The compensation question

16 08 2011

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has a very thoughtful story regarding red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan’s call for the new government to consider compensation of 10 million baht to each family of the 92 people killed during the clashes in April and May last year. Not surprisingly, the proposal has created considerable controversy.

PPT doesn’t intend to summarize the article. There’s plenty of room for debate on this topic and the comments made by still-grieving families seeking truth, justice and answers deserve attention and for the injured seeking proper and affordable care. However, we were somewhat taken aback by what some of the critics have said.

For example, retired Chulalongkorn University sociologist and director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the university, Surichai Wankaew, goes on what seems like a rant, saying “it is only appropriate for the legislative branch to be responsible for discussing reparations to victims. But it should not be left to only certain politicians, who might try to exploit the issue…”. He added that: “If we allow politicians to abuse the deaths issue [for their political gains], all of society will not feel that it shares the loss and concern [of the victims]…. The result is that the tragedies will become the issues of one group only, not a collective social pain. It might worsen the conflict between groups.”

Then he continued: “Baiting the [families of] red shirt victims with financial packages is a dangerous, misplaced and misled move…“. That might be true if it wasn’t for the fact that the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration has already had the Ministry of Social Development paying compensation.

The article states:

According to the Social Development Ministry, it has paid out 400,000 baht in reparations to each family of the 92 people killed during the April-May 2010 violence, for a total of 36.8 million baht. Each of four people who were physically disabled received 320,000 baht, while each of the 86 people seriously injured (requiring more than 20 days of hospitalisation) received 100,000 baht apiece. Each of the 599 people who were injured, but not seriously, received 60,000 baht compensation. The government also paid 984 people who sustained minor injuries 20,000 baht each. One special case requiring ongoing medication received cash assistance of 423,209 baht.

Fair-minded observers would look at this and see it as wholly unsatisfactory. It was a pittance compared with the compensation the Abhisit government handed out to businesses in the Rajaprasong area, which had reached 14 billion baht in May this year.

Where was Surichai when the previous government “baited” red shirts – in fact, the 92 dead figure includes officials killed in the period – with a pittance and left the families to carry huge bills for the deceased and injured? Did he complain then? Are far as we can tell he was silent. Is the suggestion that compensation to the families of the dead be increased by 25 times really as bad as Surichai suggests?

It seems that it is Surichai who is playing politics. After all, PPT has posted on the support Surichai gave to the Abhisit regime and his earlier support for the 2006 coup and his role as a military junta-appointed legislator. Surichai’s politics are again to the fore as he simply opposes any initiative that he considers “political.” That seems to mean anything from red shirts or pro-Thaksin Shinawatra parties.

In another Post report, the new Defense Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa shows his age by immediately getting Jatuporn’s proposal wrong. The rport states:

In response to the demands of red shirt leader and Pheu Thai list MP Jatuporn Prompan that each family of red shirt demonstrators and security officers who were killed during political protests receive 10 million baht compensation from the government, Gen Yutthasak said if the government wanted to put in place a reconciliation process, it should award compensation to victims in all political camps, not only the red shirt movement.

As far as PPT can recall, Jatuporn was speaking about April and May 2010 and, as the quote makes crystal clear, he included security officers. So the only addition proposed by Yutthasak is for compensation for yellow shirts killed in political violence. This may have some merit. However, it means he’s talking about two (?) further deaths, one in Bangkok and the other in Chiang Mai (we exclude the car bomber who blew himself up). Correct us if we are wrong. There were many more injured in PAD events, including many police.

We have no idea what to do with the comment by a Democrat Party MP that the “red shirt movement should instead demand compensation from Thaksin Shinawatra, not the Yingluck administration.”





Red shirt cases reflect politics and injustice

12 08 2011

In the Bangkok Post, Achara Ashayagachat reports that the Truth for Reconciliation Commission has urged that prosecutions against red shirts arrested following 2010’s “deadly dispersal of the protesters” should be suspended.

Somchai

Commissioner Somchai Homla-or said “justice was the best remedy for the victims and the remedy was a pre-requisite for the needed reconciliation.” It was noted that “[s]trong accusations by the last [Abhisit Vejjajiva] administration led to excessive charges which had resulted in the courts denying bail requests by many red shirt suspects.”

While Tharit Pengdit, chief of the Department of Special Investigation, said the Department did not arbitrarily charge anyone, Somchai “said defendants in at least 53 cases face serious charges such as arson and terrorism which are punishable by death.” He referred to “blanket arrests and the issuance of warrants based only on photos of suspects [that] have led to a sense of unfairness…”.

