Revelations

30 06 2011

There have been several revelations in short reports in the media. Here are a couple that are of interest. Readers can decide which are likely to be most accurate:

1. Snipers are different: Referring to earlier reports, the Army’s spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd has managed to come up with his usual denials while also being revealing about the state’s snipers: “However, there were issues that needed to be understood regarding snipers. As the Army has already explained, Col Sansern said, operating troops who were in charge of protection are different from snipers, because snipers have to be deployed in covert places and are tasked with shooting targets as assigned. But the ‘protective troops’ under the command of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation were not deployed in covert places, and they were visible. These troops included gunners and patrols guarding their areas to prevent anyone from using war weapons to hurt innocent people and troops. The tasks of these troops and snipers are very different.” PPT assumes that he means the snipers were assigned the task of killing. Who controlled them? Who ordered the killing?

2. Abhisit Vejjajiva is the elite’s puppet: Okay, many will have already considered this to be true. However, these words, from an Abhisit supporter appear to provide confirmation: “Like many Democrat [Party element]’s, Kraisak [Choonhavan] worries about what lies in store for Abhisit should his political opponents triumph at the polls. ‘Abhisit was probably one of the best prime ministers we’ve had, and the establishment used him and now they’re going to throw him away,’ Kraisak said.” Teflon Mark the face of the royalist elite becomes Disposable Mark for his ill-fated decision to prove his personal legitimacy via the ballot box?

3. Puea Thai to form government/a deal has been done: PPT recently posted on the pessimism of some political pundits. Most commentators are expecting trouble if and when there is a Puea Thai government. But not Shawn Crispin at Asia Times. He’s always big on deep intelligence from unnamed sources claimed to be intelligence officials, close to the palace and/or with military connections. In this case, these sources lead him to believe that there have been “High-level secret talks between Thailand’s royal palace, military and self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra point towards a stable outcome to this Sunday’s highly anticipated election.” Of course, there are caveats in the story, but Crispin seems to buy the claims.

4. Thai soldiers intimidate Puea Thai voters: “Four Thai soldiers have been arrested in the northeast of Thailand for allegedly intimidating opposition activists ahead of a general election at the weekend, police said Wednesday. The arrests came after Puea Thai party canvassers complained the troops drove to their villages in Nakhon Ratchasima province and told them not to get involved in politics…”. We await the Army spokesman’s expected denial.

 





On class and political struggle

16 10 2010

Readers might remember a bit of a kerfuffle around the time of the red shirt demonstrations in March-May over “class warfare” in Thailand. Former leftist and now Democrat Party deputy leader, Kraisak Choonhavan, famously argued against the red shirts having anything to do with class. Writing in May, he was ticked off that the “international media has largely portrayed the protracted protests in Bangkok this past month as a class struggle between rich urban elites and a poor, neglected rural mass.” That perspective was taken up by several in government.

However, it is interesting that government actions betray a view that corruption (double standards?), inequality and difficult rural conditions play a major role in political mobilization. Most recently, The Nation has this conclusion by a government investigation: “In its report, the working group led by PM’s Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey concluded that the government should focus on solving social and economic inequality, corruption and shortage of land for agricultural and residential purposes, in addition to unfair income levels and high cost of living of poorer people.”





Coup leader on the coup

6 09 2010

As PPT mentioned a little while ago, General Sonthi Boonyarataglin, who led the 2006 coup that toppled the Thaksin Shinawatra government, is writing a book on those events.

The Nation has a story of an interview with Sonthi that suggests the kind of details that might be included, provided the rather dim-witted general isn’t “got at” by the bigger bosses to ensure he doesn’t say much that embarrasses them.

For PPT, he says 4 things that are of interest. First, he claims that he ordered cabinet – recall that the cabinet was made up of appointees that were close to the military and palace – and told them “to retain populist policies that helped improve the lot of the common people.” He thinks that the failure to maintain the so-called populist policies has been a cause of conflict.

The problem for Sonthi is, even if he did believe this back in 2006, all of the others behind the coup saw such policies as part of the problem, and this is why the junta-appointed government fostered the dopey royalist ideology of sufficiency economy.

Second, the general states that the reason he staged the coup was because he “received a metal-cabinet full of letters urging him and the military to protect the country.” It seems the general puts more stock in letters than in two nationwide election results. He claims the Thaksin government “was not democratic.”

Third, Sonthi suggests Thaksin did good things (along with the negatives). This seems in line with the “reconciliation” line of recent days (is there a deal being done?)

Fourth, Sonthi claims that before the coup, the “US understood the country’s political situation…”. He adds: ” I was talking to the US ambassador all the time.” This revelation is not unexpected as then ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce was close to several yellow shirts, including Kraisak Choonhavan. He has been mentioned previously as a possible source of a leaked letter from Thaksin to President Bush and with a privy councilor’s unsubstantiated claims about Thaksin and money dealings through the Caymans.

PPT looks forward to more details of the coup and its backers.





The slide to military authoritarianism

13 06 2010

PPT has been posting about Thailand’s slide to military authoritarianism for several months. This slide has been presided over by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, abetted by a group of his close collaborators like Suthep Thaugsuban, Sathit Wongnongtoey, Privy Council-connected Panitan Wattanayagorn, Korn Chatikavanij, Kraisak Choonhavan, Kasit Piromya, and the generals Anupong Paojinda and Prayuth Chan-ocha.

This slide and the increased role of the military from the formation of the Abhisit government and with enhanced power under the circumstances of the crackdown on red shirts is why PPT refers to the Abhisit regime.

In Asia Times Online, Shawn Crispin recognizes this slide: “Thailand is sliding towards de-facto military rule and it is not clear that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has the will or power to turn back the authoritarian tide.”

Crispin uses the usual. shadowy and unnamed “sources” to say that “the Center for the Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES), which was formed to handle the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group’s street protests, is morphing into a sort of ‘shadow government’ to Abhisit’s democratically elected coalition.” This shadow government is putting in place structures that are intended to be long term.

Two points here. First, no one should need an unnamed source to make this statement of the obvious. Second, the claim that the Abhisit government is “democratically-elected” is unworthy of a journalist who should be able to see that a government of elected members of parliament and at least one who isn’t – Suthep – doesn’t necessarily warrant this legitimizing moniker. It is, however, the one the Abhisit regime prefers.

Much of the rest of the article is Crispin’s now usual descent into the murky and dark waters of speculation – this time on the potential for a red shirt insurgency. PPT sees speculation but not much else. Crispin has run this insurgency line since Jakrapob Penkair went into self-imposed exile in about April 2009. Crispin uses unnamed sources to again suggest that exiled red shirts might operates an insurgency from Cambodia. He compares this to southern insurgents operating from Malaysia; maybe he hasn’t noticed that the insurgency in the south operates locally….

Crispin does add some comments on hardliners in the miltiary, which seems at least to be partly evidence-based, when he states: “The ongoing crackdown against the UDD is being viewed in some royalist quarters as a measuring stick of regional commanders’ loyalty and effectiveness. Second Army Region commander Lieutenant General Weewalit Chornsamrit, who oversees security in the northeastern region, has passed the test with flying colors, according to one military insider. The First Army Region Commander, Lieutenant General Kanit Sapitak, charged with Bangkok’s security, has reportedly come under fire from Prayuth for his perceived hesitant response to the UDD.”

There’s also little doubt that the military has used the “threat to the monarchy” line for its own purposes and to shore up the Abhisit regime: “its clear from the ongoing crackdown on UDD supporters, including an academic who has been released and a newspaper editor who is still in detention, that the military is exercising emergency powers to identify and target perceived threats to the crown.”

Abhisit is claimed by Crispin to be some kind of bastion against the hardliners in the military. PPT sees no evidence of this. Abhisit has worked hand in glove with the military and his record in government is one that shows the slide into authoritarianism is his responsibility. That the military now take advantage of that shows that he has been essentially their pawn since they acted as his government’s midwife.





