Anand’s change of mind

5 08 2010

The Bangkok Post recently reported that former appointed prime minister Anand Panyarachun has urged fellow Thais to embrace reform “by moving beyond debates on ‘good and evil’ and by accepting the voting rights of the majority.” He said: “We, therefore, have to respect their voting rights whether or not we may disapprove of their choices.” PPT has added the emphasis as the chair of the National Reform Commission appears to have changed his mind on elections.

Anand is reported to have “insisted the political rights of certain groups must firstly be respected by all, otherwise reform efforts were bound to fail.” He adds: “I believe people in rural areas have suffered inequalities and thus want political space…”. He was speaking at a dinner reception organised by the royalist-aligned Population and Community Development Association, so these changed views represent a liberal-royalist understanding.

In an attack on the yellow-shirted rightists associated with the People’s Alliance for Democracy, Anand said “people had no right to control other people’s opinions, and those who oppose the political choices of this group [pro-Thaksin Shinawatra voters] might one day have to live with it.”

Why does PPT say he has changed his mind? Back in the days around the 2006 coup, Anand was a defender of intervention and questioned the notion held by “some Westerners” that equated democracy with voting. He said this at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand when launching a new edition of The King of Thailand in World Focus (p. 274). The point of this statement was to whitewash the trashing of Thai democracy by the PAD, the military and the palace.

That he now seems to accept that voting matters perhaps reflects a liberal-royalist recognition that electoral processes can be one way of moderating political demands from the lower classes and a way of disciplining the ruled. To do that, the ruling elite needs to make concessions. Will the army, now back in the driving seat, agree? Will the conservatives agree with Anand and seek to make the historic compromises necessary to maintain their class hegemony. So far they haven’t shown much willingness.

Updated: More internet censorship likely

30 07 2010

There had been some hopes, harbored by the more optimistic, that the draconian provisions of the post-2006 coup Computer Crimes Act might be liberalized. That hope seems to have turned to despair, according to a long report in the Bangkok Post. The conservatives are well out in front on this.

The story now seems bleaker than ever. More cyber-snooping, more censorship, less attention to human rights, more charges and, potentially, more people in the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime’s prisons.

Supinya Klangnarong, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, says that conservatives want “more severe punitive measures against so-called national security threats…”. She adds: “We believe that pushing for amendments to the law in parliament now means risking it being changed in the opposite direction, leaning towards harsher punishment for violation by internet users…”.

Conservatives like the prime minister have “thrown … support behind a so-called ‘online scout project’ to monitor improper content on the internet which poses a threat to national security and the highest institution.” This is a vigilante movement for the monarchy, being the middle class and internet generation’s equivalent of the right-wing Village Scouts.

Within the Senate, a panel dominated by the appointed senators “has been formed for the specific task of protecting the monarchy and monitoring anti-monarchy movements…”. Meanwhile, the “police are also setting up a special force to monitor online actions deemed in violation of the act…”.

Things can only to worsen as this government continues to be led and dominated by conservatives and royalists.

Update: has a picture posted (scroll down to the second picture for 31 July) that adds considerable visual weight to the idea that the conservatives are fully in command of internet censorship and that things are likely get worse. In the picture of a huge billboard, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is pictured apparently reporting an inappropriate web site. The billboard calls for Thais to come together in reporting inappropriate web sites. This could refer to all kinds of sites but the fact is that most sites the regime blocks have to do with the monarchy. Most people know the message means “protect the monarchy.” Abhisit has thrown his weight behind this task and encourages vigilantes.

Old men, again

4 07 2010

PPT has often made the point that Thailand is led by old men, most notably here, and we have to say that most of them lost most of their critical faculties some time ago. Just think of who is being called on at present to “reform” or do something to “save” the country.

There was the hopeless Privy Councilor Surayud Chulanont (a spring chicken at just 67 years old) who was made premier after the coup, partly engineered by his partner in political crime, General Prem Tinsulanond (90). Now Abhisit Vejjajiva administers the country for an aged elite. Admittedly he’s only old in the way he thinks and governs – indeed, he’s a throwback to bygone times. He’s called on former palace cop Vasit Dejkunjorn (80 or 81) to “reform the police and Kanit na Nakorn (not sure of his age, 80+?), Prawase Wasi (79) and Anand Panyarachun (78) to come up with “reform” ideas.

Chavalit Yongchaiyudh (78) is the chairman of the opposition Puea Thai Party and he has (again) made his unfortunate call for the king (83) to form a “national” government. How lamentable is it that this is the best idea that the aged general can come up with. It is more like a neuron response than a real idea. Chavalit, like many of his failed generation, can’t get beyond, king, military and bureaucracy.

Some will argue that Chavalit’s point is to bring the monarchy into the open. We think that’s wishful thinking.

PPT thinks that serious opposition leaders would demand elections and democracy and that the king and his palace refrain from political intervention, not be publicly involved. Chavalit can be critical of the present system, but a conservative call to the monarchy is a call for a new ice age.

Strengthening censorship for the monarchy

28 06 2010

Further to our earlier post on the Chuti Krairiksh, the Information Technology and Communication minister, and his efforts to protect the monarchy through internet censorship, PPT notes a related and chilling development reported in the Bangkok Post’s technology columns.

The story tells of three ministries – MICT, Justice and Culture – have come together to sign an MOU to coordinate the tracking and hunting down those the government thinks are threatening the monarchy. The ministers link this to “internet crime,” but the focus is the monarchy and supposed “national security.”

Justice Minister Peerapan Sareerathawipak confirmed this when he claimed there are “networks that use the Internet as a tool for publishing and distributing insulting and inaccurate content about the royal institution, causing misunderstanding and threatening Thailand’s national security.” While no sites are named, PPT guesses that these “networks” are probably red shirt-related or identified as such by the royalist regime under Abhisit Vejjajiva and the military.

Peerapan makes this move all the more chilling when he says, “This issue is not like lese-majesty laws that seek to ban normal criticism or comments.” PPT wonders what “normal” means in a context that has landed people in jail for 15-18 years?

He goes on: “We found networks of people who established companies but employ only one staff member who does nothing but post negative content on various websites. This issue adversely affects Thailand’s internal affairs because there would be no Thailand if the nation didn’t have a king, since we established our kingdom…”. The conservative royalists are in charge here, protecting not just the monarchy but its ideology.

More proactively, Chuti added that more propaganda can be expected from MICT, “to teach correct knowledge about the monarchy” – with so much propaganda now, 24/7, how much more can there be. Thailand as North Korea with commercials is one way PPT has thought of this.

The biggest threat for the royalists is now seen to be in rural areas, where MICT promises “ICT community centres … throughout the country so that when they find incorrect comments about the monarchy these ‘cyber scouts’ can post comments to clarify the matter for web audiences.” A quick scan of critical blogs shows how the military and government are already doing this, creating nonsense commentaries. That said, there are plenty of hopeless royalists doing this off their own bat.

The goal of the ministries is to integrate, collaborate and “empower all three ministries and reduce loopholes in the law.” The Justice Ministry is allocating “50 computer experts from its agency to act as officers under the Computer-related Crime Act. This will help to combine and mobilise the government’s human resources between the agencies without incurring additional costs.” MICT is set to “increase its staff from 30 to 70 and renamed itself the Office of Prevention and Combat Information Technology Crime to clearly define roles and responsibilities.”

PPT wonders how many officers and how much money is now allocated to protecting the monarchy? Whatever the numbers, and we don’t expect any transparency from this royalist government, they have certainly increased substantially since the military created the government in late 2008.

One of MICT’s challenges is apparently the need to enhance the already draconian computer crimes act “because the law may not cover crimes that use mobile devices and in some obvious cases in editing pictures of the royal family that violate the law. Under such circumstances, authorities should be allowed to shut the web immediately without court approval.” PPT observes that the red shirts used mobile phones effectively, and with all of their media now closed or controlled, this is the last avenue requiring control by the dictatorial regime now in power.

The reference to altering pictures is interesting as there has been a huge upsurge in images that portray the monarchy in negative ways. Many of these items are quite juvenile and even like electronic graffiti – such as showing the king as a monkey or with feet on his head – but they seem to be getting the government’s attention.

Most chilling is the plan to acquire “advanced tools for IP tracking and intercept content to trace back and determine the original IP in order to locate the illegal activities faster because cybercriminals lure the officers with fake IP addresses and re-route from multiple complexes in various countries.” This suggests not just further intimidation and censorship, but an increasingly determined crackdown on media and electronic freedom.

As we have been observing, the Abhisit government is now one of the most authoritarian Thailand has seen for many years, all in the name of the monarchy, more effectively acknowledging the institution as an element of Thai authoritarianism.

No criticism of the monarchy, ever. Imagine this in Thailand? Never under this royalist regime.

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