Somchai added the important point that “imposing serious charges such as lese majeste against many red shirts was politically motivated.” He also notes that there was remarkable bias in court actions: “only the protesters were on trial, but not the government officials…”, emphasizing “the sense of injustice…”.





Links to recent coverage of Somsak case

12 05 2011

PPT is short on time at the moment, but has been pleased to see so much coverage of the charges against Somsak Jeamteerasakul. Links below highlight crucial items of interest. PPT hopes to have more time to offer analysis in the coming days.

Achara Ashayagachat, Prachatai, 11 May 2011, “Somsak Gets Warm Support”

Thanapol Eawsakul, Prachatai, 11 May 2011,  “On the Lese Majeste Proceedings Against Somsak Jeamteerasakul”

Yojana Sharma, University World News, 11 May 2011, “Thailand: Academic Charged in Watershed Political Case”

Pravit Rojanaphruk, The Nation, 12 May 2011, “Lese majeste under increasing scrutiny”

Thomas Fuller, The New York Times, 12 May 2011, “In Thailand, Tensions rise over royal family role”





Calling out Abhisit on lese majeste

2 05 2011

Just a day after PPT criticized a Bangkok Post editorial for its support of lese majeste, we are prompted to applaud one of its journalists for daring to write of the political uses of lese majeste by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Achara Ashayagachat points out that, despite his promises, the premier “has done little to … review ‘over enthusiastic’ applications of lese majeste law.” Achara says that with an election looming “it is tempting to assume that Mr Abhisit’s apathy suits his interests, as the government may be using the lese majeste law to silence its critics, and bolster its own image at the same time.”

Of course, she is spot on. She says that the Abhisit government “has launched an offensive against supposed lese majeste offenders … which bears similar hallmarks of hysteria.

She recalls when Abhisit said he was “worried that police and the military were interpreting the law too strictly, given that Thais also enjoy the right to freedom of speech, within sensible limits.” But the premier has “done little about his promise since, particularly the risk that suspects could be hit with both charges under the Criminal Code and the Computer Act for the same offence. A double dose could result in more serious punishments than were ever intended when the laws were passed.”

Achara rightly observes that the use of lese majeste charges has multiplied in leaps and bounds under Abhisit.

Under the so-called Democrat Party-led coalition, “thousands of websites have been blocked.” Editors are regularly harassed if they seem oppositional and the rather bland Prachatai still finds itself subject to official blocking.

More significantly for PPT, it is clear that lese majeste is being used to neuter the influence of opposition media during the election campaign. This strategy is put in place and overseen by Army boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

In her report, Achara notes the “worrying” legal processes of hearing cases in “near-secrecy.”

For her, the result is the Democrat Party has taken over from the People’s Alliance for Democracy. She notes that the current lese majeste campaign “associated with the ultra-nationalism [generated by the Thai-Cambodian border dispute] and royalism which was previously the domain of some of its more radical yellow-shirt supporters.” Yet another reason for winding down PAD.

She seems to thinks that this “image” is one of extremism that “is not a healthy image for a mainstream party to be taking into the election.”

Achara concludes with these accurate and important statements: “The government has told its critics not to exploit the monarchy for political gain. Its campaign against lese majeste offences has exposed the government to the same charge: that its supposed defence of the monarchy is really just a way of currying favour with nationalist voters. Is the government’s record on the economy or social policy really so dismal that it needs to fall back on such tired old tricks? It should do as it urges its political opponents, and campaign cleanly on its record. The lese majeste campaign is politically loaded and does the government no favours.”

For PPT, however, the issue is that the Democrat Party is working for the royalist elite that controls the real power. They are worried that the party will stumble at the polls, and they have a campaign strategy that demands a win at any cost. Using the monarchy as its symbol is a part of Democrat Party history. Kukrit and Seni Pramoj used it against those he saw as republicans in the 1950s. When the royalist elite’s interests and political control are threatened, they fight with their heaviest artillery. Expect a lot more of this. And if they win, expect even more crackdowns, claiming an “electoral mandate” for crushing republicanism.





Further updated: Abhisit’s royalist boomerang and the failure of royalist reform

27 03 2011

The Bangkok Post’s Achara Ashayagachat is in great form on 27 March 2011. She has two noteworthy articles in the Post.

Her first takes up a theme that has been winding its way through several PPT posts (e.g. here, here and here), where she points to the irony of Article 7 of the Constitution being invoked against current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. As she points out, Abhisit “once supported the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s (PAD) call for an invocation of Section 7 of the constitution to pave way for royal appointment of an unelected prime minister to replace Thaksin Shinawatra.”

