Final update: Korat, Bangkok and Srisaket

19 09 2009

Prem, double standards and protests that “improve the situation”

In this post PPT summarizes some of the reports on protests in Thailand on the 2006 coup anniversary.

Korat: The Nation (19 September 2009: “Red shirts end protest in Korat”) reports on the red shirt rally that was meant to be at the residence of Privy Councilor President General Prem Tinsulanonda in Nakhon Ratchasima. Prem is reportedly in the town. Protesters, said in one report to number 4,000 (Monsters & Critics) apparently failed to reach the compound “as they faced with barricades and hundreds of police” and joint forces of “police and soldiers [that] set up a blockage on a road leading to Gen Prem’s residence…”. The protesters called on Prem to stay out of politics and demanded that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva call an election. Many of the protesters then departed for Bangkok and the rally there.

Bangkok: Red shirt protesters were reported (The Nation, 19 September 2009: “No march to Prem’s residence”) by police to have decided not to rally at the army house Prem occupies. They said this was because he wasn’t there. However, the huge security presence was also daunting.

A separate report in The Nation (19 September 2009: “Hooligans ordered to incite unrest : Suthep”) says that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has claimed that several groups of unidentified “hooligans” have “received orders to create unrest during the red shirted protest on Saturday in Bangkok…”. Abhisit went further claiming that these groups were going to set off bombs (see the Bangkok Post report in the next paragraph). The last time this happened, in Pattaya in April, the “hooligans” were pro-government blue shirts reportedly organized by Newin Chidchob, apparently with Suthep’s blessing. Citing “intelligence reports,” Suthep said that the groups “were ordered to create violence” during Saturday’s rally, and added that the authorities had the “groups were under close watch.”

The Bangkok Post has a telling headline (19 September 2009: “Bangkok peaceful, yellow shirts riot at the border”). More on Srisaket below. The Post reports that: “the government imposed the draconian Internal Security Act once again for the latest red shirt demonstrations and deployed more than 9,000 soldiers and police to guard key locations.” PPT has emphasized this, noting an increase from previous reports.

At teh red shirt rally, United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Jatuporn Promphan,  in pouring rain and flooding told a crowd estimated at more than 5,000: “We came here today to mark the third anniversary of the coup, which has caused huge damage to the country…”. He demanded that  Abhisit resign and hold elections, and added: “This will be a peaceful protest and will end by midnight if the government does not use violence…”.

Srisaket: Meanwhile, the People’s Alliance for Democracy rallied some 5,000 supporters to their ultra-nationalist rally claiming that Thailand is losing territory to Cambodia in Srisaket province at the Preah Vihear Temple. The Nation (19 September 2009: “PM worries on clash in Si Sa Ket”) reports clashes between PAD and local villagers. Abhisit is said to have “expressed concerns” and is said that “he did not want to see Thais clash among themselves.” Abhisit wanted “peace talks” with PAD (Bangkok Post, 19 September 2009: “PM orders peace talk with PAD”). This is unremarkable because the close relationship between PAD and several senior Democrat Party leaders and Abhisit himself. He wanted the PAD leadership consulted. PAD leaders Chamlong Srimuang and Suriyasai Katasila urged that Abhisit send a representative to talk with Veera Somkwamkid, a PAD key member who led the rally, and Abhisit seems to have followed their advice. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, who is meant to be in charge of security in Bangkok (see above)  is also said to be in charge at Srisaket.

Thai TV reported that many villagers were injured in the clash with PAD. Clashes between PAD and local villager also occurred the last time PAD rallied in this area. According to Bangkok Pundit, the pro-PAD ASTV/Manager proclaimed that: “Those who love the country were … hit on the head and many injuries.”

The Bangkok Post report noted above (19 September 2009: “Bangkok peaceful, yellow shirts riot at the border”) stated that television “showed yellow-clad protesters armed with sticks beating local villagers and Thai riot police, who pushed back with shields.” It also reported that catapults and sticks were used by both sides before police separated them. It confirmed that a number of villagers were injured in the clash. According to the Post, local residents “living near the disputed border area opposed the protest by the yellow shirts protesters as they believed it could impact Thailand’s cross-border trade economy and relations with Cambodia.” The BBC has some footage.

Apparently, “PAD demonstrators broke through barricades and marched towards the 11th century temple…”. Breaking news from the Bangkok Post (19 September 2009: “Anupong: Don’t enter disputed border”) has army chief General Anupong Paochinda warning and pleading with PAD protesters, lamely saying: “The protesters can say they love the country but going into the disputed area would be dangerous and there could still be landmines…”. He warned them that they might be arrested by Cambodian authorities (not Thai authorities?). Associated Press reported that the Cambodian security forces would certainly act if the yellow shirts entered Cambodia.

Anupong asserted: “The army will act in accordance with the government’s bilateral negotiation plan. We are now working on it and we will not do anything beyond this course…”. Remarkably he is also reported to have said: “protests can take place if it can help improve the situation.”

Update 1: When PPT checked at 8:30 p.m. Bangkok time, reports were coming in that some red shirt protesters got to Prem’s Bangkok residence. They carried a 500-metre-long banner saying “we want the 1997 charter back.” The group rallied for about an hour, apparently without incident (The Nation, 19 September 2009: “Red-shirt protesters disperse from Prem’s Sisao residence”). At the main rally, a red-shirt leader, Natthawut Saikua, waited for Thaksin’s video speech at at 8:30 p.m. and, contradicting earlier statements, promised a further march on Prem’s residence. Another leader, Jatuporn, threatened to prolong the protest if police use the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against protesters. He was apparently responding to police statements that if the protesters turn violent, they would use water cannon and the LRAD.

