Vampires and zombies

26 11 2017

A couple of days ago PPT posted on the latest death of a military recruit. Sadly, there have been many.  In that post we observed that violence is an important element of the military’s establishment of social order and, most importantly, imprints the hierarchy of power that marks the military. It creates dictators who stride the country as (illegitimate) rulers just as it crushes the lower ranks, and makes them zombies, providing obedience to the bosses no matter what their corruption or the callous orders they make.

That’s all we have to say on this because the Bangkok Post’s Kong Rithdee has an important op-ed that everyone should read. A couple of previews:

We thought this country was many things — a country of smiles, of crooks, of crooked smiles, of corrupt politicians and coup-addicted soldiers, of might and military men. Now we’re also a country of vampires….

First thing first, what the public want to see now is simple: Somebody must be suspended or sacked, then investigated by an impartial party. Somebody must be — this is so simple! — responsible. In a civilised society, we couldn’t possibly ask for anything less than this. Unless we’re not that kind of society….

And yet an even less simple thing to ask, especially when the military, the government and nearly everyone in power are almost the same people, is for the army to come to terms with the fact that too many conscripts and cadets have died in suspicious circumstances — three this year and more in the past few years — and something must be done. Unless, of course, such violence — institutional violence condoned and elevated to a point of pride — is the norm, the culture, the standard operating procedure, and death in training is not something to waste time or tears thinking about….

The worst part, however, is that such violence is really the culture…





Updated: Absurd defenses of feudalism

16 10 2017

Update: A reader rightly points out that our headline is potentially misleading. Let us be clear: the absurdities are all on the side of those implementing, using and defending the feudal lese majeste law.

PPT has had several posts regarding the efforts of a couple of retired generals, public prosecutors and a military court’s decision to go ahead with investigations of a lese majeste charge 85 year-old Sulak Sivaraksa. He dared to raise doubts about a purported historical event from centuries ago. (In fact, the prosecutors have until 7 December to activate the charge or let it lie.)

We have been interested to observe how parts of the media seem to far braver in pointing out the absurdities of this case than when it is workers, farmers, labor activists or average people who are charged in equally absurd cases. If these people are red shirts or fraudsters, there’s often barely a peep from the media.

Conservative, middle class, aged, royalist and intellectual Sulak, who has also been anti-Thaksin Shinawatra, is far easier to defend than those in more uncomfortable political and social locations for some reporters and writers.

His case also generates more international attention, as his cases have always done since 1984, when international academics supported him (and an alleged communist) under the administration led by General Prem Tinsulanonda.

Just in the Bangkok Post, there have been three op-eds and one editorial that each point out the ridiculousness of the case against Sulak. These include:

Yellow-hued, anti-Thaksinist Veera Prateepchaikul writes that the latest case is “unique in its absurdity.” He says he sees two troubling issues with the case:

First, … why did it take police three years to decide to send this case to the prosecutor — a military prosecutor in this case because we are now under the junta regime?

The second issue concerns the police interpretation of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code in a way which makes the law look like it has an infinitely long hand which can delve into an event which took place some 400 years ago. The land on which the elephant duel was said to take place was not even called Siam.

Kong Rithdee, who has been pretty good and brave in calling out the lese majeste fascists, points out the absurdities of the case:

Another day, another lese majeste story. This time the interpretation of the contentious law goes back much further, to 1593 to be precise, to a dusty battlefield somewhere before “Thailand” existed.

The use of a military court to possibly sentence an 85 year-old to 15 years in jail is also mentioned as absurd.

Kong makes some connections that warrant more attention:

The scope of interpretation of Section 112 has been one of the central bristles of modern Thai politics, and while there have been cases that raised your eyebrows and body temperature (that of Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, to name just one), this wild reading of the law to cover an event from 400 years ago borders on dark comedy.

He asks if the absurdity of Sulak’s case tells Thais that they must not discuss or adopt a critical perspective on history. It seems Thais are expected to accept schoolbook nationalism and the jingoism of royalist film-makers.

Ploenpote Atthakor takes up the blind royalist nationalism. She observes that, in Thailand, there is no “dialogue” about historical events, “especially the parts concerning historical heroes or heroines, or even villains, hardly exists. Anyone who dares to question particular historical episodes may face trouble.” She notes how the history that got Sulak into trouble has changed several times and is disputed by historians.

Ultra-nationalism blinds Thais. The red hot pokers have been wielded by feudal-minded royalists and military dictators.

The Bangkok Post editorial extends the discussion to law and injustice:

In what appears to be an attempt at law enforcement, authorities in the past two weeks have taken legal action against two prominent public figures by resorting to what appears to be a misuse of both the law and its principles.

One is Sulak’s case and the other person is Thaksin, one of his lese majeste cases and the retroactive application of a law. The Post states that the cases “not only put the Thai justice system under the global spotlight but will also jeopardise law enforcement in the country.”

The editorial questions the police’s interpretation of the law, saying it:

is worrisome and has prompted questions about how far such a law should be applied. If Mr Sulak is indicted, it would create a chilling climate of fear and hurt the credibility of Thailand’s justice system….

In proceeding legal actions against the two men, the authorities must realise any abuses of the law can set bad precedents with a far-reaching impact on Thai citizens.

All these perspectives are right. We applaud these journalists for daring to defend Sulak and, in one instance, even Thaksin. At the same time, it would be brave and right to point out the absurdities that face many others charged with lese majeste. The military dictatorship has gotten away with being absurd for too long.





Updated: Ultra-royalist professors attack students

4 08 2017

The desire of royalists to see everyone kowtowing to monarchy has become a crusade for many, egged on by the royalist regimes of recent years. The ballooning use of lese majeste is only one element of this. There’s also the multitude of “little” enforcements, many aimed at students, making them acknowledge hierarchy and status.

One might have thought that by the time students got to university, such childish royalism might have been more limited. But in Thailand’s infantile world of royalists who think they need to make the “children” kowtow to the seniors/teachers/royals, there’s uniforms, royalist ceremonies (many “invented” recently and said to be “traditional”) and royalist propaganda deluging universities (not to mention military thugs and other “authorities,” in uniform and plainclothes).

One of the saddest stories we have seen coming out of Thailand under the military dictatorship is from Chulalongkorn University, a bastion of ultra-royalists and political yellow shirts.

The Bangkok Post’s story is of the “freshmen initiation ceremony at Chulalongkorn University,” itself a ridiculous effort to enforce hierarchy and to instill royalism, said to have “descended into chaos and controversy when a group of students staged a walk out and one of them was put in a chokehold by a lecturer.”

Yes, you read that right, a university-level “lecturer” attacked a student. It is Khaosod that identifies the “lecturer” as “assistant professor Ruengwit Bunjongrat.” We clipped this picture from his page at the Botany Department, where he is listed as holding a Masters degree.

Khaosod also has some video of the event, where another unnamed professor tries to stop it being filmed, cursing the student filming as an “asshole.” It says the student who was assaulted by the royalist Ruengwit was Supalak Damrongjit, who is a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Economics and also vice president of student council.

This royalist assault took place at one of the invented traditions at Chula which had students dressed in white uniforms made to sit on the ground in a very light rain and “prostrating themselves to pay respect to the monument of the university’s founder, King Rama V, and take an oath before the monument.”

Student activist and president of Chulalongkorn University’s Student Council Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who “has campaigned against sitting on the ground and prostrating during the ceremony,” claimed “a deputy university rector promised that the university would provide an area for students who did not want to sit on the ground.”

He says “the lecturers broke these promises as all students were ordered to sit on the ground to pay their respects…”.

Netiwit walked out. That was when the assistant professor grabbed another student in a headlock and abused him.

One of the university’s deputy rectors, Associate Professor Bancha Chalapirom, babbled that “the university did not force students to sit while it was raining. He said there was a slight drizzle and students agreed to carry with the ceremony and were given raincoats.” He says no one was forced to sit or prostrate.

That seems neither here nor there as the professors tried to stop students leaving the ceremony.

Bancha “described” the events leading “up to the professor restraining the student…”. He says:

“The freshmen paid respects three times, recited their oath and sang the song. But during the ceremony, Netiwit and his friends came out to pay respects in an awkward way as the student council. This made the officials overseeing the ceremony come out and pull them aside, and though it looks like an assault, it wasn’t…”.

Bancha said royalist Ruengwit is “hospitalized for stress after the incident went public.” We have no sympathy. But Bancha went further declaring the attacker as “a person who loves students and didn’t want anything to happen, so he went to pull out the students…”. Royalist love can be tough love. Ask those who have survived murderous royalist attacks in the past.

When all Thais should be ashamed, yellow shirt social media is fulsome in its praise of the royalist thug professors.

Update: Kong Rithdee at the Bangkok Post has an insightful op-ed on this shameful royalist assault

… you just can’t manhandle your students like that, no matter how many wrestling matches you’ve watched or how detestable you find youthful activism. Physically restraining a student who might or might not have shown disrespect, by a professor of all people, and in a public gathering being observed by reporters? What can we expect next? Baptism by fire? A crucifixion?…

Like everything in Thailand these days, the Chulalongkorn incident is symptomatic of a heavily polarised nation. Every dispute, every conflict, every argument reignites the debate between tradition and progress, between the reactionary and reformist, between the headlocker and headlocked. Even the most respected institute of higher learning, supposedly the nation’s cradle of intellectualism, has become a mud-filled, gladiatorial pit where underdog fighters face the wrath of their Roman rulers. They got the thumbs-down and look what happened….

Like everything in Thailand these days, the Chulalongkorn incident is symptomatic of a heavily polarised nation. Every dispute, every conflict, every argument reignites the debate between tradition and progress, between the reactionary and reformist, between the headlocker and headlocked. Even the most respected institute of higher learning, supposedly the nation’s cradle of intellectualism, has become a mud-filled, gladiatorial pit where underdog fighters face the wrath of their Roman rulers. They got the thumbs-down and look what happened.

And that’s fine. A university should be a battleground for ideological contests. What isn’t fine is anger manifesting itself through violence. Without being alarmist, sometimes it’s good to remember that Oct 6, 1976 didn’t happen in a vacuum. One thing lead to another, and another, and then to something that could never be undone.





When the military is on top VI

10 06 2017

It is a while since we used this headline. Yet an editorial in the Bangkok Post draws us back to it.

That editorial is about a hot social media story about a traffic jam in Khon Kaen. The editorial states:

the wedding of Lt Col Pitakpol Chusri and his bride, a young woman from a wealthy family in Khon Kaen, on June 8 has drawn numerous complaints, mostly from commuters.

This was because part of the busy Mittraphap Highway was sealed in order to pave the way for the groom’s traditional procession in which a groom and his entourage make their way to the bride’s house to propose formally. The convoy reportedly resulted in heavy traffic congestion as it took place during rush hour. The tailback was said to have stretched over 10km and this caused an online uproar over the past few days.

The editorial doesn’t seem to mind this. After all, it is “traditional.” And, they want “to be fair” to the groom and his wealthy bride.

What gets the editorial’s author hot under the collar is:

the reaction from Col Winthai Suvaree, the spokesman of the National Council for Peace and Order, in his dire attempt to defend the groom, is unacceptable. Without properly investigating the matter, he simply denied the highway was partially closed for the groom’s procession. Col Winthai said the congestion occurred because there were so many guests who arrived in their own cars and it so happened that some of them had no choice but to park their vehicles along the road.

That is not the truth.

It isn’t true, and the editorial got irate:

The regime spokesman seemed to ignore the suggestion that authorities should look into the matter and probe why such a request [to close part of the highway] by state personnel was accommodated.

As the regime spokesman, we expect Col Winthai to carefully check information before making any statement. We also expect him to stick to the facts. The spokesman may have acted out of goodwill and dismissed the allegations, thinking the problem is trivial. But that can hurt his credibility.

The wedding case shows we have to question Col Winthai’s “no problem” attitude. It may bring into question whether anything he says in the future is truth or propaganda.

That’s where our headline comes in. It is propaganda that Colonel Winthai is hired to propagate. It is a military dictatorship.

That point is made by op-ed writer Kong Rithdee. He explains clearly and emphatically that life is changed by military dictatorship.

Yet neither Post article makes what we think is a critical point, found in a story by Khaosod.

Lt Col Pitakpol Chusri or “Seh Pete” is the “commander of the junta’s provincial security wing.” He is a junta thug:

After the junta seized power in May 2014, Phitakphon’s unit imposed a curfew that forced all concerts to end before 1am. The ban led to protests from mor lam folk musicians who said their traditional performances last until early dawn.

Phitakphon was also the officer who filed royal defamation [lese majeste] charges against pro-democracy activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, or Pai Dao Din, for sharing a BBC Thai article about the king. Jatupat has been jailed since December.

As a senior military thug, Pitakpol can do more or less anything he wants. If you don’t like it, he can arrange for you to be jailed. That’s what happens when the military is on top.

That’s why the Rolls Royce corruption “investigations” disappear, that’s why senior military can accumulate huge wealth, that’s why no one can ask what happened to the 1932 plaque, that’s why torture is not investigated, that’s why deaths in custody are not properly investigated, that’s why soldiers can kill with impunity, that’s why referendum and elections can be fixed, that’s why civilian protesters can be murdered; that’s why weapons and human trafficking can thrive. It just goes on and on.





Political vandalism and the control of history

23 04 2017

1932 plaqueThe political theft of the 1932 plaque has had unintended consequences.

The thief-in-chief was seeking to remove a perceived threat to the new reign and the junta’s constitutional basis for authoritarianism.

One unintended consequence has been to shine a light on 1932. The understanding of that time and the revolution that ended royal absolutism has been “controlled” by royalists for a considerable time. Think of the King Prajadhipok Institute and its mangled version of history. (If the KPI “The history” and “About KPI” seem reasonable, then you are a victim of the royalist control of history.)

Over the past couple of days, the Bangkok Post has had several op-eds that have posed questions about the received “history.” Each deserves attention. We’ll just quote some bits and pieces.

The first is by Wasant Techawongtham. He begins:

The switcheroo involving the 1932 Revolution memorial plaque seemed at first to be a simple act of theft or vandalism. But once the matter was brought to the attention of the authorities, things rapidly spiralled into the realm of the surreal.

And the more people try to make sense of it, the murkier it becomes.

He points out the quite banal and seemingly inexplicable initial responses from the junta:

Both government [junta] spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd and National Council for Peace and Order [junta] spokesman Winthai Suvaree, who can normally answer anything the press might throw at them, were lost for words.

The Dusit district chief who has jurisdiction over the area knew nothing about it either. The Fine Arts department chief not only did not know anything about the switch but claimed — rather hilariously, I should say — that the plaque was neither an artefact nor had any historical value.

The police not only did not know about it but would not accept complaints to look into the matter, claiming — I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry here — that no one owned the object, and therefore no one could file a complaint. Huh?

You have to ask yourself: Is this for real?

The plaque was installed there for only 80-plus years and is associated with arguably the most significant political development in modern Thai history.

He refers to more ridiculousness by the junta and its minions before observing:

The silliness in this country knows no bounds. But this latest episode really takes the cake.

This really worries me. The Thai people under this military regime are already under orders not to think or speak their mind. But now we are supposed to not see or hear as well.

George Orwell would love to have written such a story.

We seem now to be living in another dimension where reality is distorted out of all proportion and truth is anything the powers-that-be say it is.

A second op-ed is by Ploenpote Atthakor. She begins:

… the plaque, which marks one of the most important incidents in modern Thai history, is a hot potato politically.

But though I fully sympathise with those inflamed by this apparent act of “political vandalism”, the extent of the public outcry has surprised me. Like those who are up in arms, I also wish the plaque, which marks the political transition from absolutism or constitutional monarchy, had stayed at its original site.

I believe Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ordered a probe into the case, will never give a full account of what has happened. Nor could he restore the original plaque to its rightful place….

She seems to believe she cannot say why this is. The vandal-in-chief is beyond criticism. The Dictator is beyond criticism.

She continues by noting the failure of people to understand 1932 or to respect its symbols. Likewise, she does not point to the royalist hold on “history” as the reason for this. It is fine to opine about “the people” being “ignorant,” but the reasons for their alleged ignorance need to be explained. But she sees a silver lining:

… its sudden disappearance has triggered an interest in this particular period of Thai history like never before. The people who removed it probably didn’t expect that.

The third op-ed is by Kong Rithdee. He begins:

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present (tada!) controls the past. In summary, the military, like quantum physicists or mad sorcerers, controls time: The past, present, future, ad infinitum.

Through their coups, their fantasies and their laws, they control history — meaning the things that have happened or they want us to believe have happened. They also want to control the making of history — history as work in progress — meaning the shifting of glaciers and governments, the removal of memory and the manufacturing of dreams. Through the new 20-year national strategy bill, they also want to control the laying of future laws that will govern our life until eternity….

Much has been pondered about the missing plaque marking the 1932 Siamese Revolution. The erasing of history, an elusive heist, a voodoo ritual? Take your pick, for it looks like the burglary of the artefact is going down as one of the greatest puzzles of modern times. The sorcerers know they can’t change the past, even with chicken blood or powerful mantras, so they feel a need to change the record of the past — the imperfect past written by the revolutionaries who transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy.

He can’t get into the palace’s role although he could look at the role of royalist “historians” in the service of palace and military, writing “politicians” and the anti-royalists out of “their” history that is now “the” history. Or maybe he can, by allusion:

With the new plaque discreetly put in place of the original one, a palimpsest of history is being constructed before our eyes by the hand that appears firm, inexorable, invisible. So invisible that even the CCTV cameras (which only function when you’re speeding) lost all trace of what happened. The ghost did it. Again.

Some might see the ghost as a devil. He concludes:

The mark of dictatorship is when someone controls our life and our choice — that’s harder now because modern dictatorship still operates under capitalism, a system that values choice.

So it’s true dictatorship when someone attempts to control the concept of time — the mad aspiration to rule history and lay siege to the past, present and future while preventing us, the true holders of destiny, from writing our own parts. The clock is ticking but time is frozen. It’s not, as they often say, Orwell’s 1984.

This is a dystopian sci-fi, a country beyond Brave New World.

 





The Bangkok Post on corruption

29 01 2017

PPT has been posting quite a lot on corruption. Of course, we skim our posts from a limited set of Thailand sources and sometimes international reports. We are not doing anything more than highlighting stories already in the media and adding a bit of background and detail where we can.

With yet more stories of officials and corruption on the front page of the Bangkok Post today, it is worthwhile to highlight the op-eds on corruption in that paper as the enormity of the corruption and the obviousness of the cover-ups is revealed.

While some columnists who write for the Post sound more and more like sycophants for royalist military rule, others are writing appropriately critical accounts.

The most recent story is what might be called petty corruption. That said, it can amount to big bucks over time. Police and state officials in Phuket are exploiting legal loopholes to extort money from foreign employees and migrant workers. These groups are standard prey for officials and police.

It needs to be remembered that poaching from such vulnerable small fry is a part of a broader system of corruption that is based in impunity and funnels funds up to higher-level bosses. Its essentially a crime syndicate in state garb.

Now the op-eds. We will link to them and just quote a couple of bits and pieces:

Corruption and cover-ups lists many of the recent cases and cites Transparency International: “The lower-ranked countries in our index are plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary.” Thailand. The article adds: “The Great Cover-ups are under way.”

Thailand must clean up its act is by the Post editor. He refers to secret deals with Sino-Thai tycoons, among others, but then asks: “where [are] the voices are that supported and cheered the military coup that ousted an elected government on the grounds it was [allegedly] corrupt…. I do not hear their voices coming out to voice their opposition against the rising corruption and lack of transparency in the [General] Prayut[h Chan-ocha military] regime.” PPT has pointed out the distinctions in the minds of anti-democrats, between Good people being  corrupt, and others they see as Bad and Evil people. The Great and the Good can do what they like.

his-masters-voiceGraft nosedive comes as no surprise at all is by Kong Rithdee. He gets the Good people nonsense of the anti-democrats, when he says of Sansern Poljeak of the politicized National Anti-Corruption Commission complaining about the use of “being a democratic country” in “one of the checklists used to calculate the [TI]  score.” Kong asks: “What did he expect? That being a non-democratic country is nobler and less corrupt, because it has righteous people holding top jobs?” Well, yes! Of course, Sansern listens to his masters and obeys.

Then there’s Surasak Glahan’s We can’t all be starry eyed in busting graft. He complains long and loud about the lack of transparency, not just under this military regime, but over a long period. That’s all fine and dandy, but PPT wonders why, even when there is some transparency – think of the huge and unexplained wealth of the officials who are part of the puppet assemblies – nothing is done. Their wealth is on display, but no one cares or investigates. Only when one falls foul of the powers that be does “corruption” become something that can be (politically) used.

There’s also an editorial in the Post. It’s tepid because it is critical of The Dictator.

Far better is Wasant Techawongtham, former News Editor at the Bangkok Post, who looks at police corruption and police reform. He gets it right when he says real police reform won’t happen under the military regime:

What would happen if, after police reforms, people started to demand reforms in the military?

And who can confidently say the military is any less corrupt? The military is probably the least transparent and accountable organisation in the entire bureaucracy. It is inscrutable and refuses to be scrutinised. Any shady activities are therefore kept under wraps away from the public’s eyes.

So shouldn’t genuine reform begin with the military?

Its a mess. But its a very lucrative mess for those who benefit, in the civil and military bureaucracies, in the upper echelons of the royalist elite, and among the Sino-Thai tycoons.





Reacting to “incorrect” views

16 11 2014

Anyone with even a passing interest in Thailand knows that the current military dictatorship is Orwellian in its doublespeak, repressive of opponents and any person perceived as potentially straying from the royalist-militarist ideology and censorial of almost everything political.

A day or so ago, PPT posted on a military threat to ThaiPBS over a program that the military found just too challenging. According to a new report in Khaosod, the program “was airing complaints from the public about the 22 May coup.”

The military boot came in the form of a group of officers showing up at the broadcaster and telling them to get with the military’s agenda or face the consequences. The executives at the station, never particularly brave, quickly caved, and dumped the presenter and changed the format to “military-lite.”

The recently-appointed/anointed commander-in-chief of the Army has insisted that this action was necessary. General Udomdej Sitabutr who doubles as Deputy Minister of Defense, got very Orwellian, claiming that the visit to PBS was “not an order to suspend anything…”. He said that the military was “merely reacting” to “an attitude that displays mis-understanding about some matters…”. He called it a “conversation.” We imagine that military conversations are rather one-sided and akin to a conversation with a famished and agitated lion in that the outcome is known well in advance of being devoured.Orwell

Udomdej purred that “… we didn’t do anything much. We merely asked for their understanding.” He proclaimed that the media was pretty much under total control, referring to “constant” surveillance of the media since the coup. He stated that the military dictatorship asks “that those in charge of all types of media have understanding and cooperate with us. If we feel that some media reports, once broadcast out there, may lead to disorder or inappropriate consequences in the current situation, we will ask for cooperation, because we need to maintain peace and order.”

As Khaosod explains, this is just the latest act of massive censorship and repression by the military dictatorship: “Since seizing power, the junta has banned any criticism of the regime, crushed any political protests, and briefly detained hundreds of activists.”

The military dictatorship says this is not censorship. If they say it enough, some will believe them, maybe. For a script on how to understand the Orwellian moment, see Kong Rithdee’s latest op-ed.

Meanwhile, the often supine Thai Journalists Association has been spurred to action over PBS and states it “will push next week for the lifting of orders restricting freedom of expression of journalists and the general public, as well as martial law.”