14 October 1973

14 10 2012

The video below, part one of a series at YouTube, is a documentary made a few years ago at Thammasat University, bringing together what remains of the materials of the time. The short note under the video describes 14 October as one of Thailand’s “darkest moments.” That probably refers to the use of state forces to put down the student-led revolt. At the same time, 14 October is remembered as a rising against military dictatorship that sought to establish a democratic Thailand. The struggle continues.





Thammasat administrators bury Pridi’s legacy

31 01 2012

According to The Nation, Thammasat University administrators are reported to have banned Nitirat from using university facilities to campaign against coups and the lese majeste law.

Insulting Pridi

PPT agress with human rights activist Pokpong Lawansiri who is quoted as saying it was a “sad and embarrassing” event for the university. He added:

The university – every square inch of it – has been the battleground for freedom for a long time, he said.

Why don’t you just destroy the statue of university founder Pridi Banomyong, former rector Puay Ungpakorn and the heroes of the October 14/October 6 incidents altogether?” he said.

Recall that this is the same university that allowed the People’s Alliance for Democracy to begin its renewed “anti-Thaksin” campaign there on 28 March 2008. When mildly criticized by the government, then Thammasat rector Surapol Nitikraipoj

maintained that since Thammasat University is a public ground, the university must allow all kinds of events to be staged that comply with university regulations without prejudice (Bangkok Post, 5 April 2008).

Double standards and prejudice seem to be at work amongst Thammasat administrators.





PAD says “anything but elections”!

24 03 2011

While the People’s Alliance for Democracy doesn’t have the same large numbers of people mobilized now as it did in 2005 and 2008, it continues to have enough support, including from elements in the military and elite to maintain a presence on the streets and in the media. At present it seems that PAD is again promoting its non-democratic form of conservatism. PPT mentioned Sondhi Limthongkul’s position in a recent post.

More recently, lawyer Praphan Khoonmee, who participated in the popular uprising on 14 October 1973 and joined the Communist Party after 6 October 1976 has spoken to PAD’s followers urging a system of government akin to Fascism. He is reported in Prachatai to have “contested general elections twice in 2005 and 2007 under the Democrat Party, but failed. He was appointed a member of the National Legislative Assembly after the 2006 coup. Currently, he is an executive member of the New Politics Party, and a host of an ASTV weekly programme.” He was even appointed an official adviser by the current Democrat Party-led government in 2009.

His elite and royalist connections are clear from his time as “a close aide of Squadron Leader Prasong Soonsiri.” Prasong is a well-known figure, a staunch royalist, anti-Thaksin activist, constitution drafter, behind-the-scenes PAD adviser, former security master and former appointed minister.

On 21 March, Praphan told the assembled yellow shirts that he “will accept any means to let good people govern the country, saying that it is their right to have a better political system.” He claims that, since 1932,  “Thailand had been more ruined under elected governments than under military juntas and appointed governments.” This is all reactionary bilge.

He lists a bunch of military dictators and royal appointed leaders to back his claims, including Sanya Thammasak, Anand Panyarachun, General Prem Tinsulanonda and General Surayud Chulanont. He claims that all of these leaders – a long list, including People’s Party revolutionaries – produced less corruption than the evil, elected prime minister – Thaksin Shinawatra.

PPT has no idea how Praphan does his sums, but accuracy is not important for his is a call for an authoritarian, preferably military, regime. Dictators, he says, produced better results, and Thailand “flourished better under appointed PMs…”.

The former communist lauds all of the corrupt and dictatorial rulers he formerly hated, all in the name of opposing Thaksin and the idea that voters can make a reasonable decision on who should govern them.

Not surprisingly, he gives special attention to Privy Council President Prem. He says “elected politicians were in awe of military power” meaning that Prem could make Thailand a “country was full of happiness, without the need of elections.” Of course, there were elections and attempted coup, but Prem retained the support of the palace.

The elected politicians, including Abhisit Vejjajiva, he says, were all hopeless and corrupt: “This is the system of elections! A sham democracy!” He says “anybody” would be better than “the current politicians.” He adds: “And if you ask what system we want if we don’t want elections, we will accept any system which does not let these scoundrels govern. Any system which lets good people govern will do. We’re not seeking a system which will threaten the nation, religion and king.”

He calls on soldiers, police, and government officials to “stand up for the good of the country.”

PAD seem back to their undemocratic best. In our earlier post, we asked: Who is supporting PAD and keeping it on the streets? We also noted that Sondhi and his retired military backers were steering a course to the extreme right. Praphan confirms that. Will this have traction? Will the military buy in?





Remembering 14 October

14 10 2010

Last year PPT posted on this day, saying: “14 October 1973 is an important date to recall and to remember in the struggle for democracy in Thailand. While the monarchy’s role in the events have been eulogized and image-made, this was a people’s movement.” It seems that we are going to have to continue making this point again and again.

This year, so pictures sourced from the web, and a suggestion that readers might like to view some video of events here.





Mad monarchists

19 09 2010

Prachatai reports that on 14 September, Boworn Yasinthorn, “a former student leader during the 14 Oct 1973 incident and President of the Network of Volunteer Citizens to Protect the Monarchy on Facebook, lodged a complaint with Air Chief Marshal Naphreuk Manthajit, chair of a Senate committee monitoring the enforcement of laws and measures to protect the monarchy, demanding that serious legal action be taken against those who offend the monarchy.”

Boworn complained that the 14 October 1973 student-led uprising has been used and “distorted to slander the monarchy for being involved in the event…”.

Boworn was the leader of the group that “previously asked the DSI to prosecute red-shirt singer Tom Dundee, who, he alleged, offended the monarchy in a public speech in Ratchaburi on 8 June.”

Seemingly maddened by “Two unidentified persons have posted a link to the YouTube clip on their Facebook pages from abroad,” Boworn is demanding that his group’s website be protected by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from nasty overseas posters. Crackpots are usually ignored by governments in normalized societies, but not in Thailand, as Boworn will have the support of yellow shirted royalists.

While PPT might wish that it could dismiss these kinds of monarchist as crackpots, it is clear that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, several ministers, the political police at the Department of Special Investigation, and a bunch of yellow shirts take these crackpots seriously. Of itself, this shows how deeply this government is mired in authoritarian political practice.





The king fades, maybe

16 05 2010

The New York Times (15 may 2010) has an article on the fading influence of the king. It is already getting attention. It begins: “A battle over Thailand’s future is raging, but the one man who has been able to resolve such intractable conflicts in the past has been notably silent: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, long a unifying father figure for his nation.”

Maybe the problem is that western reporters have been unwilling to ask the right questions in the past and don’t see that the king has only entered “intractable conflicts” in the past when it has been clear who the victors would and should be. Should the question now be this: why is there no word from the king or from anyone else in the ruling elite or even from the major business groups in Thailand?

The answer would seem to be that they are in support of the government’s crackdown. We assume that also applies to the monarchy and those close to it.

In this sense, then, it is unclear whether the king’s power is waning or whether he and his close advisers are happy enough with the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s actions. Given that the current events were born of the military-palace coup of 2006, that would seem a reasonable conclusion.

Charles Keyes,  at the University of Washington in Seattle is cited: “It’s a collapse of the political consensus that the monarchy has helped maintain.” That’s true.

The NYT says that “the king has disappointed many Thais by saying nothing that might calm the turmoil, as he did in 1973 and 1992 when with a few quiet words he halted eruptions of political bloodletting.” He would probably disappoint many yellow shirts and the old oligarchy if he sought to stop the crushing of the red shirts – an unlikely event in any case.

The problem with the NYT is that they don’t ask these questions because they somehow believe the propaganda: “King Bhumibol expanded his role as a constitutional monarch without political power into an enormous moral force, earned through his civic work and political astuteness.”

Yes, it sees the “network monarchy”: “With the monarchy at its heart, an elite royalist class grew up including the bureaucracy, the military and entrenched business interests. A palace Privy Council has exerted power during the current crisis.” And it recognizes that the current protest involves the red shirts against “this elite class.”

It is partly true that “the politicization of the king’s name ‘has ensured that the monarchy cannot play a central conciliatory role any more,’ said Chris Baker, a British historian of Thailand.” However, the monarchy was also politicized in 1976 and that led to the bloody crackdown at that time. And, yes, it is also true that the coming succession is a problem for a politicized monarchy. So why have they allowed themselves to get into the current predicament? Perhaps it is because they really do want to destroy any politicized force that they see as threatening.

All the NYT come come up with is a bland answer: “What sets King Bhumibol apart is the aura that surrounds him and the faith among many people that when things are really bad, he will step forward to save them from themselves.”

The government says it works to protect and promote the monarchy. It seems reasonable to believe them on this and to understand that they do this with the palace’s approval, even if it isn’t stated publicly.

A battle over Thailand’s future is raging, but the one man who has been able to resolve such intractable conflicts in the past has been notably silent: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, long a unifying father figure for his nation.Thailand is convulsed by a bitter struggle between the nation’s elite and its disenfranchised poor, played out in protests that have paralyzed Bangkok for weeks and now threaten to expand. The ailing 82-year-old king finds his power to sway events ebbing as the fight continues over the shape of a post-Bhumibol Thailand.

“It’s much bigger than the issue of succession,” said Charles Keyes, an expert on Thailand at the University of Washington in Seattle. “It’s a collapse of the political consensus that the monarchy has helped maintain.”

As his country suffers through its worst political crisis in decades, the king has disappointed many Thais by saying nothing that might calm the turmoil, as he did in 1973 and 1992 when with a few quiet words he halted eruptions of political bloodletting.

For more than two months now, demonstrators known as the red shirts, who represent in part the aspirations of the rural and urban poor, have occupied parts of Bangkok, forcing major malls and hotels to close as they demand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and hold a new election. Soldiers and protesters continued battling Saturday.

After taking the throne nearly 64 years ago, King Bhumibol expanded his role as a constitutional monarch without political power into an enormous moral force, earned through his civic work and political astuteness. He has also presided over an expansion of the royal family’s now vast business holdings. With the monarchy at its heart, an elite royalist class grew up including the bureaucracy, the military and entrenched business interests. A palace Privy Council has exerted power during the current crisis.

It is this elite class that the protesters are now challenging.

Those who seek to maintain the status quo have proclaimed themselves loyal to the king and have accused the red shirts of trying to destroy the monarchy as they seek changes in Thai society. For their part, most red shirts say they respect the king but want changes in the system he helped create.

The politicization of the king’s name “has ensured that the monarchy cannot play a central conciliatory role any more,” said Chris Baker, a British historian of Thailand.

More broadly, the divisions in society may have become too deep and the anger too hot to reconcile for years to come. Many analysts say a lasting class conflict has been ignited between the country’s awakening rural masses and its elite hierarchy. With the king confined to a hospital since September with lung inflammation and other ailments, concern about the future has sharpened. The heir apparent to the throne, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has not inherited his father’s popularity.

But discussion about the succession and about the future role of the monarchy are constricted to whispers and forbidden Internet sites by a severe lèse-majesté law. A 15-year penalty for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, the heir apparent or the regent” has been broadly interpreted in cases brought against writers, academics, activists, and both foreign and local journalists.

Though it is the protesters who are pressing for change, including some who may see a republican form of government in the future, it is a leading member of the establishment party that now rules Thailand who put the issue into its plainest terms.

“We should be brave enough to go through all of this and even talk about the taboo subject of monarchy,” said Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, in a speech last month that he gave, significantly, outside Thailand at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “I think we have to talk about the institution of the monarchy, how would it have to reform itself to the modern globalized world.”

He spoke of Britain and the Netherlands as models, with constitutional monarchs who play a largely symbolic role.

On paper at least, those models are not so very different from the system now in place in Thailand. What sets King Bhumibol apart is the aura that surrounds him and the faith among many people that when things are really bad, he will step forward to save them from themselves.

In a way, what some Thais are saying now is simply that it is time for the king’s “children” to grow up and solve their problems themselves.

“There might still be people in Thai society that want to see the king play a role in resolving the crisis,” said Jon Ungpakorn, a former senator and one of the nation’s most vocal advocates for democracy.

“But on the other side, a large section of society realizes that we should not depend on the monarchy for resolving crises,” he said. “If we are to be a democratic system, we must learn to deal with our problems ourselves.”

During weeks of street demonstrations, protesters have assiduously asserted their patriotism. But unlike other protests in the city, there has been a conspicuous absence of portraits of the king. Among both residents of the northeast, the country’s rural heartland, and the red-shirt protesters in Bangkok — many of whom have traveled back and forth in shifts — a new, less reverent tone has quietly crept into conversations.

Krasae Chanawongse, a medical doctor and former government minister in the northeast who is a strong monarchist, laments that “many people are talking about destroying the monarchy.”

But protest leaders insist that they are not challenging the king but the system that is built around him.

“Real democracy would have the king at the top, with no elite class to interfere,” said a protest leader, Nattawut Saikua, in an interview.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had built an electoral base among the country’s poor majority, who also form the base of the red-shirt protesters, threatening the traditional supremacy of the old guard. A coup in 2006 that ousted Mr. Thaksin is believed to have had at least the tacit approval of the Privy Council and other elites who saw the prime minister and his base as a challenge to their power. The red shirts have demanded a new election that could bring back Mr. Thaksin, now abroad fleeing a prison sentence for corruption.

Whoever succeeds King Bhumibol, the veneration and the place the king holds at the heart of Thai society are unlikely to survive him.

“In private discussions people say to each other, ‘What will we do without him?’ ” said a prominent poet who, like many people speaking about the monarchy, insisted on anonymity. “They get disappointed and upset and even scared about the change in the future.”

As he has grown older, concerns have risen about divisions and disputes in society that might erupt once he is gone. It appears now, with the king no longer playing the role he has in the past, that those conflicts are already under way.





Stifling creative talents

31 10 2009

Kong Rithdee, who writes about interesting movies and provides useful insights regarding popular culture in the Bangkok Post has a column that deserves to be read (Bangkok Post, 31 October 2009: “Creativity that leaves one agog”).

Kong points out that the Democrat Party-led government has earmarked “creative industries” for special attention, even allocating 5 billion baht to develop the necessary human resources and infrastructure. Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot, has trumpeted taht Thailand will become “the hub of creative industry in Asean.” He also makes the astounding claim that this industry will almost double in size, “from 12 to 20% of GNP by 2012.”

Kong says: “Great. It will be a lavish buffet table.” But then he makes an even more important point. This government is doing all it can to stifle creative talent. The really creative people, Kong says, are “continually persecuted by the conservative cultural agencies.” He asks: “how can we foster the creative atmosphere amid primitive-minded censorship? Don’t the two concepts cancel each other out?” PPT joins the chorus in answering affirmitively.

As Kong goes on to explain, “Frighteningly, it’s political content that pricks the censors even more than iced nipples, proving that the concept of critical art is not permitted here in this [supposedly] awesomely creative land.” He provides examples.

The first is a “new  Thai horror film Haunted Universities … [that] was ordered to cut two shots that show a soldier shooting at university students in an event that refers to the Oct 14 uprising, which left the university haunted.”  Why were these scenes ordered cut? It seems the snippers and protectors at the Culture Ministry such scenes obviously threatened “national security.”

The second example is from just a couple of days ago, when the film This Area Is Under Quarantine was banned. The reason for its banning is because it included “footage of the Tak Bai incident.” As Kong points out, “this footage, however, has been available … everywhere in this country for years.”

To explain just how silly all this has become, Kong points out that: “if you’re making a video of your wedding, according to the new law you have to submit it to the ratings board first! Likewise, films made at film schools to be shown for the instructors to grade will, officially, have to go through the censors, too. That’s the most creative idea we’ve heard in this country, and no doubt we’ll lead Southeast Asia in our creative glory very, very soon.”

Kong certainly doesn’t mention it, but when PPT looks at what this government does promote as acceptable art we see royal “art” that is mostly talentless. We have the vainglorious Princess Ubol Ratana being promoted as a movie talent, polymath princess Sirivannavari Nariratana portrayed as a designer and art talent, and the metropolitan art center, called the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, being dominated by displays of royal dross. Only art that is royal or lauds things royal seems to count.

This kind of censorship is silly but it is also extremely dangerous. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government have engaged in a broad campaign for the control of the media and in doing so they show themselves to be authoritarian. This is no campaign with a political motive born of the moment; rather, this is at the heart of this government’s political strategy and repression is continually used to prevent broad debate.





14 October 1973 and 24 June 1932

28 10 2009

PPT recommends the 2Bangkok.com and its 28 October page to readers (scroll down to get to the story).

While it it is a couple of weeks late for the anniversary of 14 October 1973, this blog has a picture and a very short story on the 14 October memorial. The statement in the picture is that democracy was born for Thailand on 24 June 1932.

The plaque at the bottom of the picture  is, as far as PPT knows, a reproduction of one that is located in the Royal Plaza.

Rama 7_Hitler

Source: International News Photo via 2Bangkok.com

The link then is to a series of really fascinating pictures about the last days of the absolute monarchy and King Prajadhipok prior to his abdication, with that shown to the right here being one interesting example. THe text with the photo on 13 July 1934 says: “Berlin, Germany….. Two heads that bow as one, Herr Adolf Hitler, Dictator of Germany (left), bids bon voyage to King Prajadhipok of Siam, when the latter, accompanied by his queen, left Berlin following their extended visit to Germany’s capital. This modern ruling family does all its traveling by airplane, while in Europe, at least.”

There is also a link to an article from the Asia magazine, in November, 1932, regarding the overthrow of the absolute monarchy.





Remembering 14 October 1973

14 10 2009
14 October 1973 memorial

14 October 1973 memorial

14 October 1973 is an important date to recall and to remember in the struggle for democracy in Thailand. While the monarchy’s role in the events have been eulogized and image-made, this was a people’s movement.

2Bangkok.com has a reproduction of pages from newspapers from 1973 and a link to this Wikipedia entry and to this YouTube video. Readers might also be interested in participants reflections here. There are more photos of the memorial here. TIME’s archive has this story. The latter link isn’t working consistently. Readers may need to cut-and-paste the link into their browser address window (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,910857,00.html).








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