Abhisit, violence and the Songkhran Uprising

27 08 2009

There is an audio clip doing the rounds that purports to be Democrat Party Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordering the use of violent force against red shirt demonstrators during April’s Songkhran Uprising. Abhisit doesn’t deny it is his voice, but says the clip has been doctored to change what is said on the clip. The red shirts deny being part of any “dirty trick.”

PPT had a link to the clip (see below) but it now seems to be gone – part of the Democrat Party-led government’s remarkably regular use of censorship.The site hosting the clip states:

หมายเหตุ “ไทยอินไซเดอร์” ทางเว็บมาสเตอร์ จำเป็นต้องถอดคลิปเสียงอื้อฉาวนี้ออก หลังได้รับการแจ้งจากหน่วยงานรัฐ มิเช่นนั้นจะทำการปิดเว็บ แต่เรายังขอลงเนื้อความที่มีการถอดคำต่อคำมาลง เพราะเชื่อว่า “ผู้อ่าน” มีวิจารณญาณในการรับข้อมูลข่าวสาร ว่าสิ่งใดควรเชื่อ หรือไม่ควรเชื่อ

28 ส.ค.2552

Recall the uproar when the Thaksin Shinawatra government tried to clamp down on the media. In fact, it seems to PPT that the Abhisit government is perhaps having more success in its censorship than Thaksin’s government did.

PPT has previously questioned Abhisit’s truthfulness. However, this time, we are going to assume that he is not lying. So what is happening?

In the Bangkok Post (27 August 2009: “PM: Altered audio clip misleading”) Abhisit confirms that “the voice” orders “officials to use force against red-shirt protesters…”. Abhisit states categorically: “the clip … is definitely an edited clip because I have never given out such order…” and he added that he could prove this fact. PPT will be interested in such evidence.

Sounding more and more like Thaksin Shinawatra when he was prime minister, Abhisit claims the clip was the “work of people with the ill intention of causing misunderstanding and instigating unrest, and added: “I will take legal action against whoever is involved…”. The voice clip was apparently played by the UDD’s DStation, and Abhisit “warned the red-shirt group not to spread the audio it because he would take legal action against them as well.”

Then, Abhisit, after saying how bad the perpetrators of this “dirty trick” were says that he knows “who emailed this audio clip [and adds that they] were connected to politicians and companies with links to a former prime minister, but did not say outright that the person was Thaksin Shinawatra.” To ssome observers, this might sound fishy; he knows who did it, threatened legal action, but then doesn’t name anyone. But let’s assume there are good reasons for not naming names.  Anyway, it is a developing Thai political tradition to mention unnamed people or to reveal their initials only.

But if they are known, will they be arrested?  The premier sort of waffles about “it would be good if this could be done because this should not happen to anyone.” So maybe he doesn’t know who they were?

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the “clip was clearly edited in a way to discredit the government.” This didn’t bother him because he thinks the “public were well enough informed to decide themselves whether the clip was credible or not…”. Well, maybe, but Abhisit is threatening to sue those who play it.

But Abhisit has support for his version of events. First, “Deputy Interior Minister Thavorn Senniam said he was with the prime minister during the Songkran riots all the time but never heard him give such an order.” And, Democrat Party advisory chairman Chuan Leekpai said “he could guarantee that Mr Abhisit had not ordered use of force as alleged.” Were both really by Abhisit’s side during every minute of those events?

The UDD said that so long as “it had not been clearly proven whether the clip had been edited or not, the red-shirts would not use it as a political issue to attack the government during their anti-government rally on Sunday…”.

Update 1: It comes down to this: can Abhisit really prove his counter-claim in any definitive way? Probably not. Could it have been people inside the government putting out the clip? Possibly, given the contest that has been going on of late. Could it be from within the military or ISOC? Also possible, but usually their fingerprints are large as they are so clumsy. Clearly Abhisit is under attack from many sides, but the government simply can’t afford to risk an election. So in the end, this is likely to be just one more of the mounting cases of claim and counter-claim that cannot be proven. There will be an opinion poll that will show something about public perception, but that will count for little as these opponents chip away at Abhisit.