PAD at Government House

That call led, eventually, along a path to the king’s intervention, calling for and getting the intervention of a shonky judiciary, and a coup in 2006. More than that, PAD is calling for a boycott of any upcoming election, a tactic that the so-called Democrat Party signed up for in 2006.

Abhisit’s then allies in PAD have now bitten the hand that fed them (with others) back then.

Achara notes that PAD is “not the only group promoting the vote-no campaign. Some civil groups working on national reform also support the idea of asking voters to tick ‘vote no’ in the ballot. These groups believe that politicians are evil and the coalition administration has proved to be corrupt and inefficient in eliminating money politics from Thailand.”

Achara chides these groups for its rejection of the electoral system and, implicitly, of the underlying denigration of voters.

Achara’s second article refers to the allegedly “historic” talkfest held by the “National Reform Assembly (NRA) attended by 2,000 community leaders and civic groups at a cost of several million baht to taxpayers ended yesterday with grand words but no guarantees of action.” It seems it was pretty ho-hum. She says:

Anand Panyarachun, chairman of the National Reform Commission (NRC), and Dr Prawase Wasi, chairman of the NRA, presided over a closing ceremony that resembled a bureaucratic workshop. Representatives of eight discussion groups handed over a “declaration of the people” to the two reform leaders appointed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva last year.

Anand and Prawase are paid up members of the ruling elite of old men, but are not usually seen as stubborn old men.

Anand received the so-called people’s declaration and said that “debates on reform would hopefully help address conflicts within society which have led to violence. Dr Prawase said he hoped reform would bring a ‘new paradigm’ for the country to place power with the people rather than moneyed interests.” Sounds remarkably like 1997 as the localists and the nationalists signed up for the king’s sufficiency economy. In other words, while the tone is “liberal” – let voices be heard and let reform reign – the outcome is likely to be royalist nonsense that allows little real reform or innovation.

Ho-hum….

Update 1: A reader points to another boomerang that Abhisit seems to have ducked, at least for the moment. The reader points to Abhisit’s October 2008 speech to Parliament and a press conference that flayed then-PM Somchai Wongsawat as being responsible for the one death and several injuries during the PAD street protests (another death was a PAD car bomber who blew himself up, with the funeral being attended by Abhisit and Anand). The reader points to the irony and hypocrisy of Abhisit in the light of the more than 90 killed in April and May 2010.

Apparently the gist of Abhisit’s speech were reported in Matichon Weekend, 23-29 April 2010 and translated by a contributor (Srithanonchai) at Andrew Marshall’s blog (24 April 2010). We copy it here:

Matichon Weekend, 23-29 April 2010, page 9 reported Abhisit’s above quote in the following way (my translation):

“Regarding the entire incident, the prime minister cannot reject being responsible for not performing his duties, or for intending that this incident would occur. But what is worse is to blame the officials, that is, to slander the people. I could not think or dream that we would have a state that does harm to the people, even including deaths and severe injuries, and still have a state that even shifts responsibility to the people. This behavior is unacceptable.

I have heard the government asking this or that person whether they were Thai or not. But regarding your [Somchai Wongsawat] behavior, are you a Thai or not? Are you human or not? Today, politically, your legitimacy is gone already. We demand that the prime minister shows responsibility.” Abhisit referred to resignation or the dissolution of parliament. If Somchai remained idle, this would do harm to the country, and to the political system.

“There is no democratic political system in this world in which the people are harmed by the state, but the government that came from the people does not show responsibility. … Even if the PAD had done something wrong, the government had no right to do harm to the people.”

When the reporters asked Abhisit at that time how come that there could be such a big crisis, while the PM could still remain in office, Abhisit briefly but clearly answered:

“I cannot answer this. I have never been such a person. The normal human beings that I know are not of this kind.”

The paper concluded, “Abhisit’s words in the past and his actions in the present are totally opposite.”

As well as supporting PAD, Abhisit comdemns Somchai as all but inhuman and un-Thai for security forces being responsible for one death. Maybe being responsible for dozens of deaths is human and Thai (royalist variety). But we forget: the military and government continue to claim that security forces killed not a single person….

Update 2: Pravit Rojanaphruk also has a piece on the reform talkfest that is worth reading. These comments are noteworthy:

Besides being seen as opportunistic, the process is also dominated by many people who are aligned or play a key role in the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement….