With major update: Still hunting and killing red shirts

12 06 2010

The hunt for red shirts, claimed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime to be “terrorists” is continuing. The Bangkok Post (11 June 2010) states that the Department of Special Investigation is “planning to issue more arrest warrants for red shirt members on terrorism charges, a source at the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation says…. DSI chief Tharit Pengdit told security authorities at a meeting yesterday that the next group to face charges would include arsonists…”.

So far, the Post says, at least 39 suspects have been detained on these so-called terrorism charges. How many political prisoners does the Abhisit government want. PPT’s estimate is that they currently hold about 500.

The hunt for red shirts also seems to require the emergency decree as Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “over possible sabotage and arson at places such as oil refineries and power plants.” He also said that “intelligence reports [warn] that a new wave of political turmoil could erupt around the birthday on July 26 of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.”

These intelligence reports have been hopeless in the past, so PPT imagines that this is yet another ploy to repress opposition.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post (11June 2010) suggests that the killing of red shirts is not over. PPT reproduces the relevant bit of the story here:

The government has no policy to kill innocent people or supporters of the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, Deputy Prime Minister for security affairs Suthep Thaugsuban said on Friday.

He said the government had nothing to do with the death of  Chakkarin Krongkaew, a close aide of UDD co-leader Suporn Atthawong, who was shot dead in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Buayai district on Thursday night.

Mr Suthep said he will order police to rapidly hunt down the gunmen.

PPT knows no more than this. However, it could be noted that Korat is actually an area of the northeast where the Democrat Party did okay in 2007, electing the yellow-hued former activist and former senator Kraisak Choonhavan, who is now a deputy leader of the Democrat Party and PAD leader Somkiat Pongpaibul as a Democrat Party MP. The Democrat Party organization in Korat is reputed to have strong links with former counterinsurgency operatives.

For those who can read Thai, we cut-and paste this from Prachatai, indicating another red shirt apparently executed (Sawart Duangmanee, aged 60 and a red shirt guard, killed in Cholburi). There are unconfirmed reports of another red shirt murdered in Khon Kaen.

The yellow shirt blogs are cheering what they see as government executions of the hated red shirts. Presumably such extra-judicial murders are okay? Just as the government reactivates investigations into extra-judicial killings by the Thaksin government.

ฆ่าการ์ดเสื้อแดงวัย60นำศพทิ้งที่จ.ชลบุรี

เว็บไซต์คมชัดลึกรายงานว่า เมื่อเวลา 14.00 น.วันที่ 11 มิ.ย. พ.ต.อ.ปกรณ์ มณีปกรณ์ ผกก.สภ.บ่อทอง อ.บ่อทอง จ.ชลบุรี ได้ประชุมร่วมกับ พ.ต.ท.สุขทัศน์ พุ่มพันธุ์ม่วง รอง ผกก.สส.ภ.จ.ชลบุรี เพื่อคลี่คลายคดี นายสวาท ดวงมณี อายุ 60 ปี บ้านเดิมอยู่ที่ 47 หมู่ 9 ต.ตะเคียนงาม อ.ภูสิงห์ จ.ศรีสะเกษ การ์ดเสื้อแดง ซึ่งดูแลการชุมนุมอยู่ที่กรุงเทพฯ ถูกฆ่าอย่างเหี้ยมโหดโดยคนร้ายใช้เชือกมัดมือไพล่หลัง และใช้ผ้าขาวม้ารัดคอจนเสียชีวิต หลังจากนั้นได้นำศพมาทิ้งที่หมู่ 8 บ้านคลองใหญ่ ต.บ่อทอง อ.บ่อทอง จ.ชลบุรี โดยมีผู้พบศพ เมื่อวันที่ 10 มิ.ย.ที่ผ่านมา

พ.ต.อ.ปกรณ์ มณีปกรณ์ ผกก.สภ.บ่อทอง กล่าวว่า กำลังเร่งสรุปประเด็นที่นายสวาทถูกฆ่า เบื้องต้นคาดว่าอาจจะถูกฆ่าจากที่อื่นแล้วนำศพมาทิ้งเพื่ออำพรางคดี ในพื้นที่ของจ.ชลบุรี โดยข้อมูลที่เจ้าหน้าที่ได้รับคือ นายสวาท ได้หลบหนีหลังเหตุการณ์ความไม่สงบ จากรุงเทพฯ และเดินทางไปหาญาติ ที่ จ.ระยอง แต่ถูกคนร้ายตามมาฆ่าดังกล่าว

คดีฆ่าแกนนำเสื้อแดง “สุเทพ” โต้รัฐบาลไม่มีแนวคิดไล่ล่าใคร ตร.มุ่ง 3 ปม ส่วนศพ “อ้วน บัวใหญ่” กำหนดฌาปนกิจ 13 มิ.ย.นี้

จากกรณี นายจตุพร พรหมพันธุ์ ส.ส.สัดส่วนพรรคเพื่อไทย แกนนำกลุ่มแนวร่วมประชาธิปไตยต่อต้านเผด็จการแห่งชาติ (นปช.) ตั้งข้อสังเกตว่า การเสียชีวิตของนายศักรินทร์ กองแก้ว หรือ “อ้วน บัวใหญ่” แกนนำ นปช.จ.นครราชสีมา อาจเกี่ยวข้องกับการไล่ล่าแกนนำกลุ่ม นปช.ของรัฐบาล

วันนี้ (11 มิ.ย.) นายสุเทพ เทือกสุบรรณ รองนายกรัฐมนตรี ฝ่ายความมั่นคง ในฐานะผู้อำนวยการศูนย์อำนวยการแก้ไขสถานการณ์ฉุกเฉิน (ศอฉ.) ตอบโต้ว่ารัฐบาลไม่มีแนวคิดจะไปฆ่าคนหรือไล่ล่าใคร นายจตุพรมีอะไรก็โยนใส่รัฐบาลไว้ก่อน เป็นสูตรสำเร็จ รัฐบาลไม่มีแนวคิดจะไปฆ่าคน และพยายามทำทุกอย่างภายใต้กรอบของกฎหมายและกระบวนการยุติธรรม รัฐบาลไม่มีอำนาจในการเที่ยวไปไล่ล่าฆ่าสังหารใครทั้งสิ้น ขอยืนยันว่าตำรวจจะสืบสวนสอบสวนคดีนี้เพื่อทำความจริงให้ปรากฏ เดี๋ยวก็รู้ เดี๋ยวนี้ตำรวจเก่ง

ส่วนกรณี คณะกรรมการสิทธิมนุษยชนแห่งชาติ (กสม.) ชี้ว่าการประกาศพระราชกำหนด (พ.ร.ก.) การบริหารราชการในสถานการณ์ฉุกเฉิน พ.ศ.2548 เป็นการละเมิดสิทธิมนุษยชน นายสุเทพกล่าวว่า พร้อมไปชี้แจงข้อเท็จจริง และพิสูจน์ตัวเอง สำหรับภาพข่าวแกนนำ นปช.ที่ถูกควบคุมตัวตาม พ.ร.ก.ฉุกเฉินฯ และอยู่ระหว่างการพักรักษาตัวอยู่ที่โรงพยาบาลตำรวจถูกล่ามโซ่ตรวนนั้น นายสุเทพไม่ขอให้ความเห็นเพราะไม่ทราบวิธีปฏิบัติ

ระบุ 3 ปม ฆ่า “อ้วน บัวใหญ่” เผยสอบพยานกว่า 10 ปากแล้ว

ส่วนความคืบหน้าคดี เมื่อเวลา 11.00 น.วันเดียวกันนี้ ที่หอประชุมสารสิน สำนักงานตำรวจภูธรภาค 3 อ.เมือง จ.นครราชสีมา พ.ต.อ.วชิรวิชญ์ กฤษณ์ฤทธิศักดิ์ รอง ผบก.ภ.จว.นครราชสีมา หัวหน้าชุดสืบสวนสอบสวนคลี่คลายคดีสังหารโหดนายศักดิ์นรินทร์ เปิดเผยว่า ล่าสุดการสอบปากคำพยานบริเวณที่เกิดเหตุได้กว่า 10 ปาก ทราบชัดเจนว่าคนร้ายมีอย่างน้อย 2 คน นั่งมาโดยใช้รถกระบะยกสูงสีดำ ไม่ทราบยี่ห้อ ไม่ทราบหมายเลขทะเบียน ส่วนที่มีข่าวว่า คนร้ายได้เข้ามาในพื้นที่ก่อนลงมือ 3-4 วันก็น่าที่จะมีคนเห็นหน้าบ้าง ส่วนจะเป็นคนมีสีลงมืออะไรนั้น ยังไม่มีความชัดเจนลึกขนาดนั้น

พ.ต.อ.วชิรวิชญ์ กล่าวว่า ได้มีการกำชับลงมาจาก พล.ต.ท.เดชาวัต รามสมภพ ผู้บัญชาการตำรวจภูธรภาค 3 (ผบช.ภ.3) โดยรายละเอียดในเรื่องของพยาน และวัตถุพยานมีความคืบหน้าพอสมควร ทั้งนี้ จะได้เร่งรัดเนื่องจากเป็นคดีสะเทือนขวัญประชาชน และให้ความสำคัญมากว่าจะต้องจับกุมคนร้ายให้ได้ ส่วนประเด็นการสอบสวนก็ยังคงเป็น 3 ประเด็นคือ เรื่องส่วนตัว เรื่องชู้สาว และเรื่องการเคลื่อนไหวทางการเมืองช่วงที่ผ่านมา ตำรวจให้น้ำหนักทุกเรื่อง ซึ่งถือว่าคดีนี้มีพยานหลักฐานมากพอสมควร เพราะมีคนที่เห็นเหตุการณ์ รวมทั้งได้วัตถุพยานคงทำให้มีแนวทางที่ดีในการสืบสวน

ส่วนที่มี กระแสพุ่งเป้าการสังหารมาจากเรื่องความเคลื่อนไหวทางการเมืองจากชุดไล่ล่า เช็คบิลเชือดไก่ให้ลิงดู เพราะเป็นแกนนำคนเสื้อแดง และการ์ด นปช.นั้น พ.ต.อ.วชิรวิชญ์ กล่าวว่า หลักจากการสอบสวน ณ ปัจจุบัน นายศักดิ์นรินทร์ ไม่ได้เป็นแกนนำคนสำคัญ เป็นแต่เพียงคนที่เคลื่อนไหวระดับอำเภอ และจังหวัดเท่านั้นเอง ซึ่งไม่น่าจะมีความชัดเจนหรือหนักหน่วงขนาดนั้น

ต่อข้อถามถึง ที่มีข่าวว่าผู้ตายสนิทและใกล้ชิดกับนายอริสมันต์ และนายสุภรณ์ แกนนำ นปช. รอง ผบก.ภ.จว.นครราชสีมา ตอบว่า เท่าที่ตรวจสอบข้อมูลแล้วน่าจะเป็นไปทางนายอนุวัฒน์ ทินราช อดีตกำนัน ต.บัวลาย อ.บัวใหญ่ อดีตผู้สมัครของพรรคเพื่อไทยมากกว่า เพราะทำงานเคลื่อนไหวทางการเมือง และผู้ตายเป็นทั้ง ตร.อาสา เป็นทั้งมูลนิธิ ทำตัวบริการสาธารณะ เป็นคนที่มีน้ำใจดีคนหนึ่ง และเป็นคนที่ชอบแสดงออก แต่ในเรื่องที่ไปขัดแย้งกับใครตำรวจจะสืบสวนเจาะลึกลงไปอีกครั้งหนึ่ง ซึ่งต้องขอความร่วมมือจากประชาชนถ้ามีเบาะแสก็ช่วยแจ้งเจ้าหน้าที่ตำรวจ เรื่องที่จะเป็นประโยชน์ต่อรูปคดีตำรวจยินดีรับฟัง

ผู้สื่อข่าวรายงานด้วยว่า นายศักรินทร์ผู้เสียชีวิต ถือเป้นแกนนำกลุ่มคนเสื้อแดง จ.นครราชสีมา ที่ อ.บัวใหญ่ และยังทำหน้าที่การ์ด นปช.ที่กรุงเทพฯ โดยเฉพาะเป็นคนช่วยแกนนำ นปช.ที่กำลังถูกชุดไล่ล่าตามล่าตัวในขณะนี้คือ “กี้ร์” นายอริสมันต์ พงษ์เรืองรอง กับ “แรมโบ้อีสาน” นายสุภรณ์ อัตถาวงศ์ โรยตัวหลบหนีในการจับกุมในการชุมนุมที่กรุงเทพฯ





Further updated: The Nation on independent investigations

3 06 2010

As long-time PPT readers will know, several times in the past we have pointed to the outrageous bias and unprofessional journalism in The Nation – memorably, one of our readers referred to this newspaper as “fish wrap.” So bad has the paper become that it has spawned its own parody site. But let’s take a recent editorial seriously.

The Nation (2 June 2010)  decides to attack Thaksin Shinawatra yet again. This time the editorial writer is incensed by Thaksin’s hiring of Robert Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Peroff as a lobbyist and the apparent hiring of Professor G J Knoops by Amsterdam. PPT earlier listed Amsterdam’s blog as a source of pro-Thaksin information.

The Nation doesn’t like either move.  PPT won’t go into the detail of the editorial or of Amsterdam’s reply (where he seems to think The Nation is a “government-controlled Thai newspaper” – we can understand his confusion, however).

Thaksin’s legal team has made it known that it plans to investigate “human rights abuses and war crimes committed by the Thai authorities in its handling of the April and May violence.”

The Nation editorial writer states that the paper is “supportive of a full and independent investigation” and even says that “foreign mediation in the investigation…”.  But the problem for The Nation is that this particularl investigation “is being launched and paid for by a stakeholder – not to mention the fact that this stakeholder has been charged with being the mastermind behind the violence – is not exactly credible or neutral.”

PPT wonders why it is that The Nation has not asked this same question of the military-backed and Nation-supported Abhisit Vejjajiva government? Abhisit has talked about independent investigations but this is always in the context of organizations in Thailand that are anything but independent. There is also talk of the government approaching individuals to join an “independent investigation.” No details are released but we have serious reservations that such an investigation can be independent or impartial.

The Nation adds: “we need to ask ourselves if the state mechanism – namely our legal system – is in such a state of shambles that a foreign mediator is needed at all?” The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Interference in the judiciary and its politicization has expanded exponentially since the king’s call for the judiciary to interven in April 2006.

In rejecting the Amsterdam/Thaksin lobby and PR effort, The Nation says: “how about investigating the deaths of the Tak Bai demonstrators in October 2004?” PPT observes that there has been judicial investigation of this, reporting during the tenure of the Abhisit government. It was a complete whitewash. That’s a serious strike against the judiciary and continues a pattern of almost never finding against the military and police brass.

The Nation also raises “the 2,500 alleged drug-dealers killed extrajudicially in just a few months in 2003 and 2004 under Thaksin’s ‘war on drugs’.” While not a judicial investigation, PPT recalls that an investigation team appointed by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, former army chief and on-off privy councilor, when he headed the military junta’s government following the 2006 coup. It included dedicated Thaksin opponents such as Kraisak Choonhavan, now a deputy leader of the governing Democrat Party. Not only did it find far fewer extra-judicial killings than the usual 2,500 reported, but it failed to move any of the investigations far enough to seek action against those responsible. It seemed to fizzle out and was canned by the Samak government. Back in March, when pushed by the Puea Thai Party, Abhisit said he’d do more on this important case. Nothing so far.