At 7 p.m. the police estimated a crowd of 20,000. This number is confirmed in an AFP report (Brisbane Times, 19 September 2009: “Rival protests rock Thailand on coup anniversary”).

That report also updates the situation at Srisaket. It says that “[s]tick-wielding protesters from the movement clashed repeatedly with riot police and with villagers who were trying to keep them out of the temple area…”. It adds that the provincial governor said that: “[d]ozens of people were wounded, with 20 people hospitalised including one villager who was shot in the neck…”. Apparently PAD protesters withdrew when “the army agreed to allow 30 of them to go to the Thai territory near the temple on Sunday and read out a declaration…”.

Updates 2/3 (11 p.m. & 1:45 a.m. Bkk time): During the UDD rally, red shirts “mourned for the death of a taxi driver who hung himself to oppose the Sept 2006 coup. The UDD donated 50,000 baht to his wife on stage.” This refers to Nuamthong Praiwan, who first crashed his taxi into a tank. When he’d recovered he then committed suicide as an act protesting the coup and for democracy.

Thaksin spoke by video link, claiming to be “somewhere near Thailand.” He said that things had “not improved three years after the coup,” that “the people became poorer and became less happy after the coup,” and he called on the Abhisit government to “dissolve the House and called for charter amendments for a fresh start in politics.” He is also reported to have stated that: “At present, there are injustice and less human rights and freedom the Thai society” and pointed to the conflict in Srisaket. The Nation now has more on Thaksin’s speech. He apparently also pointed to double standards, human rights and fairness: “They accuse me of interfering with independent organisations, and what about the situation these days? They accused me of interfering in the mass media and what’s going on today?” He also promised to return soon.

There was no violence, no bombs, and no incitement by third parties reported in Bangkok or Korat. Violence appears to have been limited to the PAD in Srisaket.

On PAD in Srisaket, The Nation (20 September 2009: “17 injured in clash near Preah Vihear”) reported that 17 were injured there. It reports that teenagers “armed with sticks and slingshots attacked the yellow shirts as they marched through their village to Preah Vihear.” The villagers “feared [the rally] could spark a war with Cambodia. The villagers have already suffered from the temple being closed, which has cost them income from the lack of tourists. Access to their farms has also been blocked by the military since last year.”

The report says that “thousands of PAD protesters … managed to break the police and villagers’ barricades in Si Sa Ket’s Ban Phumsarol to reach the gate of Pha Mor Ee Daeng, next to Preah Vihear temple.” PAD leaders claimed that the “villagers were misinformed about the PAD mission.” PAD wanted the Abhisit government to “evict the Cambodians…”. The Srisaket governor “Rapee Phongpuphakit had lengthy negotiations with Veera but failed to get the protesters to leave the site.”

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, still in Bangkok, claimed to not understand the PAD’s intent: “I don’t understand what is the purpose behind their protest…”.

Update 4: The Bangkok Post (20 September 2009: “PAD protest ends in bloodshed”)reports that martial law has been declared in Srisaket, but it remains unclear if this is the situation.

The report says that the government compromised with PAD allowing 76 PAD representatives “read aloud a prepared statement today at Pha Mor E Daeng, which is close to the disputed area.” Abhisit Vejjajiva said “giving the PAD its say could help restore peace.” He also promised that Anyone who “broke the law at the gathering would be punished…”.

The Post points to the role played by “so-called PAD guards” when the demonstrators “were stopped by hundreds of villagers…”. The “PAD guards broke through the barricades, taking protesters to a forest fire control station where they were prepared to spend the night.”

Following talks with “Suranaree Task Force commander Maj-Gen Chavalit Choonhasarn held talks for two hours after which the protesters retreated to the Sisa Asoke Buddhist community, which is a branch of Santi Asoke with close affiliations to the PAD.”

Meanwhile, Santi Asoke aficionado and PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang “distanced all five PAD leaders from the Preah Vihear campaign,” saying that they were not leading the protests at the border.

In the face of the government’s lack of even-handedness in dealing with the two groups, it is likely that the red shirts have gained some political ground vis-a-vis PAD and the government.

Elite twittering and a Facebook revolution

8 09 2009

PPT has been chronicling Thailand’s new descent into authoritarianism. The pace of this descent is remarkable and the silence of the protectors of human rights lamentable. As we have pointed out, in the past, allowing this slide to go unchecked has led to human rights abuses.

The recent comments by the prime minister’s deputy secretary general and acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn deserve to be highlighted for falling into the category of low respect for human rights and political activism (The Bangkok Post, 8 September 2009: “Thaksin and red shirts to be under watch”).

Panitan, one of the academics-for-hire architects of the draconian Internal Security Act, is now suggesting that the government will continue to spy on citizens engaged in legal political organizing  and prevent legal political activity.

September and October are months that Panitan believes are “usually fragile” and he sees this year as potentially opening a “way for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts to step up their activities…”. Worse, he predicts that the “red shirts may … create violence, probably in the hope to force cancellation of the Asean Summit scheduled to be held in Hua Hin of Prachuap Khirikhan and Cha-am of Phetchaburi in October.” He says: “The situation between September and October must be closely watched.”