Many who this writer spoke to think Prawase and his followers are “shamelessly exploiting” a political opportunity to secure funding and push for reform in accordance with their moralistic view of what constitutes a good society. Others say they utterly failed to address the need for reform of those at the very apex of Thai society – namely the monarchy institution….

Prawase claimed the process was a “new paradigm” as he spoke at the end of the congress yesterday. While such a conclusion is debatable, one thing certainly new is that these people have succeeded in alienating and antagonising many red shirts in the name of a national reform that “transcends the political divide”.





Reconciliation failing in a climate of fear

27 08 2010

It is no surprise to learn from two stories in Prachatai and another in the Bangkok Post that that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s reconciliation “process” is on the rocks. In fact, the claims to reconciliation have always been a sham process because the regime has been more interested in that other R word – repression – rather than reconciliation.

In one story at Prachatai, we are told that the abbot at the Pathum Wanaram Temple has canceled a reservation by a group of red shirts to hold a religious ceremony to mark 100 days since the crackdown in May.  This temple is the one where red shirts were gunned down by army shooters on skytrain tracks that pass the temple. Activities marking 7 and 50 days since the crackdown had already been held at the temple.

Why has the temple locked out the red shirts? According to the report: “The abbot claims to have been pressured and criticized for siding with the red shirts.” The abbot “appealed to those making the request, telling them that he had been under a lot of pressure and had been reviled for siding with the red shirts.” The organizers agreed to move the event.

No reconciliation apparent in this instance. PPT recognizes that the government may claim that it is uninvolved, but the regime of which it is a leading element has created this political situation that allows red shirts no political rights.

Adding to this sorry tale is a story in the Bangkok Post, by Achara Ashayagachat, where she begins with the black comedy that is the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the autopsies they claim to have considered in their “investigation” of the victims of the government’s two violent attacks on red shirt protesters. She tells readers that, in addition to DSI, the “government-appointed Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has also put forward its recommendation that the Abhisit administration release all necessary information about the death cases and remedy measures for the relatives, the status of red shirt demonstrators and those put behind bars. That suggestion has not been heeded.”

TRC chairman Kanit na Nakorn even said “he believed an apology might be a good start for reconciliation.” Another unheeded suggestion. But then his TRC decided that it was not about sheeting home any blame for the large number of civilian deaths and injuries.

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch, asked “if we could really move the country forward from the painful past if the facts cannot be honestly told.” Others asked where the gestures of reconciliation were within the government. They asked why Abhisit and others involved in ordering and managing the violent crackdown had not sent “any consolatory bouquets to the hospitalised red shirt demonstrators or letters of condolence to relatives of the dead red shirt protesters…”.

The parents and relatives of victims say that the government-appointed reconciliation committees have not contacted them and nor has the now useless National Human Rights Commission. It seems that all the government has done is pay out monetary compensation.

No reconciliation in this instance.

In a second story from Prachatai, reproduced from The Nation, Pravit Rojanaphruk tells readers not of reconciliation, but of fear. He refers to the fear of one of the students who was attacked by a royalist lecturer at the royalist Chulalongkorn University. She’s fearful that her participation in a tiny demonstration will mean that she will be persecuted and may be unable to graduate. No wonder she is fearful when the yellow-shirted Dean of the Faculty of Political Science supported the lecturer.

Pravit explains that he “failed to convince her that she had nothing to fear and that it is the authorities, the prime minister and the lecturer who intimidated her who should be ashamed.” Then Pravit contextualizes this small event and the fear it generated:

This incident is probably a good indication of the fact that maybe both the government, and the ruling elite that are intimidating others, are afraid too. They are terrified of the changes that the major transitions in Thai politics and society will bring, and this was made clear by their claims that the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra were allegedly plotting to overthrow the monarchy. These people are also afraid to admit that the rural and the urban poor have changed and now want a greater political say as well as a more equitable economic share.

They are insecure, and perhaps even paranoid, about what might become of Thai society in say five or ten years. And when the ruling elite is insecure, fearful and paranoid, they overreact by instilling fear in those they believe to be their enemies.

But all this does is perpetuate a cycle of fear in society.

Pravit then asks: “… why the government is refusing to stop and reconsider now that it has had Bangkok and its surrounding provinces under emergency for four months? How can an administration that claims to be working for national reconciliation and unity continue creating such a climate of fear?” The answer for PPT is that there has never been anything other than a sham or false reconciliation. The “natural” trajectory for this government and its regime is fear and repression.








%d bloggers like this: