

With the reportedly "unanimous" decision not to file any MP candidates and effectively boycott the February 2 general election, the Democrat Party of Thailand, somewhat ironically, has turned its back on democratic discourse in Thailand. Instead, it has decided to heed the the vague but shrill calls of the anti-government protesters for "reform before elections" in the form of the appointed "People's Assembly", proposed by protest leader and former fellow senior party figure Suthep Thuagsuban and his motley crew of like-minded ultra-conservatives.

Granted, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Democrat Party. It hasn't won an election in two decades and would be unlikely to sway voters in less than two months. It is also undeniable that Thailand needs political (and social) reform on several fronts and the upcoming election won't solve all these problems. But by siding with the protesters and endorsing their demands, the Democrats have delivered a slap to the face of not only to the 47m eligible voters, but also the 11.5m people that voted for them in the last general elections 2011.

While Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party won that election easily, there were surely still a lot of people willing to give then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva a second chance to initiate reforms he failed to put in place while in power from 2008-20011 and are bemoaning now to be missing today, such as the proposals by Suthep for police reform (despite being deputy-PM in charge of national security under Abhisit back then) or the sudden embrace for decentralization in form of election of all provincial governors (also not mentioned during the Abhisit premiership).

On Saturday, Democrat Party leader Abhisit lamented "the loss of trust in Thailand's political system, and respect for political parties and elections." He didn't, however, touch on the failure of the Democrat Party in the past decade to effectively adapt to the politics and policies of Thaksin Shinawatra's government(s) and the changing political landscape. The need for reform of the Democrat Party into a healthy, rational political opposition is evident. However, in the party meetings this past week, with the re-election of Abhisit and Alongkorn Ponlaboot - the party's most outspoken proponent for reform - effectively sidelined, it showed that the party is unwilling to change itself for now. The boycott decision also shows that it doesn't even acknowledge that it could have been part of the solution, but instead is becoming part of the problem. The Democrats did not "play the ball back" to caretaker-Prime Minister Yingluck, as Abhisit said. They took the ball and simply popped it.

Whatever their gambit is (most likely creating a political gridlock in order to provoke a military or "judicial" coup), it will hurt the Democrat Party in the long-run. A 2006-style impasse is not possible due to amendments in the election rules that doesn't require 20 per cent of the vote for a MP candidate in the third by-election round and also due to the fact that, unlike over seven years ago, other opposition parties have not decided on a boycott yet.

Last week, the new secretary-general Juti Krairiksh said that entering the elections would “kill” and a boycott “cripple” the party respectively. Thailand's Democrat Party chose this weekend to cripple itself and it is doubtful whether or not it can recover in its current form.

Some personal thoughts: Thai amnesty bill's wrongs do not make one right

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 4, 2013 It all happened much quicker than anybody thought. What was anticipated to last right into the weekend was done in a day and a night, and we all are still nurturing a massive political hangover.

Parliament rushed the Amnesty Bill through the second and third readings with 310 votes and an absent opposition, and now awaits confirmation in the Senate - all that amidst a flood of outcry and criticism from all sides for very different reasons. As this political crisis in Thailand has dragged on for the best part of a decade now, the political landscape has become deeply polarized.

However, the arguments of both sides show that no matter how many wrongs you make, hardly any of them make it a right.

While the ruling Pheu Thai Party initially tabled the most agreeable version of the Amnesty Bill by their MP Worachai Hema, it then did an audacious bait-and-switch as it retroactively added in the more controversial sections that ultimately transforms it into a blanket amnesty, which would cover not only political protesters, but also their leaders and other people that have been convicted .

The hubris the party showed - all that in absence of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - with this move is reminiscent of the man that is most likely to profit from it: former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra lives in self-imposed exile since 2008, following a conviction and 2-year jail sentence for abuse of power handed down by a post-coup court that was arguably biased against him. Ever since then, he has been more than a shadow if the governments of his party's incarnations, including the current one of his sister Yingluck. While it is understandable that he is longing to return to Thailand, it can be argued that he is more effective abroad than at home, given the mountain of old and new problems he would have to face on his return.

With the blanket amnesty also absolving those responsible for the bloody crackdown on the 2010 anti-government protests, the party is betraying its loyal supporter base. The red shirts are split on this matter, as seen when 4 red shirt leaders abstained (Natthawut Saikau and Dr. Weng Tojirakarn, plus "Seh Daeng"'s daughter Khattiya and MP Worachai Hema, the bill's original sponsor), while all others followed the party line - something red shirt leader and MP Korkaew Pikulthong used to try to explain his political schizophrenia.

There have been protests against the bill before by a red shirt splinter group and they will do so again on November 10, while on the same day other red shirts will rally in favor of the bill. The red shirt movement is (once again) at a junction and has to reflect on what it actually stands for: as a force for genuine political reform - even if it means breaking away from Thaksin and the Pheu Thai Party - or forever be branded as Thaksin's mob. The crucial question is, whether the majority of the base and the leaders are capable of the former?

While conservative anti-government protesters (mainly consisting of supporters of the opposition Democrat Party) rally against the impunity that Thaksin could get away with, it is also a sign of frustration from the opposition in and outside parliament in their failed attempt to get rid what they see as "Thaksinism" from Thai politics - even if it comes at the cost of democracy.

One of their main arguments is endorsing the 2006 military coup as "patriotic" to protect the country from the "evil" Thaksin and his politics. Their vehement defense of the coup and their denial of all its consequences displays the self-righteousness in their crusade for the "good people" and their lack of self-reflection.

The decision now lies with the Senate, but it can also be expected to be challenged at the Constitutional Court - two bodies that have played their own part in the political mess that Thailand is today. It is exactly the mindset of self-serving self-righteousness and a dangerous black-and-white thinking among those political institutions and groups that are not meant to be politicized but are politicized ever since the military coup and the meddling of non-parliamentary groups.

That is also why the culture of impunity of the darkest days in Thai history (1973197619922006 etc.) still prevails and will repeat over and over again until we start to realize that it needs more than just a simple electoral majority, more than an amnesty, more than the crucifiction of a political enemy and more than just the reversal to times that once were or never were at all - all those would be the first things to make things right.

Op-Ed: A 'truth' for the sake of Thailand's reconciliation does little

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 30, 2012 Last week, the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) presented its final report of their investigations of the violent clashes between the authorities and the red shirts during the 2010 anti-government protests. At least 92 people were killed and thousands injured. The overall outcome was that they find faults at both sides. However, it does very little to move the country forward to the much-yearned for national reconciliation.

Right from the outset the commission was met with skepticism and rejection, especially from the red shirts, since it was established shortly after the protests during the Abhisit administration and the fear of bias was strong. Even if an investigation would have been set up by the succeeding Yingluck government, any inquiry that would be set up by any government would be regarded as partisan in this current political climate.

The real problem of this panel is not what is being pointed out by the report or whether or what the motives of the nine commissioners were, but rather the toothless nature of the panel. It was given virtually no powers and access to forensic and official information in order to conduct proper investigations regarding the violent clash of April 10, 2010, and the bloody crackdown that ended on May 19, 2010.

And so the actual report was criticized and rejected by both sides, neither fully acknowledging the claims by the TRCT that there were mistakes done by them in order to prevent violence. However, the emphasis of the alleged link of a black-clad militia group to the red shirt leaders, especially to the late rogue Major General Khattiya"Seh Daeng" Sawatdiphol - who denied any involvement with them, but confirmed their role during the April 10 clashes shortly before he was assassinated from a sniper who the TRCT concluded must have shot from a building under control of the army - all without proper evidence, which begs the question where the priorities of the commission lie.

The personal opinion of TRCT chairman Khanit na Nakhon (which has been wrongly reported as an official statement of the commission by a few outlets) that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra should "sacrifice himself" and keep out of politics underlines one major misunderstanding and the ultimate blind spot of many political actors: the notion that Thaksin is the root of all evil problems ignores the long-term effects of his (in no way altruistic or goodie-goodie) policies that lead to the political awakening of the population outside of Bangkok.

On the other hand, there were many solid and legitimate findings and recommendations made by the TRCT report, such as the call for amendment of the draconian lèse majesté law and the call to the armed forces to restrain themselves from taking political sides. But those are just non-binding recommendations and it has to be seen if anyone would take these to heart and implement actual change. Furthermore, this report does not give more clarity for the victim's families, which is unfortunately more the rule than the exception in Thailand, as political events that have turned violent in the past have never been properly investigated.

This country has a very long history of impunity where the state perpetrators have never been held accountable for their decisions and their consequences - many of them resulting in deaths. Whether it was the attacks on democracy activists on October 14, 1973, the Thammasat University massacre of October 6, 1976, the Black May of 1992 or the recent military coup of 2006, the events of modern Thai history have left gaping wounds in the nation's fabric and those responsible have never been brought to justice. Instead, for the sake of national 'reconciliation,' the anger has been attempted to be quelled with the ever-repeating mantra of forgiving and forgetting - only for the next tragedy to strike and many to ask how it could happen again.

Reconciliation cannot happen without understanding or even be ready to acknowledge what brought us here to the first place, that competing narratives and opinions about our past, present and future exist, that 'unity' should not require surrender of differences and that the 'truth' can no longer be claimed by just a few. That is the main point of this column: it's not so much what the 'truth' is here presented by the TRCT, what is crucial for this country is how the 'truth' is being handled and implemented by the stakeholders and by the common citizen in order to move Thailand beyond the current power gridlock.

The full TRCT report in Thai can be downloaded in PDF form here and the English-language press release here.

Thailand: 2 years after the May 19 crackdown - some personal (and very short) thoughts

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 21, 2012 On Saturday, thousands of red shirts gathered at Ratchaprasong Intersection in Bangkok to commemorate the second anniversary of the violent crackdown against the anti-government protests on May 19, 2010 by the military. Ninety-one people have lost their lives and thousands were wounded in the clashes - protesters, soldiers, civilians and journalists (notably Fabio Polenghi) are among the casualties. In the past two years there has been hardly any justice and impunity still prevails.

There seems to be a growing discontent among some red shirts over the people they initially supported. Key issues such as lèse majesté have still seen no action from the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Many see this as a promise from the government in exchange for a shaky détente with the military that allows it to stay in power. Yingluck's brother, the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, made his regular phone-in to his supporters on Saturday, asking the crowd to put aside calls for solving social inequalities and injustice for the sake (yet again) for national reconciliation - potentially alienating the progressive, pro-democracy wing of the red shirt movement.

In contrast to 2010 and 2011, I have decided not to write a long column on the state of the nation. However, I tweeted a few concise thoughts on Saturday that have gained some response and I thought they would be worth sharing here:

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

Self-promotion: World Policy Journal's "When should language be restricted?"

I have been recently approached by World Policy Journal, a magazine on global affairs and international relations, to contribute to their most recent issue. In each issue, the publication tackles a certain broad topic to be reflected in several ways from several perspectives and with an international focus. Their newest Spring issue is all about language and "The Big Question"-section asks:

 "When should language be restricted?"

As often as language is used with great facility to promote beauty, express deeply felt emotions, and convey vital information, it is all too often used malevolently to pit nations or communities against one another. Rather than promoting peace and understanding, it can undermine these aspirations. We have asked our panel of global experts to weigh in on this critical question about the use and abuse of language.

Head over here to see what my answer to that is and be also sure to check out what other contributors like renowned Egyptian blogger "Sandmonkey" are thinking about this issue.

2011 - Some Personal Thanks!

Over at Siam Voices I have listed some of the most newsworthy stories of 2011, which you can read here. On this webspace here however, I just want to thank following people (in no particular order) for their support, acknowledgment or just the the privilege of having encountered each other over the last 12 months:

Eric, Flo, Ale, Tri, Greg, Fari, Lily, Joseph, Melissa, Matt, Kitty, Karla, Kim, Leela, Anne & Pokpong, Tum, Fergal, Jon, Adam, Jessica, Paul, Fabian, Lizzie, Glenn, Lucas, Elisa, Daniel, Lars, Andrea, Anniken, Nareas, Nok, Narut, Pouk, Kamonwan, Peter, Brock, Khun Mot, P' Som, Anasuya & Newley, Nirmal, Marwaan, Noppatjak, Zoe, Rachel, Wayne, John, Matt, Khun Mix, Serhat, Andrew, Claudio, Aela, Simon, David, Lisa, Nicola, Holger, Lee, Regina, Marten, Jörn, Patrick, Pailin W., Dom, Dao, Kaori, Christoph, Tim, Jost, Pailin C., Job, Mond, Somsak & Suchitra, Pinn, Tobi, Matthijs, Roman, Fred, Conse, Sören, Rike, Janine, Fran, Ches, Cod, Kaewmala, Sylvie, Christian, Sophia, Tim, Annika, Sarah, Dan, Daniel, Timo, Rikker, Oliver, Jack, Diane, Etienne, Linda, Tina and many, many more!

THANK YOU ALL! This year really went to '11! Here's to an even better 2012! :)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaker: Saksith Saiyasombut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing: Talk at Payap University on September 27, 2011

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

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

Speaker: Saksith Saiyasombut

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

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

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

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

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

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