Panitan states that the government has reports that there will be a “demonstration of tens of thousands of people from all over the country” when the red shirts mass on 19 September – like everyone else, Panitan must read the newspapers. Panitan says, however, that the “government will be specially vigilant.” More, the number of troops protecting “Government House will be increased from one to three companies.” And, the government will ” maintain law and order…”.

As in previous alarms set off by the panicky Democrat Party, there is no evidence that anything other than a peaceful demonstration is planned by the red shirts. To date, there are no reports of “third hands,” blue shirts or agents provocateurs from Buriram. But the “acting spokesman” has his reasons for  suspicion: ” Thaksin, knowing that the situation is fragile, has stepped up building political turbulence through twitter or facebook on the internet and even a state-run media to achieve victory.”

So this is why Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is twittering; he has to beat Thaksin to the digital audience that is going to rise up. The Facebook revolution beckons!

The “acting spokesman” added: “If during this period Thaksin could not bring down the government, his chance of regaining his former status would be slim.” However this would not be the end of the war with Thaksin as Panitan “believed Thaksin would after that move closer to Thailand conduct his political activities close to the border to keep the masses loyal to him to be on alert and wait for a chance to re-enter the country.”

Panitan, as a  self-identified  member of the “elite”, believes that the government must weather this brewing storm: “If the situation during this period can be put under control, the atmosphere in the country would change for the better. The economic condition would begin to improve in a V shape. The people would be in a mood for festivities and travels as the New Year is drawing near. Nobody would be interested in politics. Calls for House dissolution would die down because coalition parties and the people would not want a new election…”.

And they all lived happily ever after. Another fairy tale ending for Thailand. Seriously, though, the government is clear here; there needs to be a crackdown against threats, imagined or otherwise, even when the threats are via legal means. Abhisit and members of his party and government speak regularly of the rule of law but seem unable to comprehend this as meaning anything other than partisan laws for political order.

“National security” benefits the Democrat Party and its allies

3 09 2009

As readers will know, PPT has been arguing that the Democrat Party-led government and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva are sliding towards authoritarianism. We have also drawn comparisons with the Thaksin Shinawatra-Thai Rak Thai Party government earlier in the decade. We have also observed how silence has befallen the often self-proclaimed protectors of human rights in Thailand.

There is another aspect to the use of draconian laws such as lese majeste, Internal Security Act and the laws on computer crimes and so on that PPT highlights in this post.

When “national security” takes top billing, what is lost? We mean apart from freedoms and rights.

If we look at the press over the past few weeks, we can see that the government’s persistence in creating fear, loathing and ramping up security issues conveniently gets other difficult issues out of the press. Here are some of them:

  • Remember Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya? He was charged (or was it interviewed? or summonsed?) back in early July, along with other PAD leaders, over the occupation of Bangkok’s airports. Abhisit, for all of his talk of ethics and rule of law, sprang to Kasit’s defence, arguing that the minister could continue to work. He has, but has been rather quiet since his defence of the monarchy against the toothless ASEAN human rights debate in Phuket. That whole issue seems off the boil. Rejigging the police probably helps there also.
  • What about the Sondhi Limthongkul assassination case? Big news for a while, but with all the frothing over the police promotions and then diverting attention to national security, that’s gone too. It is meant to come back by the end of the month. Let’s see.
  • Also important was the northeast’s rejection of the coalition government? The election landslides for pro-Thaksin parties in Sakol Nakhon and Srisaket were a major defeat for the government and its backers. This was compounded by the huge security presence required to even get Abhisit into blue shirt-Newin Chidchob territory in Buriram. Gone from the media, but not from Abhisit’s list of reasons for not holding an election.
  • The scandal in the sufficiency economy projects, directly linked to the Democrat Party and to the nepotism of one deputy prime minister has also been removed from the headlines. PPT’s last post on this is here. [Update: Thanks to Bangkok Pundit, PPT is alerted to a small story in the electronic issue of the Bangkok Post (4 September 2009: “4 Democrats expelled from party”) that indicates that the Democrat Party is continuing to try to limit the damage in this story by pinning it to lower-level members and expelling them, eventhough Democrat spokesman Buranat Samutharak said the four were not directly involved in the irregularities.” They are trying to prevent the scandal reaching Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu who had his brother working on the project.]

And the list could easily be longer – Rohinga, police and military corruption, human rights commission, and so on. In the interests of staying in power – and with powerful backing from the military and higher-ups – the Democrat Party is promoting a dangerous discourse based around monarchy and national security.

Restricting reds 2 – how times have changed

27 08 2009

Update: The UDD is challenging the use of the ISA – see here – but a court going against the government on this is virtually unthinkable in today’s Thailand.

Here PPT is essentially updating our earlier post on restrictions against the red shirts.

PPT recommends Bangkok Pundit’s take on the ISA and demonstrations. He links to an English-language translation of the ISA and has interesting comments on the Bangkok Post’s editorial (27 August 2009: “Nip violence in the bud”).

The Post’s editorialists were sometimes ambivalent regarding PAD was demonstrations. They sometimes deplored the inconvenience to others and they also opposed violence, but usually the tone was more anti-government than anti-PAD.

For example, the Post’s editorial of 1 September 2008, while noting PAD’s illegality, blamed the government for failing to negotiate, mediate or do anything to deal with the 99 days of PAD protest. The protests were seen as indicative of the government’s failure. On 3 September 2008, while deploring violence between the UDD and PAD and blaming the UDD, the Post editorialist made the PAD’s demand for dissolving the parliament and elections. We don’t hear the Post calling for the Democrat Party to do the same when they face protests. And so on.

In their current editorial, the Post writers applaud the government for using the ISA “to deal with the mass protest planned this Sunday by the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).” The editorial writer says that this is “strictly in line with the famous adage that prevention is better than cure.”

Drawing on the “success” of the use of the ISA “in Phuket during the recent meetings between Asean member countries and their dialogue partners, the responsibility to maintain law and order in Dusit district will be shifted from the police to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), which is empowered to impose appropriate and stringent measures such as restrictions on travel and public demonstration in the designated zone, in order to pre-empt any chance of violence.”

Of course, “success” in Phuket involved huge expense and huge numbers of troops and there was never a threat of violence there. And, the red shirts continue to say that the upcoming demonstration will be peaceful, as was their previous protest.

The Post admits “egative reaction against the enforcement of this law,” but says that the protest might turn violent and “certain appropriately stringent measures have to be applied to maintain peace and order…”. The Post wants the “UDD to call off its planned protest so there would be no need for the government to invoke the security law and thus shut out any chances for ‘third hand’ elements to undermine the cause of the UDD.” The Post claims that the “third hand” argument is from the opposition Phuea Thai Party, but neglects that it was the government that first used this line.

Why is the Post demanding an infringement of people’s rights? Because, “Despite assurances from UDD leaders that the protest will be peaceful, the Songkran riots in Bangkok perpetrated by red-shirt mobs and the storming of the venue of the Asean summit in Pattaya, also by the red shirts … have served as costly lessons regarding the UDD leaders’ credibility or the lack of it. Not only can these UDD leaders not be trusted, but the dismal performance of the police in dealing with the red-shirt protesters during the Songkran riots, made it necessary for the government to rethink its overall approach towards future protests; in other words, it would be prudent to nip potentially violent demonstrations in the bud.”

Apart from the fact that the initial red shirt demonstrations in Pattaya were peaceful until the government-backed blue shirts intervened (a third hand? or the government’s hand via Newin Chidchob?), despite claims to the contrary, red shirt demonstrations in Bangkok have been largely peaceful since the April Uprising.

The Bangkok Post then concludes: “If anyone at all is to shoulder the blame for any negative impact that may result from the enforcement of this security law, it must be those persons who first stoke the fires, and not those taking precautions to prevent the flames from spreading.”

My, how times have changed since the days when PAD were protesting and it was their legal right.

Gossip, innuendo and conspiracy (or “journalism” at The Nation)

20 08 2009

On this post in Thai, see การนินทา การแดกดันและการสมคบคิด (กับ “สื่อ” อย่างเดอะเนชั่น) – วันอาทิตย์ 23 สิงหาคม 2009 — chapter 11.

About 10 days ago PPT blogged on The Nation’s remarkable plot story. There we said that some of its stories and columns would not qualify as journalism, pointing out that personal attacks and unsupported allegations have been too common.

The Nation editorial we commented on constructed a grand and imaginative conspiracy. To cut a long story short, it was claimed then that Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirts, the supposed blue camp of General Pravit Wongsuwan and Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda, together with a few “suspect” privy councilors, were conspiring with police and traitors in the Democrat Party (most especially Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban) in a behind-the-scenes power play against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (who was allied with Sondhi Limthongkul and his People’s Alliance for Democracy) that would somehow use the Thaksin “royal pardon” petition and the predicted violence to do something…. maybe a “People’s Revolution” or a coup.

PPT saw no evidence for the claims made. We suggested that even if there was something to rumor and conspiracy theory, serious questions need to be asked of this style of “journalism.” PPT was left wondering why The Nation was intent on such tabloid journalism (a journalism that  sensationalizes and exaggerates often using gossip, repeating scandal and relying on innuendo).

Now Thanong Khanthong, the Nation’s leading propagator of this style of “journalism,” gives its readers a new sensational read (21 August 2009: “One crisis averted; more to look forward to”). Apparently made breathless by his own conspiracy theories, Thanong claims that the “Abhisit government narrowly survived the crisis of the royal petition.” With the military was on full alert, the only thing that saved the government was that the damn red shirts were non-violent!

So what happened? The red shirts made “yet another attempt to intimidate the monarchy.” In fact, “the petition can be interpreted as nothing more than a sheer act of provocation and arrogance, with a hidden political agenda.” Hidden? Yes, because Thanong guesses that “the petition was designed as an act of provocation against the monarchy so that the military could have the justification to come out. To justify an intervention, the military could have conveniently blamed the red shirts for committing lese majeste. The plot was very similar to an incident that sparked the violence of the October 6, 1976 tragedy at Thammasat University. If, after a gesture from some key red-shirt strategists, the military had come out, then the red shirts would have become the victims of military suppression.”

For Thanong, the “red shirts are easy pawns that can be sacrificed any time by their leaders, who selfishly crave a military intervention so that they can return to power.” More than this though, Thanong explains that the red shirt leaders were rewarded because they “got more than Bt1 billion for their labour and expenses in the royal petition operation.”

Thanong provides no evidence so a reasonable reader must believe he has made this up. He makes no effort to tell us why the conspiracy failed. Why was there no violence? But never mind, he has another conspiracy that can see the same result!

Fearing that their leader Newin Chidchob will get convicted in the rubber sapling case, the Bhum Jai Thai has proposed an amnesty for  “politicians affected by the 2007 military coup.” PPT must have missed that coup. Maybe Thanong means 2006? This move, Thanong claims, will be the cause of more divisiveness and the military coup he claims the co-conspirators want. This time, it would be the yellow shirts who would be the pawns because they would protest such an amnesty. Thanong does not explain if the yellow shirts are also the pawns of well-paid leaders.

Thanong tells Abhisit that he “cannot sit still.” Thanong admits that he is not a great astrologer: “I predicted that his government might not last beyond August. Now it appears that the August crisis has been averted.” But beware!  “The prime minister can now look forward to the dangerous month of October, which he might or might not survive.” Of course, Thanong’s prediction can’t possibly be wrong this time! Why October? Who knows? But Thanong tells his readers that “the government is broke.” Because of this (and the grand conspiracy), the “knot is being tightened around our dear prime minister.”

Why should PPT even bother blogging about this kind of bottom-feeding journalism? A good question. As we said previously, The Nation was once a newspaper that wanted to be taken seriously. Is that possible now? Probably not, but even in a paper of declining standards and financial stress, there remain a some bright lights (e.g. Chang Noi, the currently sadly missed Pravit  Rojanaphruk, and some of the very basic reporting). But Thanong should be condemned for descending into the muddy swamps of sensationalism, exaggeration,  gossip, repeating scandal and relying on innuendo. Conjecture, divination,  fancifulness, writing on hunches and opinionated guesses don’t amount to journalism. Readers deserve more respect than this.

Petition day (with several updates)

19 08 2009

See several Updates below, including for 20 August 2009.

Reports of the red shirt/United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) presentation of the “royal pardon” petition for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra are becoming available. PPT summarizes some of them here.

Early reports in several newspapers said that thousands of red shirt supporters gathered at Sanam Lunag overnight and in the very early morning.

The Nation (17 August 2009: “Fears of clashes loom”) began by referring to the continuing fear of red shirt-blue shirt clashes (recall that justa few days ago the same newspaper reported that the two groups were allies) as the red shirts lodged their petition while the Supreme Court’s verdict in the rubber-sapling case against Bhum Jai Thai Party leader Newin Chidchob.

In the end, that latter case fizzled as the court postponed its verdict until 21 September (see the hour-by-hour details of the two events in The Nation).

The Nation reports People’s Alliance for Democracy co-ordinator Suriyasai Katasila, who seemed to warn of a “dark hand” that might benefit, pointing to the supposedly “impassive stance by military leaders” and claiming that “they will be the key factor wielding influence over the situation.”

Meanwhile, red shirt leaders are quoted as saying that blus shirts were being paid to disrupt the red shirt rally.

The Bangkok Post (17 August 2009: “Boonjong: No obstruction to UDD”) reports that Deputy Interior Minister Boonjong Wongtrairat denied that he had hired people to disrupt the red shirt rally. This refers to “third hand” rumors. He said: “The government is not trying to block the red-shirt supporters from different provinces from joining the mass rally in Bangkok…”. This followed claims that such disruption – a tactic used on several occasions since the 2006 coup – were taking place as police prevented rural people getting to Bangkok.

Boonjong did not think there would be clashes between petition supporters and opponents. He added that “More than 10 million people have signed their names to oppose the royal pardon petition for the fugitive politician…”, a claim which would be impossible to verify, but he added that “provincial governors, district chief officers and village headmen continued to explain the process to the locals in their areas…”.

Meanwhile, as thousands rallied, Thaksin phoned in (Bangkok Post, 17 August 2009: “Thaksin speaks to supporters”). He reportedly told his supporters “that he was a political victim, and has not been fairly treated as authorities adopt double standards in the justice system against him.” This is why he had turned to the king (see more below). Nothing new in either of these claims by Thaksin.

At about the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban denied coup rumors (Bangkok Post, 17 August 2009: “Suthep: Silent coup just a rumour”). There would be no “silent coup” he said, adding, “The army officials I know follow the democratic system and they are not looking for more power…”. On the petition, flying in the face of the government’s numerous efforts to stop it, Suthep claimed: “We should not underestimate the situation but we should not be too apprehensive either…”. Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon supported Suthep.

The Bangkok Post and AFP have a background story on the delivery of the petition (17 August 2009: “Thaksin petition handed”), claiming more than 30,000 red shirts at Sanam Luang, with a picture of the petition (or part of it) being carried.

Bangkok Post photo

Bangkok Post photo

The red shirts claimed “they had collected at least five million signatures,” which the government has said they will check and scrutinize. The Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary was to transfer the petition boxes “to the government for inspection before deciding if the petition should be submitted to His Majesty.” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has already said that the petition would be rejected by the government as unlawful.

This report has more on Thaksin’s phone-in, where he again appealed to the king: “We are here today to inform our father, the King of every Thai, that we want to see unity and reconciliation…”. Thaksin then went royalist, as he has often done, turning “to a portrait of Thailand’s widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the royal family and sang a traditional royal song.”

The petition was presented to the Royal Household offices at 1 p.m., with 10 boxes wrapped in  red cloth, led by 10 UDD leaders, including Veera Musigapong, and 5  monks. The Nation (17 August 2009: “Red shirts move to submit petition”) reports “dozens of monks” involved in the march to present the petition.


Nation photo

The report says, “After the petition was handed, the group dissolved peacefully and many had returned to Sanam Luang.”

In explaining the petition, this report notes: “Twice-elected Thaksin still enjoys huge support among Thailand’s poor, particularly in rural northern parts of the country, but is hated by the Bangkok-based elite in the palace, military and establishment.”

UPDATE: The Nation (18 August 2009: “Ex-PM pleads with HM, teary over devoted red shirts”) writes of Thaksin’s phone-in  and his royalist pleadings.

The report bgins: “Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with tears in his eyes, pleaded with His Majesty the King to grant him royal amnesty and thanked his red-shirted supporters for submitting the petition on his behalf.” He is said to have proclaimed: “I, Thaksin Shinawatra, and my family will be loyal to the King and the monarchy forever.”

The Nation claims more than 20,000 red shirts marched to the Grand Palace and it is reported that thousands more assembled at Sanam Luang.

Thakin “said that he was turning to His Majesty as a last resort.” He is reported to have said: “We need to rely on His Majesty to bring back justice and peace to Thailand…”.  He said, “We are here to inform the father of every Thai that we want to see unity and harmony. We want to see the return of right, freedom and dignity to Thailand. We want happiness return to the country through reconciliation…”. He bowed to portraits of the king and queen before leading supporters in royal song and proclaiming “Long Live the King.”

Thaksin apparently phoned in again, after the petition was submitted, to thank his supporters. He “went on to thank the country’s citizens for being merciful and for their moves to restore peace, unity and prosperity in the country.” And he added: “If I am given a chance to return, the first thing I will do is pay obeisance to you all…”. He said that he would “wait for a miracle and hoped that peace would bring him victory.”

Finally, Thaksin is said to have proclaimed, “Although I’m being harassed, I will be patient and wait to return,” and then launched into a rendition of the royal anthem.

This report, while in the notoriously unreliable Nation newspaper, essentially sums up Thaksin’s problem.  As a member of the Sino-Thai elite, he owes allegiance to the (also Sino-Thai) monarch in order to demonstrate his “Thai-ness.” At the same time, his support comes from the people, who are more progressive than Thaksin. Whereas Thaksin sees the monarchy as a potential solution to his personal problems, many of his supporters already realize that the monarchy is one of the problems and an obstacle to a more thorough-going democratization.

If Thaksin is to return to Thailand with a political future, he will need to decide where his “salvation” really lies: with a reactionary and exploitative and fabulously wealthy monarchy or with the people.

If he chooses to align with the monarchy he will be betraying his supporters and will lose his political advantage and his potential historical role, becoming just another dominated capitalist in a system that remains essentially feudal.

New Update: New Mandala has an on-the-spot report on the presentation of the petition by photo-journalist Nick Nostitz, including many photos. Worth viewing.

Further Update: The Nation (20 August 2009: “Don’t stall petition: Juturon warns PM”) has a comment on the petition which is in line with other alarmist and irresponsible columns they have had recently. It asks: “Is the petition a bid to politicise the monarchy, and split the land?” And answers: “The country is going through a delicate phase as politics takes a dangerous twist – with the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra clamouring, even begging for a royal pardon. It could drive the country on the path to civil war” [emphasis added].

The Nation continues: “For many, the threat that Thailand will be ‘a nation lost’ is real. The division among Thais is clearly getting out of hand, taking into account actions from both the government and Thaksin’s side. The move to seek a royal pardon for Thaksin is clearly politically motivated and his possible motive may be to politicise the monarchy.”

It is simply disingenuous to keep claiming that the red shirts are politicizing the monarchy. The palace did this itself over a number of years and events, culminating in the planning and direction of the 2006 coup. Of course the “royal pardon” is political. The red shirts are using the palace’s politicization for their own ends and, judging by the frothing of the Nation’s editorialists and other conservatives, seem to have been successful.

Fears of clashes loom

Reds to present petition today; Newin supporters to meet outside court

Two gripping political dramas reach their climaxes today – the lodging of a petition to His Majesty the King seeking clemency for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and the reading of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the rubber-sapling case against Bhum Jai Thai Party core leader Newin Chidchob.

The red-shirted supporters of Thaksin will march to the Grand Palace, where at Wiset Chaisri Gate they will hand the appeal to a representative from the Office of His Majesty’s Private Secretary.

At the same time, the blue-shirted devotees of Newin will turn up at the Supreme Court’s Political Division for Political Office Holders, which is located near Sanam Luang.

Since the two activities will take place very close by, authorities are afraid there could be clashes between the red shirts and blue shirts if they do not get the political results they want.

The red shirts will converge at Sanam Luang in the morning and Thaksin will phone in to their rally at about 10am.

The verdict in the rubber case against 44 defendants, including Newin, will be read out at 2pm.

Suriyasai Katasila, coordinator for the People’s Alliance for Democracy, warned of a possible political twist if a third party took the opportunity to create a scene for its own benefit.

He questioned the impassive stance by military leaders, saying they will be the key factor wielding influence over the situation.

New: Explaining the rules to the misled

19 08 2009

Former editor of the Bangkok Post Paisal Sricharatchanya is a worried man (19 August 2009: “Righting the wrongs of moving for a pardon”). The red shirts have done everything wrong. But so have the blue shirts – Paisal blames them for running the anti-petition campaign. Abhisit Vejjajive must wear a blue shirt under his suit because he arranged plenty of anti-petition activity.

The red shirts have “appl[ied] undue pressure on His Majesty the King to act on a highly politicised and controversial issue.”  This means that “the honour and prestige of the monarchy could inevitably be undermined.” What is worrying is the “ramifications for the honour and prestige of the monarchy.”

The blue shirts are okay because while they are wrong, they had the right motives: “it was done in the name of protecting the good graces of the monarchy,” but they risk “provoking another confrontation.” This has also meant that, “For weeks, provincial governors, especially those in the North and Northeast, have been preoccupied with the barely-productive undertaking of coercing villagers to sign their names to the counter petition.” Note that “coercing” is the term used.

Even Abhisit’s government “is at fault for having allowed this unpleasant episode to have come this far.” Paisal thinks they should have prevented apparently legal activities for the government “knew early on that the masterminds of the petition had consciously violated the rules and regulations and were probably harbouring some sinister motives.”

Deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban was weak and so was Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Anupong Paojinda. It was left to the “blue-shirt coalition partner Bhumjaithai” to respond, but  “it was too little and too late.”

With no one else to blame, Paisal asks “Now that the red shirts have succeeded in presenting their petition, the best the government can do now is to exercise damage control.” How?

Paisal says that the government must recommend that the petition is illegal and it should be dropped. “But that certainly is not enough. The challenge is how to explain the delicate complexities of the entire episode to the masses in the North and Northeast who had signed the petition in support of Thaksin, to ensure they understand why the petition is being dropped. This calls for a concerted public-relations campaign involving no less than all the state-controlled mass media channels, not least the 200 or so military-run radios nationwide.”

So wind up the old state propaganda machine to ensure that those idiot and misled country bumpkins are forced to “understand.” Paisal thinks that this will “ensure that the honour and prestige of the monarchy is not further tarnished.” Maybe, but if this tack was to be taken, it might also be seen for what it is: another conservative bureaucratic and elite attempt to brainwash people who have different political perspectives.

Violence predicted?

15 08 2009

The Bangkok Post (15 August 2009: “Police plan response for UDD petition handover”) appears to be predicting violence when the red shirts present their petition for Thaksin Shinwatra’s “royal pardon” and when a Supreme Court rubber saplings corruption case is decided.

Acting police chief Wichien Potposri has asked “demonstrators to maintain order and warned them not to approach the Grand Palace in huge numbers.” At the same time, police will “not block red shirt demonstrators from approaching the Grand Palace but will form a line to separate them from blue shirt protesters who are likely to show up at the adjacent Supreme Court.”

The blue shirts will be at the Supreme Court to support their founder and godfather Newin Chidchob.

The police have “asked the armed forces to have soldiers on standby in case Bangkok police seek their assistance on Monday.”

Meanwhile, red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship “said the Royal Household Bureau contacted his group to coordinate the submission of the petition and this contact proved people had the right to petition for a royal pardon for Thaksin.”

The red shirts expect 100,000 supporters to gather at Sanam Luang. They claim to have invited former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and some privy councillors to attend.

Readers will recall that the blue shirts, directed by Newin and officials from the government coordinated the police and military with the blue shirts in Pattaya in April. This led to attacks on the red shirts that developed into the Songkhran Uprising, put down by the military.

Update: The Nation (16 August 2009: “Thaksin petition will be thrown out: PM”) reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has stated (yet again) that the red shirt petition will be rejected. More interesting is his comment on potential violence. It is reported that Abhisit does not call on his ally Newin’s blue shirts to avoid violence and act lawfully. Rather he calls on the “red shirts to rally within the frame of the law after a report that they planned to stage a protest outside Government House.”

Meanwhile the military has declared that it is “ready to help police if they needed its support to keep the peace in the capital.”

These stories predicting violence might be justified given the events of April, but it is (yet again) a one-sided story being told. Hopefully the government will control third hands such as those reporting to Newin rather than unleashing them.

The Nation’s intricate plot story

11 08 2009

The Nation newspaper has long been vehemently anti-Thaksin Shinawatra. There was some reason for this, with the paper and some of its journalists being harassed when the Thaksin government was in power. But often some of the columnists at the paper have adopted dubious tactics to attack Thaksin as the man they hate and those they see as supporting him. Some of their stories and columns would not qualify as journalism; personal attacks and unsupported allegations have been too common.

Now the paper seems to be seeking grand conspiracies and trying to engender fear amonst its readers. PPT wishes to comment on The Nation’s editorial of 10 August 2009 (“Suchinda’s objection tips balance of power”) not because we believe it but because it is arguably the oddest turn yet in the “royal pardon” petition. PPT should add that we have seen no evidence that would support the allegations made.

Late last week, General Suchinda Kraprayoon attacked the red shirt petition during his 76th birthday celebrations. Suchinda was the leader of the military coup that ousted the elected government of Chatichai Choonhavan in February 1991. After the elections in March 1992, Suchinda – who had said he wouldn’t take the position – was suddenly nominated at prime minister. Protests against the military and Suchinda escalated, culminating in the events known as “Black May,” when dozens – some say hundreds – of unarmed people were shot when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators.

Now The Nation considers Suchinda an impeccable ally in the fight against Thaksin. The editorial says approvingly, “He made it clear he did not agree with their attempt to mobilise seven million signatures nationwide as part of a campaign to seek a royal pardon for Thaksin Shinawatra. Suchinda’s words are crucial, coming at a time when political polarisation in this country has heightened to the point it could break up into another episode of violence. It should be noted that Suchinda, who lost his power in the 1992 May tragedy, still musters enormous influence in politics. He still has the ears of most of the military top brass. By voicing his objection against the red-shirt protesters’ signature campaign, Suchinda has tipped the balance of power away from the red camp…”.

The May 1992 massacre in The Nation’s revision is now a “tragedy” and Suchinda is somehow a figure who is uniting and not “polarizing.”

Then the editorialist begins constructing a grand conspiracy. Not only is Thaksin conspiring, but so is “the blue camp, led by General Pravit Wongsuwan and Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda.” This is quite a claim!

Further, “The red camp and the blue camp have formed an alliance at this critical juncture, where a behind-the-scenes power play is being exerted at full force. The police force belongs to the red camp, while about half of the military force back the blue camp. Except for the Democrats, most of the politicians in the House of Representatives either support the red camp or the blue camp.”

So it is that “Sondhi Limthongkul’s yellow camp now feels largely relieved by General Suchinda’s fresh move. So does Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who also has some breathing room to manoeuvre.” So it is Abhisit and Sondhi against the combined forces of red and blue evil for the “blue and red camps had threatened to bring the Abhisit government down if [police chief] Patcharawat were to be sacked.”

And continuing The Nation’s attack on Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who “has acted as a link between the Democrats and the red and blue camps,” his role is characterized as so perplexing “that nobody is certain which side he is on now. Increasingly, Suthep will be isolated from his party as Abhisit seeks to become his own man.”

The Nation says that the “situation remains intense in all camps. Nobody dares to breathe.”

Evidence for this alleged conspiracy? “General Anupong earlier showed his position by saying that as a military adviser to His Majesty the King, he had no opinion on the royal petition drive on behalf of Thaksin.” That’s it, but then it is also added that “ General Surayuth Chulnanont, former prime minister and now member of the Privy Council, also brushed aside this question by saying he had no opinion.” Is Surayud also of questionable loyalty?

The Nation editorialists observes that “Only General Phichit Kulavanitr, another member of the Privy Council, came out strongly against the red-shirted protesters’ petition drive. He blasted the red shirts for their attempts to politicise the monarchy for their own interests.”

Any more evidence? Yes, says the Nation: The outcome of the investigation into the assassination attempt against Sondhi “has uncovered the suspects as belonging to some prominent members of the red camp and the blue camp. Of course, both camps would exercise all power at their disposal, on the ground and underground, to block the police investigation. Many of their prominent members could go to jail as a result of this case.”

What about the petition? According to the editorial, this is “equally threatening to the political stability…”, as red shirts “plan to come out in tens of thousands to make their way in fanfare to the Grand Palace to submit the petition before mobilising a rally at Sanam Luang. We all know with a good conscience that this petition is morally wrong and legally wrong…. The act of seeking a royal pardon for Thaksin is no more than an outright challenge to the integrity of the Thai Monarchy.”

The Nation then claims that this situation “is designed to repeat the red shirts’ attempt at a People’s Revolution on Songkran Day of April 13, 2009.” They failed then, but “Now they are regrouping and planning another attack or another attempt at the People’s Revolution for the benefit of one individual.” This is incendiary speculation and part of the fear tactics that the conservative forces have been using.

So if we are to believe the Nation, in the context of the Thaksin petition and the turmoil in politics:

Suthep is a traitor.
The army chief, who was a 2006 coup leader and who crushed the Songkhran Uprising, is a traitor.
Surayud is likely to be a traitor.
Sondhi and Abhisit are aligned for the side of good against evil.
The blue shirts, who attacked the red shirts in Pattaya in April, are now allied with the reds.
That must make Newin Chidchob, the man behind the blue shirts, a double traitor because he deserted Thaksin in December but must be going back.
The red shirts have a plan for People’s Revolution beginning 17 August.

As noted above, PPT has no grounds for believing that the Nation newspaper editorialist has any real evidence for the claims made. We can readily admit that conspiracies are a regular feature of Thai politics, so there may be something more than rumor and innuendo going on. Perhaps, maybe… but does this an editorial make?

Even if the Nation editorialist somehow turned out to be a superlative astrologer, serious questions need to be asked of this style of “journalism.” The use of a general with blood on his hands for moral support, the exhortation to fear and the failure to provide credible evidence for such remarkable claims leaves PPT wondering why The Nation allows its “journalism” to descend to tabloid status. The Nation was once a newspaper that wanted to be taken seriously.

Readers tell us what we missed

17 07 2009

A couple of readers have suggested that we missed some interesting titbits in recent days, so we’ll mention them here for other readers who might like to follow up.

The first reader pointed out a story in the Bangkok Post (13 July 2009: “Fields of battle”), which is about fears that foreigners will be buying up or leasing Thailand’s agricultural land. What caught our reader’s attention was this: “About 1,000 Thai families currently hold … 400,000-500,000 rai each…”. If this is correct, that’s a lot of land, and our reader wonders who the other 999 might be.

The second reader pointed to a story in The Nation (13 July 2009: “Abhisit accuses opponents of using devious tactics”). What was the “devious tactic?” A few red shirts wanted to protest Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s visit to Buriram and somehow Abhisit came to the conclusion that this was “undemocratic.” It is clear that Abhisit has ditched all the reconciliation rhetoric.

The reader asks what it is called when protestors are surrounded and prevented from moving by Newin Chidchob’s hired blue shirts?