Promoting anti-democrats

23 02 2014

The Bangkok Post has managed to produce two major articles that promote anti-democracy in Thailand. One asks a reasonable question but ends up lauding of murder by anti-democrats and the other is an intervention and strategy document by a regular commentator on Thailand’s politics who usually paints himself as a “democrat,” but does nothing more than support the anti-democrats. The two pieces are mutually reinforcing and are surrounded by a series of other op-eds and articles that seldom as critical questions.

The first story has a headline “Who’s popping the popcorn?” In using this headline, the story is immediately adopting the rhetoric of the anti-democrat stage that has hailed the armed men, operating in military-like coordination, providing much of the firepower for the anti-democrat extremists, and apparently responsible for most of the deaths to date in this 3-month long “protest” to bring down the elected government.

But let’s begin with the one useful section of the report, where the possibility that soldiers are the shooters is raised:

While army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has maintained his neutrality during the political conflict, he has bluntly spoken out against hard-core red-shirt supporters such as Ko Tee, or Wutthipong Kotchathammakhun, who accused the military of trying to hunt him down and assassinate him.

It should be noted that Gen Prayuth also sent a company of troops from the Burapha Phayak regiment at the 2nd Infantry Division of the King’s Guard based in Prachin Buri to maintain order at Phan Fa Bridge following the deadly clash.

Also, the army recently told its legal experts to look into the possibility of taking action against Thammasat University history lecturer Somsak Jeamthirasakul for allegedly posting inappropriate messages about the monarchy on Facebook. The academic’s house was recently hit by gunshots.

Piling one paragraph on another is suggestive of the military’s deep involvement. That is a question that needs to be raise again and again.

But the story is marred by a continual repetition of anti-democrat stage propaganda: “Who the unidentified forces are protecting the anti-government protesters of late is anyone’s guess,” the report says. For PPT this is simply a fabricated statement. It repeats the line propagated by Suthep Thaugsuban and others to protect themselves from further murder charges. It is a disingenuous claim that is meant to portray murderers as angels of mercy, to portray evil as good. As we have noted previously, Suthep has a track record of using brute and lethal force to get his way. That the Post lauds his actions (as it did in 2010) says a considerable amount about the newspaper’s politics.popcorn1

The next line in the story reproduce a “theory” which is actually a rumor: “Some groups, including the protesters themselves, believe the armed forces are secretly providing protection for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).” It continues: “The theory holds that these so-called ‘popcorn warriors’ are soldiers safeguarding protesters from ‘foreign forces’ or “men in black” who clashed with soldiers during the 2010 violence and may have come back again to target the protesters.”

This is such a cobbled together pile of nonsense that it is difficult to know where to begin. The “foreign forces” –  Cambodians – claim is horse manure, and has been refuted time and again. That the protest leaders make this stuff up for hyper-nationalists in their crowd is simply evidence of the fascism of those leaders. To reproduce manufactured fertilizer as a “theory” is base journalism.

Making the claim about “men-in-black” reproduces Democrat Party claims – mainly made by Suthep in 2010 – that there were such men operating “amongst red shirts.” Even if PPT were to think there were some MIBs amongst the red shirts, we have yet to see convincing evidence. Suthep has never produced any evidence for these claims and when in government, he and his cronies were unable to explain how it was that allegedly large numbers of MIB were simply able to disappear. Now, he claims that MIBs are with him, raising questions regarding 2010 and who the MIB belonged to then!

Yet in the current situation, there is very clear evidence, including photographs from which some of the killers identified by police. Why is the Post not getting at this? Why is it insisting that these identified killers are “unknowns”? Is it because the story is meant to create a myth and a situation where known killers have impunity because they support anti-democrats?

This line of myth-making continues: “The ‘popcorn warriors’ were thought to have returned on Tuesday…”. The Post itself has reported this, so why is it “thought”? It is a verifiable fact, and the earlier report in the Post is then reproduced. “Thought”? What is this nonsense?

And what does the Post say about the killers?: “Their exploits have drawn praise and admiration from the protesters.” While this does tell readers that the anti-democrats are fully engaged in murder and mayhem, it does little to ask why the anti-democrats have taken this violent route from the very first incident in late November.

Where is the critical journalism that would ask questions, seek evidence and draw conclusions? Why rumor, innuendo and propaganda?

The second story at the Bangkok Post, Thitinan Pongsudhirak has another op-ed that provides some strategy advice seemingly drawn from the old men who think they run Thailand. Thitinan seems to position himself as an old man in the making. He certainly and quite suddenly seems to have become a spokesperson internationally for a grand coalition of the old (royalist) men:Thitinan

As caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra comes under mounting pressure from the gathering forces arrayed against her self-exiled and convicted brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, something will soon have to give. Thailand’s prolonged political standoff has crippled Bangkok’s central business district and placed Thailand in an economic free fall. At issue going forward is how much longer Ms Yingluck will last, how she is dislodged, what comes after, and whether a grand realignment takes place to marginalise Thaksin and move Thailand beyond him.

That is the old men’s line, propagated behind closed doors, worked out by the real ruling elite, in opaque ways that reject electoral democracy just as surely as the anti-democrats do. Think for a moment. The electorate got over a coup and went beyond it. The electorate made a clear choice in 2001, 2005, 2008 and 2011. It is a minority that now worries about an “economic free fall” they have created by their support of the anti-democrats. Why is it considered useful for a shadowy clique of royalists to come up with a nonsense notion of a “grand realignment” when they are the only political victors from such a hastily cobbled together political sham?

Thitinan provides some of the evidence of this opaque group’s machinations when he says the “latest judicial ruling by the civil court to uphold the emergency decree while prohibiting the government from using force to disperse protesters … was unsurprising. It fell in line with other decisions by the Constitution Court that have been more supportive of the PDRC than the Yingluck government, including the rejection of arrest warrants against protest leaders.”