Update 2: Thanks to several readers and to Bangkok Pundit, PPT got their copy of the clip here. We have to say that it certainly sounds like Abhisit and the statement sounds convincing. If it is a fake, it seems to have been exceptionally well done. In The Nation (28 August 2009: “Riot audio tape doctored: PM”) Abhisit admitted the voice in the clip belonged to him, but believed that part of the content was doctored because he did not make such orders. He then adds: “The audio clip was edited because the levels of sound were different,” and then adds, intriguingly, “I affirm that I have never said these words in such a combination.” He also said that he was “ready to clarify any doubts regarding the audio clip and blamed those behind it of intending to hurt the country and incite violence. He also warned such audio editing could be illegal.”

Recommended: Suranand Vejjajiva in the Bangkok Post, 28 August 2009: “PM not taking chances as red shirts crank up engine”.

Update 3: The Democrat Party’s Abhisit and his supporters are in full damage control. The Bangkok Post (28 August 2009: “Audio clip ‘sent from former Thaksin firm'”) reports that Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks proclaims that his party has traced the origins of the emails that circulated the audio clip. Buranaj says ” the original email message containing the altered audio clip featuring Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s voice was sent from a computer at SC Asset, a subsidiary of Shin Corporation, the former investment conglomerate of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.” The “odd” thing in this is that Shin is now owned by Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government’s investment arm but is still run by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s  sister (The Nation, 28 August 2009). The “edited voice recording” was sent on to the “information technology and public relations office of the opposition Puea Thai Party before being distributed to about 30 news reporters.”

[Update: PPT believes this information on ownership is incorrect and that SC continues to be controlled by Shinawatras.]

Buranaj “said this explained why Puea Thai MPs tried to get the clip played during Thursday’s meeting of the House of Representatives, which was debating the 2010 Budget Bill.” Meanwhile, another Party spokeman claimed that “forwarding false information is a violation of Article 94 of the Political Party Act and this could lead to a party dissolution.” And, in what is becoming standard practice for the Democrat Party-led government, the “website that released the audio clip had already been shut down, Information and Communications Technology Minister Ranongrak Suwanchawee said. She had ordered its closure.” She also “stressed that stringent legal action under the computer crime law would be taken against all those who forwarded the email containing the audio track.”

It may be that the Democrat Party sees this as an opportunity to go after Thaksin’s family again as another way to stymie the red shirts andPhuea Thai Party.

In a separate statement, “Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon strongly denied reported allegations the armed forces were somehow involved in releasing the sound clip.” He also said he believed that Abhisit would not issue orders to violently crackdown on protestors. He was supported by Army commander-in-chief General Anupong Paojinda who also “insisted that the military had nothing to do with the questionable audio clip.”

Update 4: The Bangkok Post (28 August 2009: “Spokesman: Clip a plot to topple govt”) has “acting government spokesman” Panitan Wattanayagorn claiming that a “group of people craving for violence wants to create a situation that could lead to a change of government and the release of the altered voice clip of the prime minister is part of its plan to incite hatred for the government…”. With no new evidence, Panitan claims that the allegedly edited audio clip “was intended to urge the people to come out against authorities.” In line with a point PPT has made in another post, Panitan says that the “government will try its best to secure the country’s stability…”.

He also said that the government would “take steps to bring those involved in tampering with the clip to justice.” After claiming that they know who distributed the clip, the government now claims that they are now in pursuit of the alleged makers of the clip. saying that there “are only a few groups of people who have the ability and equipment to do this in Thailand and it would not be difficult to find … the culprit.” If the clip is a concoction, why would acting spokesman Panitan think it had to be made in Thailand? Does he know more or is this fishing?

Update 5: The Bangkok Post (29 August 2009: “Democrats warn rivals over audio clip”)  reports that the Democrat Party is accusing “the opposition Puea Thai Party and a company linked to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of being behind the proliferation of the clip.” Now the government proclaims the clip as a “threat to national security and hurting the country as well as inciting people (to cause disturbances)…”, according to the ICT minister. Yes, national security.

Further , it has been claimed that ” the Constitution Court … [should] consider dissolving any political party involved in the posting of the clip as it could lead to violence and put national security at risk.” Yes, national security.

Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said “it was obvious Puea Thai MPs wanted to provoke hatred against the government in the run-up to the UDD’s planned rally at Sanam Luang tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Puea Thai MP Jatuporn Promphan said “SC Asset and the party will lodge a defamation suit against the Democrat Party for accusing the party of being the mastermind of the clip.”



One response

1 09 2009
New: The audio clip « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] The audio clip Further to PPT’s updated post on the allegedly faked clip of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordering a violent crackdown on […]

%d bloggers like this: