Amnesia on the military

15 06 2011

In a recent post we said: “PPT thought that everyone knows that the brokering of the deal for the Democrat Party-led coalition government was managed by the military with support from business and the palace.” In that post we were commenting on the recent Abhisit Vejjajiva epistle. It seems that this sudden amnesia has also infected the writers at the Bangkok Post, where two articles claim that the military’s involvement in cobbling together the Democrat Party-led coalition is somehow a new story.

The first story is by the yellow-hued op-ed writer Veera Prateepchaikul. He takes up Chart Thai Pattana Party leader Chumpol Silpa-archa’s comments in an article with the intriguing title “’Forced marriage’ was not made in heaven.” We take this as a reference to the palace. Interestingly, though, Veera doesn’t mention the palace. It seems he wants to shift responsibility away from “heaven.” Veera states: “Chumpol’s first public admission of Chartthaipattana’s ‘forced marriage’ with the Democrats and three other junior parties …has confirmed what the opposition Pheu Thai Party and many political observers have accused all along – that the military had played a crucial role in cobbling together the Abhisit government…. But Mr Abhisit has denied all along that his coalition government was put together with the help of the military.”

The second story is by Wassana Nanuam, who knows what happened very well. Her account also points to Chumpol’s comments “… Armed forces leaders, including Gen Prayuth [Chan-ocha], reportedly invited many politicians for a talk at the 1st Infantry Regiment to lobby them to support the Democrat-led government in December 2007. Both the military and the Democrat Party have vehemently denied this.”

The interesting point is the last sentence. PPT’s question is: How can the Democrat Party and the military deny it now and why does Veera think this is new?

We covered some of this in out linked post above and this earlier post. We again draw readers’ attention to the excellent Bangkok Pundit round-up on the Chumpol story. Let’s just cite a bit from that post, from The Nation: “    The shadow of the military hovers over moves to form a new government, which will see the Democrats team up with minor parties who agreed to swap sides “for the sake of the nation. “A key leader of one of the former coalition parties said most parties had moved to the Democrat camp due to a request by a senior military figure, who was conveying a message from a man who could not be refuted.” We would assume that the “man” is close to heaven.

We might add that Anupong and his co-military commanders made a public statement calling for the PPP government to resign. That was in late November 2008, in a nationwide broadcast.

What else does the media say at the time? Here’s some, from PPT’s paper files:

In the same Nation story, this is added: “key Democrat leaders namely Suthep [Thaugsuban] and Niphon [Promphan], along with their supporters namely Pradit [Pattaraprasit], Somsak [Prissanananthakul], Suchat Tanchareon from Puea Pandin, Somsak Thepsuthin from the disbanded Matchima Thipataya, and some MPs from Newin [Chidchob]’s group met Army Chief Gen Anupong Paochinda at his residence. The only parties not invited were Pheu Thai and Pracharaj.”

On 11 December 2011, Wassana in the Bangkok Post stated: “Amid intense lobbying by both Puea Thai and Democrat camps, many key members of the coalition parties and key factions within them were seen visiting Gen Anupong at his official residence in the compound of the First Infantry Regiment off Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, both in small and large groups. Among these special visitors were reportedly Newin Chidchob and Sora-at Klinprathum, two faction leaders in the now dissolved PPP. The two men were seen at Gen Anupong’s residence on Dec 4 along with Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army’s chief-of-staff. Later, Pradit Phataraprasit, secretary-general of Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana party reportedly called on Gen Prayuth at his residence, also in the regiment compound. In the meantime, Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban kept in touch with Gen Anupong by phone…. On Dec 6, shortly before the Democrat’s plan to form a new coalition government was announced, Mr Suthep reportedly led a group of key members of the Democrats’ prospective coalition partners to meet Gen Anupong at the residence of former army chief Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, who is well respected by Gen Anupong. Even though the meetings were supposed to be secret events, they ended up in the open because of the unusual manner of the visits.”

In the Bangkok Post on 29 December 2008, Anupong “accepted that meetings between him and politicians from the Democrats and other smaller parties at his residence at the First Infantry Regiment on Vibhavadi Rangsit road paved the way for the Democrats to eventually form a new coalition government. The Dec 3, 4 and 6 meetings were attended by key figures of the former coalition parties of the previous government and influential Buri Ram politician Newin Chidchob, the leader of the breakaway faction of the dissolved People Power party.” It is clear that the cat is already well out of the bag and there can be no denying the meetings. What Anupong does then is add this, and this has been the basis of continuing dissembling by the military brass and Abhisit: ”They phoned me for my advice. Some asked to meet me. But I was not involved in setting up the government. I only suggested that they do what is good for the country…”.

But he can’t control himself, saying: “Society expects the military to help restore peace. But when this [the meetings] happened, I was attacked. What should I do, then?” PPT uses the words of a military source cited in the above story: “From the chain of events of the last few weeks, it cannot be denied that Gen Anupong had a hand in the successful formation of the present government.”

What isn’t very clear at all is the identity of the “man” who could not be disobeyed. Many have suggested Privy Councilor General Prem Tinsulanonda. Unlike Anupong’s involvement, however, this one is harder to pin down with adequate news stories.

But this is certainly no big news. The journalists had it right from the start. So why the collective amnesia now? Anything to do with the election?


The unmentionable is mentioned

5 05 2011

A report in the Bangkok Post on the attempt to silence political parties on the monarchy in electioneering raises several questions.

This idea, first raised by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and quickly taken up by the Election Commission (EC) who now say the virtual ban was its idea – which may be followed by a regulation – is based on the fatuous notion that the monarchy has nothing to do with politics.

In fact, as PPT has noted in an earlier post, the gagging appears to be one-sided, as the military continues its hard line stance, attacking red shirts and the Puea Thai Party as republicans, hoping that this provides a political advantage for the royalist Democrat Party should an election be called.

This is what we said in that post: “Making a regulation that prohibits politicians even mentioning the monarchy would be a huge expansion of the lese majeste repression that is already in place. PPT can only imagine that claims that a politician spoke of the monarchy would be subject to closed door hearings, with the statements not detailed (as repeating the statement might constitute lese majeste), and electoral red cards being issued against (mostly) opposition politicians. What a boon for the Democrat Party and their allies!”

The report in the Post begins by noting that :[n]early all of Thailand’s 55 political parties have signed an agreement to refrain from exploiting the monarchy to boost their popularity when campaigning in the next general election, expected to take place in June.” PPT assumes that the 3 parties that haven’t signed up are on holidays or risking charges by their failure to sign up to the monarchist contract.

In fact, while the EC claims that it wants to keep the monarchy out of politics, its action just makes the monarchy more central. Abhisit says he wants a ban on references to the monarchy, and it is easy to imagine such a ban being used against Puea Thai poll victors in yet another intervention to cripple pro-Thaksin Shinawatra political parties.

Other party leaders are not so sure about the ban. For example, “Chart Thai Pattana Party leader Chumpol Silpa-archa said references honouring the royalty in context should still be allowed. He said the constitution stated that all Thais had a duty to honour the royal institution.” Even the EC seems to court exceptions, stating: “individual parties’ written policy statements about the monarchy would not pose a problem so long as they were not repeated by politicians while campaigning for votes.” This supports the coalition parties and especially the Bhum Jai Thai Party.

At the same time, the same 52 parties were asked to sign up to an agreement that they will “respect the results of the election.” PPT is tempted to add this “promise” to our series on fixing the election. But then such a promise is largely irrelevant.

It has not really been political parties that have been the issue in disrespecting results. Sure, the perennial losers – the Democrat Party – boycotted the April 2006 election and have complained about Thaksin parties and candidates, but it is other groups that have repeatedly overthrown election results. The military by coup, the palace through its continual interventions (think Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda in early 2006, the April 2006 direction to judges on that election, and so on), the People’s Alliance for Democracy and royalists who demonstrate and oppose the whole idea of elections, and scheming business people.

Who is controlling?

3 04 2011

This was in The Nation:

Chart Thai Pattana leader Chumpol Silapaarcha Friday said an unnamed figure had control over the seven members of the senator selection committee.

However, he would not reveal who the person was.

“Society should figure out who can be that influential,” he said, adding that he would take responsibility for what he said.

Repeating something he has said many times recently, Chumpol claimed elites dominate Thai politics.

If readers have any suggestions on who the “influential person” is,we’d like to know more.

Anand and others offer advice

7 04 2010

Former prime minister Anand Punyarachun, who as far as PPT can recall has never faced an election has advice on… elections.

He doesn’t think a dissolution and election would resolve the current political conflict. Like Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, he feels that time needs to be taken to “prepare the groundwork so that the next election results will be acceptable to the majority of people…”. This is an odd view given that an election would presumably produce a result where the majority of voters would be represented in government. We think Anand is saying that the people who might lose need to be convinced that they could live with an elected government.

Anand said “snap polls would not be helpful because the conflict started even before the last election was held.” Well, yes, but because the losers in previous elections have not been able to accept the results and have used all means to overturn the results. Anand seems to think that it is necessary to workshop the whole conflict: “All Thai people, not just the government and protesters, have a stake in the conflict so there must be forums for people to speak out and settle differences before holding the next election.”

Meanwhile, Chart Thai Pattana Party chief adviser Banharn Silapa-archa, who wants  dissolution in 9 months admitted that with “a snap election, the tension will likely ease…”. And Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart “floated his idea for brokering peace between the government and the red shirts by using Pheu Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh as a go-between.” He called on the red shirts to also talk with the coalition parties – maybe Abhisit’s worse case scenario as he cannot control them and doesn’t trust them.

Things are looking a little ragged for the government. Unfortunately, a lot depends on where the military leadership is locating itself.

Updated: Caravan fallout

22 03 2010

Update: “Reconciliation” seemed to last only a few minutes. By the evening of Monday, the main state media outlets were attacking the red shirts quite vigorously. Thai Television included a long “news analysis” that would have been at home on ASTV. Indeed, it included several unattributed references to the ASTV’s publications attacking the red shirts.


It does seem that the enormous red shirt caravan and the support it achieved in Bangkok has had a considerable impact. It has been baffling and challenging to pro-government groups for all kinds of reasons – see the excellent Chang Noi column.

Immediately after the caravan, there were reports of bombing, and this could have been a sign of a darker force at work to undermine the red shirt leaderships’ determination to be non-violent. These threats could have come from a range of disgruntled or determined or wildly worried sources. There were some red shirt affiliates who wanted a more aggressive approach. It could have come from disgruntled military and intelligence types who have long employed these kinds of unsettling tactics. It could have been a government strategy. What seems clear at the moment is that there has been a stepping back from this strategy. It could easily return.

The military-backed government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva seemed determined to get tougher. Abhisit himself went on the offensive, attacking the red shirts as Thaksin Shinawatra-dominated and money dominated. He blanketed television. He was supported by a range of yellow-hued attacks o the red shirts. The determination to denigrate the rallies and caravan as the actions of the paid-off, duped and ignorant was seen amongst Democrat ideologues and was all over the ASTV/Manager and yellow-shirt twitters and blogs. That continues. On the English-language blogs, the determined yellow shirts returned in heavy posting, demeaning and damning the red shirts in tones almost identical with those used to damn rural voters when the People’s Alliance for Democracy wanted them effectively disenfranchised. Letters to the English-language press have been dominated by outrage against the red shirts from supposedly foreign readers.

However, the government and its backers seem to have gradually seen the message of the past days and week as representing a serious challenge. Increasingly, there seems to have been a lot of pressure for Abhisit and his backers to return to “reconciliation.” That term was originally the rhetoric of the 2006 coup leadership and the governments that followed, but the Abhisit government seemed happy enough to abandon it. This pressure began before the caravan on Saturday, but has since increased. Some of the Thai-language press has been gradually more willing to consider a red shirt view (see here and here).

The pressures included the rallying of Peua Thai parliamentarians and leader Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to the red shirt leadership. Initially, some Peua Thai leaders seemed reluctant to be openly associated with the red shirts, but as the movement has achieved successes, that reluctance has melted away. The pressure from parliamentarians for the government to seek a way out was also significant. So too was the pressure from coalition partners and the usually government-supporting groups.

Initially, Abhisit seemed intent on putting out “let’s talk” signals, but maintained conditions that the red shirt rally leadership rejected. The Nation (21 March 2010) reported that Abhisit held out the possibility of a general election this year. That was significant for the coalition still feels that it will lose, meaning that the strategy has long been to avoid an election for as long as possible. This year has problems. For one thing, this government and its supporters want to control the military reshuffle due in October to ensure the “right” people get control for the next few years. That would at least ensure that a pro-Thaksin government would not have much free reign.

Abhisit somewhat foolishly suggested that two of the most anti-red shirt Democrats be negotiators – propaganda chief Sathit Wongnongtoey and Korbsak Sabhavasu. Abhisit seems to trust these men, but they have low ratings amongst red shirts. Abhisit soft-pedaled, saying these guys wanted to negotiate the terms of negotiation with the red shirts rather than to negotiate ways out of the “crisis.”

The red-shirt leaders insisted they would only talk directly to Abhisit about any truce prospects.” They added that dissolving parliament was the main demand.

Abhisit continued to reject this in a familiar statement that there would be a House dissolution only when the country is ready for a free and fair election so that the public will benefit from such a move.” He added: “we have to cut a deal that we would do it [house dissolution] for the public interest with no Thaksin issues involved…. This is seen by many red shirts as a return to a position of 2008, where after winning the 2007 election, the then People’s Power government was prevented from dealing with any constitutional or other issues that the PAD and its backers considered “Thaksin-related.” Abhisit is agenda-setting for a feared “pro-Thaksin” government.

Coalition partners Puea Pandin and Chart Thai Pattana were far more supportive of talks with the protesters. The Nation reported that “Watchara Kannikar of the Chart Thai Pattana Party said both the government and protesters should reduce their preconditions so that there could be a deal.

Now a cynical PPT would see much of this as an attempt to regain the political driving seat by a visibly disturbed government. Indeed, Abhisit was forced to call all of the coalition party leaders to his army base “government house” for an all channels live broadcast to redisplay coalition unity. It looked like a shaky strategy and ended remarkably abruptly. The point of the media event was to announce some stepping back. The Nation (22 March 2010 – reported that The coalition parties agreed negotiations should begin today with mediation by the National Human Rights Commission or senators…”. The meeting appointed “Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat [and] … Korbsak Sabhavasu as negotiators [to]… meet with red shirt leaders Dr Weng Tojirakarn and Jaran Ditthapichai today to set the terms of talks.” The red shirts quickly rejected Chinnaworn and opened the possibility of dealing direct with the smaller coalition parties.

Abhisit was also forced to agree that he might have to lead negotiations with the red shirt leaders. But positions remain quite a way apart. The red shirts know that the government could return to a strategy of waiting out the red shirt protest or worse.

Interestingly, the impact of the red shirt caravan has been sinking in for government supporters. The Nation has a Page 1 comment alters its political language to talk again of “reconciliation.” In a classic piece of Nation doublespeak, it is stated that politicians are the problem: “We can’t let those with political stakes exert a grip on our hearts and souls for their own interests. It’s as simple as that.” PPT observes that The Nation has been heavily involved in a strident campaign of political hate for several years so this is the equivalent of a racist calling for inter-racial harmony. The born-again reconciliationist as the Nation calls for a middle path: “An independent person must be able to loath Abhisit but love those who adore him at the same time. An independent person must be able to scrutinise Thaksin and understand why others think highly of the man.” The editorialist seems to think the way out may be in a slimy political deal.

Maybe it will be a slimy compromise in the end. Cynically, if the establishment already controls the judiciary and many of the so-called independent bodies, can maintain the 2007 Constitution, controls the military, has the senate in its pocket, and can set an agenda in advance for a pro-red shirt government, then as that government comes to office it is totally hamstrung. And then there is the threat of PAD or worse. More cynically, a darker outcome of destabilization and military intervention is possible. A darker 1976-like right-wing crackdown on opposition may have faded for the moment, but not the forces itching to crack heads.

A few things are clear: the red shirts and their innovative political tactics are something that might scared the blue bloods out of the morning latte and croissant with imported preserves and served by the red shirt maid (“Will she now be emboldened enough to murder me and loot the house?”) but they have been a raging success amongst those millions who understand double standards, inequality and the power of the amart. These things are sort of new and sort of old. Who would have thought that in a supposedly post-industrial world, a movement of peasants and workers would rise? Scary enough to get an elite deal perhaps? But also scary enough to prompt the darker forces also.

Korn, Kasian, verdict and coup

6 03 2010

A mini-debate has emerged following the Thaksin Shinawatra assets case. It involves questioning the 2006 coup and the role of the military junta in the justice system. This was sort of set off by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij’s recent bloggings at his Facebook page.

That post is now largely reproduced by the Bangkok Post (5 March 2010) as an op-ed piece.

Korn begins on something of a sour note, with a misrepresentation. He says: “It is now a week since the celebrated ruling on Thaksin Shinawatra’s private assets was announced, and I have yet to air my opinion on the verdict. This is partly because I felt that many people have already been talking about the issue, but it is also because this is an issue close to my heart as I have been personally involved for some time. I also wanted my own opinion and emotions to crystallise before I spoke out..”

PPT points out that this is untrue. Korn posted at Facebook earlier. Even the Post has an earlier report expressing surprise (The Bangkok Post (3 March 2010) where it states: “Finance Minister Korn said if it wasn’t for the military coup, justice wouldn’t have been served, that dictatorship is perhaps better for justice than democracy – causing a stir of debate – but what did he actually mean?

There are several issues in the Korn op-ed that warrant some comment. The first relates to his personal involvement in the assets case. He explains that from the time of the sale of Shin Corp, “all of Thaksin’s actions at that time indicated that he was the real owner of the assets and had hidden all of his shareholdings all along.” As a result, he took two actions: “First, I pointed out that there was evidence at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicating that Thaksin secretly owned his Shin Corp shares via an account at Singapore UBS Bank. Second, I filed a complaint with the Revenue Department that the transactions involving the transfer of shares to Thaksin’s children carried a tax liability.” He complains that his actions were thwarted by an unresponsive bureaucracy. At the same time, it would be interesting to know how Korn had information from UBS Bank.

There is then a gap in the narrative, with Korn explaining that “[w]hen the ASC was set up, I brought all the evidence to them, helped them analyse the information, and explained to them on matters regarding securities and securities trading, which was quite complicated and difficult to understand” (emphasis added).

Korn’s second and most significant issue is in this question: “The question I would like to raise is, if the coup did not happen in 2006 and the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC) had not existed, would we see justice being served in this case?” He restates it as: “if there had not been a coup, would justice have prevailed?” And then he thinks a bit more: “why can’t Thai society … achieve justice without having to rely on coup-makers initiating the process? Does this mean that sometimes ‘undemocratic’ actors place more emphasis on truth and justice than democratic ones?”

Korn doesn’t explicitly answer the first question although it is absolutely clear that he is a coup supporter and believes that justice has been brought by the 2006 military coup. Of course, the question is hypothetical as the coup prevented any further attempts to deal with Thaksin’s alleged corruption under the 1997 Constitution. We’ll never know the answer.

On the second question, Korn is more effusive and highly PAD-like. He says that it is possible that “the majority of Thais do not sufficiently care about truth and justice. As long as our businesses are doing well and there is food on the table, we Thais appear willing to live with corruption.” That sounds like a critique of Thai culture. But then Korn makes it clear which Thais he means: “Truth and justice cannot fill empty stomachs. Perhaps, therefore, only the wealthy have the time and inclination to ponder on matters such as justice while the poor, who have to struggle to feed their families, do not have that luxury. And when the majority is made up of poor people and the majority voice is what counts in a democracy, the resounding answer is seemingly ‘We don’t care’.”

Yes, Korn adds a throwaway line about “many businessmen and the well-to-do” who also don’t care, but the message is clear. It is those horrid people who vote for Thaksin who are to blame for the failures of the justice system. Korn must never have met average Thais in a normal situation. He must not know how they fell about injustice and double standards that allow Korn’s “thinking elite” to get special treatment in a system designed to prevent justice being blind to position and wealth.

Not unexpectedly, as the Bangkok Post (4 March 2010) reports, Puea Thai Party politicians have reacted strongly, pointing out that Korn is: (i) in a position to influence future investigations of Thaksin and his family through the Ministry of Finance, and he has taken a personal and political position that shows considerable ill-will. In other words, he should have kept his feelings of elation and self-justification to himself; and (ii) a member of parliament supporting undemocratic political interventions. Even the Chart Thai Pattana Party spokesman Watchara Kannika pointed out “that as a politician in a democratic system Mr Korn should not support any military coup.”

Not necessarily a part of this debate, but reflecting on some of the same issues, Kasian Tejapira, political science lecturer at Thammasat University has commented (Prachatai, 3 March 2010): “Don’t use a coup to solve the problems of corruption. That will destroy the legitimacy of the whole justice system. It’s really a high price to pay…”. Kasian’s perspective is far less elitist and a lot more thoughtful than Korn’s view.

Kasian, who strongly opposed Thaksin before the coup, reportedly stated that the “coup was meant to ‘reform democracy to be safe for the monarchy’, as implied right from the start by the original name of the coup makers, the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy, because the Constitutional Monarchy was insecure under Thaksin’s rule.” Kasian clarifies this comment, meaning that “The point was to maintain the hegemony to lead the country in one direction under the monarchy. Under Thaksin’s rule, hegemony was shifted to Thaksin, the Thai Rak Thai Party and their cliques.”

For Kasian, this means that what we are seeing is “measures … taken to secure hegemony where it was. This means it was necessary to destroy Thaksin’s power, crushing the two most important bases of his power, his money and his party…”. The process in train is, Kasian says, “obvious. Once Thaksin’s hegemony is destroyed, no other alternative hegemony is likely to emerge in Thai society.”

Kasian also points out that the 26 February assets judgment is also about “scaring big capitalists away from entering politics.” In fact, even before the coup, PPT has already seen big capitalists moving back to being behind-the-scenes funders of the Democrat Party and big-time supporters of the monarchy’s various fund-raising schemes, from polo to pearls and pathetic “art” and design.

Like PPT, Kasian sees a decline in liberal ideas and positions and a tendency to a “despotic” hegemonic regime. Thaksin might have been headed in this direction, but Kasian seems to lament that failure to reign him in: “Thaksin held state power, and sometimes stayed above the law. To bring the most powerful Prime Minister to court is an attempt to bring about the rule of law.”

After the 2006 coup, however, “influential figures” have been a problem: “the rule of law has been distorted by these influences. The police dare not, or take too long, to investigate the Suvarnabhumi Airport case; it has been over a year now.  The prosecutor has not brought them to court, claiming a lack of intention. This is where the allegation of double standards has been spawned.” And, there’s no transparency, not least in the judiciary.

Kasian worries that there is “judicial rule, because more and more people from the judiciary have taken political positions, through the 2007 Constitution.” The “2007 Constitution has institutionalized judicial rule, and that is locked in. It cannot be turned back.” On the verdict, Kasian says: “Many people cannot say for sure that the Thaksin government was innocent, and many believe that it was corrupt. However, after the process that has been followed, the lesson can be learned that to stage a coup to tackle corruption will destroy the legitimacy of the whole justice process…”.

At present, Kasian says that compromise is impossible because “one side is not in the mood to talk, … no changes are allowed. They trust nobody, neither the red shirts, nor Thaksin. It’s a feeling of insecurity, a fear for normal democracy. The abnormality must be made secure under their control…”.

The red shirts, their petition and conservative opponents

1 08 2009

Red shirts rally at Sanam Luang

The Bangkok Post (31 July 2009: “Sanam Luang security tight for final petition rally”) reports a police estimate that the size of the red shirt-United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) rally at Sanam Luang was to approach 30,000. By all accounts, it was a very large crowd, and may have exceeded this estimate. The rally is meant to be the culmination of the campaign to get Thaksin Shinawatra a “royal pardon.”

Television reporting of the event was apparently muted. PPT may have missed some reports, but a quick look at television news reports suggested something of a blackout of stories from Sanam Luang, especially on vision of the event. Where are all of those who complained of government control of the media under previous administrations?

Red news broadcasters, including the taxi community radio station, provided extension coverage.

The Bangkok Post (31 July 2009: “UDD petition campaign culminates at Sanam Luang”) reports that UDD leader Nattawut Saikua said: “We expect to have as many as five million signatures in the end…”. He added “We plan to seek royal mercy on our leader’s behalf.”

Nattawut has exaggerated numbers in the past, but even if this is a political exaggeration, the reaction from the conservatives and the palace suggests that they have been startled by the numbers signing-up. The Nation (1 August 2009: “Red shirts claim 4m signatures”) says the claim was 4.19 million.

The Nation reports that Thaksin phoned-in to the rally and “thanked his supporters for backing the signature campaign and said he felt highly grateful to them.” He added, “I want to return your favour by working for you, which I can’t do now. If I can work to return your favour, I will be able to die peacefully…”.

The Post reports that: “Police surrounded Sanam Luang to ensure a peaceful rally.” Some 1,800 police were deployed. This is somewhat odd as there have been no indications of any plan to be other than peaceful, apart from politically-motivated claims from Democrat Party members and other opponents of the red shirts who want to maintain the fear amongst Bangkok’s middle class based on the Songkhran Uprising in April.

The great fear

The fearful response to the petition continues to motivate government supporters. Raising the royal stakes, “government coalition party Chart Thai Pattana urged Thaksin to tell his supporters to abandon the petition, to prove his loyalty to the royal institution.” The implication is clear.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has had his say (, 30 July 2009: “Thai PM warns against royal pardon petition for Thaksin”). He warned Thaksin supporters against signing the petition and said “It’s not possible for people to sign up to seek a royal pardon…”. This might well be true in the case of a pardon, but royalists have long claimed that the right to petition the king is one of the strengths of the monarchy, even if they base this claim on a faulty reading of history (see here).

Then Abhisit makes the startling claim that the highly publicized red shirt campaign is “manipulating innocent people.” Abhisit adds, “We have to be cautious because these masterminds have complicated matters and people could fall victim to their provocations…”. This seems a replay of the claim that Thaksin managed to manipulate or hoodwink people into voting for him and his supporters again, and again, and again. It seems Abhisit has learned little about on-the-ground politics.

Working the fear angle, former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, who is chief adviser of the Democrat Party, “warned the government to pay close attention the red-shirts’ activities.” He said: “I have warned the government not to ignore the red-shirt movement…. They previously announced that the government would not last more than three months, and then there was chaos in April, which was the third month that the government was in office. And now they are on the move again…”.

So much for all those Democrat Party claims that they support peaceful demonstrations. PPT guesses that the Democrats only see protestors clad in yellow as peaceful and legal.

Universities controlled by conservative royalists

Meanwhile, The Nation (1 August 2009: “Rectors of 26 universities sign name against Thaksin petition”) reports that the rectors of “all 26 state universities have signed their name[s to a letter] to express opposition to the red-shirt movement campaign to gather signatures to petition His Majesty for a pardon for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.”

Led by the remarkably conservative and royalist “Professor Doctor” Phirom Kamolratanakul of Chulalongkorn University, which is now the bastion of yellow-shirted academics, “Phirom said the rectors saw that the universities should provide correct guidance and a way-out for the society to try to end the on-going divisiveness.”

Note the term “correct guidance.” The conservatives are pulling together. Remarkably, the disingenuous Phirom claims that the “rectors did not take side[s] but they based their decision on academic decision.” How Phirom can make such ridiculous claims with a straight face is anybody’s guess. The claim to anything “academic” in the political position taken by the rectors is mind boggling.

Phirom said that “the rectors would submit a letter to the Office of His Majesty Principal Private Secretary, asking it not to forward the petition of the red-shirt movement to His Majesty.” That clearly demonstrates that they are not taking sides….

In fact, Thailand’s state universities are in serious trouble, with their conservative administrations banning students seen as anti-monarchy and preventing hires of academics who are not considered “yellow.”

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