Exactly, it is a conspiracy of the elite. Why doesn’t Thitinan explain that the very same courts made decisions to support Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government in 2010 that were diametrically opposed to this one. Why doesn’t he point out the double standard? Presumably he supports it in the interests of the old men lurking in the shadows.

He mentions a string of decisions by legal and pseudo-legal organizations in Thailand that have extended the double standards: the “Election Commission’s … foot-dragging” and politicized decisions by the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the ridiculously biased National Human Rights Commission. Where’s the criticism of this blatant creeping coup?

Yingluck might be a “lame duck” but Thitinan’s advice that “her caretaker administration … retake the offensive and start to look and feel like a functioning government again,” is about as useless as udders on a bull, and he knows that all of these agencies will pounce if she tries to “disburse budget funds, initiate policy directions, and reclaim occupied areas of Bangkok.” What kind of a political scientist makes such demands and then acknowledges that she “is now a sitting duck”? He says that the “writing is on the wall, and a déjà vu from 2008, when two proxy governments of Thaksin were ejected from office, suggests a similar fate for the caretaker Yingluck government.”

Of course that is correct, but what does Thitinan say? He advises the “watchdog agencies” to oust Yingluck’s government ousted without relatively persuasive legal and constitutional basis…”. Only relatively because this, he says, is the way to avoid a “post-Yingluck backlash from upcountry red-shirt supporters…”. So get rid of her and her elected government, but “a decent interval is needed for due process…”. Naturally, there is unlikely to be any “due process.” What he’s saying is essentially the anti-democrat stage line: the 2006 coup and the 2008 judicial coup failed; now we need to uproot the “Thaksin regime.” There’s unlikely to be little that is legal or constitutional about such a process.

Thitinan finally says that making these observations “does not condone the process.” Of course it does! His view is clear:

Thailand is now in a familiar conundrum. Another elected government from Thaksin’s power bases, haunted by corruption allegations and hounded by critical policy missteps, is being overthrown not in parliament, but in the streets and in the corridors of the judiciary and other watchdog agencies. The last time this happened, in December 2008, it begot the red-shirt demonstrators because Thaksin manipulated them and because they were effectively disenfranchised.

This time must be different.

And this is the old man line:

If Ms Yingluck is deposed in a similar fashion, the caretaker government that comes after her must be inclusive [the Anand Panyarachun technocratic solution perhaps?] Thailand does not lack human talent but it must come up with a broad-based, multi-partisan [sic.] government that features not only Thaksin’s opponents but also includes some of the more palatable members of the Thaksin side. [This is real elitist nonsense that can only come from the mouths of the old men]

Let’s get rid of Yingluck, the elected premier, and her elected government in an undemocratic manner, but let’s make it palatable.

Part of this elitist nonsense is the claim that the “rice scheme, in particular, has opened the eyes of PDRC protesters and all sorts of anti-Thaksin groups to the plight of the farm sector.” Revealingly, he states: “It is poignant to see the outpouring of sympathy for farmers from myriad rank-and-file PDRC supporters in their street rallies and in social media.”

Thitinan has probably never seen a real village except from the inside of an airconditioned car or on television. He probably has maids and other minions from the countryside, so he feels empathy for the servants too. He mistakes political convenience for “sympathy.” He seems to suffer memory loss as well. This is fake charity and false empathy from a bunch that has denigrated and exploited farmers for decades and in recent years has derided them as dolts and vote-sellers is simply swept aside and the racist and fascist anti-democrats have suddenly become the promise for “a grand realignment is premised on respecting and accepting rural voices into the mainstream fold…”

He wants these anti-democrats tio understand that “budding empathy” might be “broadened.” To what end? To wean these rural buffaloes off their Thaksin addiction: the upcountry lot “have toiled under Thaksin’s shadow for lack of a better alternative.” This is an updated Wikileaks version of the palace story from 2006, when Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda stated that Thaksin’s appeal to provincial people was doomed:

The people upcountry liked Thaksin and voted for him, but they didn’t revere him. After seeing the adoring crowds on June 9, a million people in their yellow shirts who waited for hours in the heat just to catch a glimpse of their King, Thaksin should understand that he cannot rival the King for the people’s affection, Prem concluded.

It seems that neither Thitinan nor Prem  before him are able to grasp the nature of the changes in attitudes and politics that had taken place since 2001. Politics in the current era is not about sympathy or empathy – only a few will remember Prem’s failed  “Year of the Farmer” that was devoid of any real policy? It is about getting policy right, appealing to a more informed electorate that is switched on to elections, connected by mobile and smart phones and far more aware of broader political interests than they were even a decade ago. No deal cobbled together in the shadows by wannabe kings is going to be able to change that. Those people beyond the airconditioning understand politics and are engaged by it. There’s almost no chance of winding this back.

Thitinan seems to be headed the same way as so many “academic” commentators in Thailand: they become the elite’s handmaidens. The handmaidens of the elite are anti-democrats.



2 responses

24 02 2014
Going over the brink | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] Such provocations appear to have pushed the conflict over the brink and opened the way for those associated with both sides – anti-democrats and red shirts – to battle each other in events that could easily spiral out of control, leading to the military, judiciary and the shadowy old men to seek to intervene more directly and quickly than the plan they seem to have been following. […]

24 02 2014
Going over the brink | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] Such provocations appear to have pushed the conflict over the brink and opened the way for those associated with both sides – anti-democrats and red shirts – to battle each other in events that could easily spiral out of control, leading to the military, judiciary and the shadowy old men to seek to intervene more directly and quickly than the plan they seem to have been following. […]

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