The Nation concludes that “it’s a bit far-fetched to think that the public will take this [Amsterdam/Thaksin investigation] as an honest and fair gathering of evidence and opinion.” PPT can accept that. However, it is equally unlikely that the government can mount an “honest and fair gathering of evidence and opinion.” What is needed is an independent and international investigation.

2 updates: Perhaps not by chance, the Bangkok Post reports that the government is re-opening the investigation into the war on drugs extra-judicial killings. The report states that the investigating committee formed by the Surayud government was being reviewed for its membership and the justice minister claimed to have “approached a number of experts to sit on the independent committee and was awaiting their reply. He said the public would accept the people he had approached.” Let’s see. Earlier, though, there was a report that the investigation was to be completed by the DSI. So what is it? Independent? Probably not.





Pining for the Imagined Past; Preparing for the Repressive Future

24 05 2010

We have blogged before about the writings of people like Stephen Young—one of many conservative romanticizers of a Thai past that never existed—who seem unable to extricate themselves from the regressive truisms they learned to invoke in the Vietnam War era. At the present moment of crisis, with severe repression by the Thai state being the urgent issue of the day, it might seem that dismantling another such absurd proclamation is a bit beside the point. But a recent editorial in the Globe and Mail by David Van Praagh, “Thailand’s Real Road to Freedom Starts Here” (May 19), seems to us worth noting, not because it says anything credible or intelligent, but because it might nonetheless be representative of the kinds of intellectually and morally bankrupt arguments we are likely see produced over and over again in the days ahead, as the Thai state and its reactionary backers desperately attempt to justify their remarkable savagery.

Van Praagh, listed as a former Globe and Mail correspondent in South and Southeast Asia, as well as a professor of journalism at Carleton University and the author of a book on the life and times of M. R. Seni Pramoj, asserts that the entire red shirt uprising of the last two months has been nothing more or less than a coup attempt by Thaksin against the government and the monarchy, and that with this threat now banished, Thai society, the “Land of the Free, can begin working, again, to live up to its name.”  To begin building a better future, however, “Thais—and non-Thais—who care about their country need to understand some facts that have emerged in recent days.”

The first of these, according to Van Praagh, is that “the Thai army acted not above the law or on its own but on the orders of the elected coalition government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Prachatipat or Democrat Party…” Van Praagh has an interesting notion of what constitutes a “fact.” Technically speaking, the military certainly did not act on the orders of the coalition government but on the orders of military commanders, especially, Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, working through the hastily assembled Center for Resolution of Emergency Situations (CRES), which itself was legitimized by reference to the State of Emergency the Abhisit government declared when it decided to deem what would have otherwise been legal protests illegal. Indeed, as we and many others have reported, Abhisit and more powerful Democrat Party boss Suthep Thaugsuban, tried repeatedly to push military commander Anupong Paochinda into launching the military attack that finally came, with Anupong—who is perhaps only slightly more law-abiding than the Democrat Party leadership—resisting this and calling for a political settlement. Only when some yet-to-be-fully revealed maneuvers within the military and the palace had been completed, allowing the hardline Sansern to emerge in charge of operations and the threat of internal conflict within the military was sidelined for the time, did the troops begin the slaughter.

Even more obviously, however, if Van Praagh considers the Democrat Party to have been “elected” he is either woefully ignorant or wilfully deceptive. To most readers of the Globe and Mail, Canadian or otherwise, an election means a popular plebiscite, where the general population is allowed to determine who they would like to govern. The Democrats did not win and have never won such an election, and it is the fact that they know they are unlikely to do so any time in the near future which has conditioned their firm resolve to reject the red shirt call for a dissolution of the current parliament. Van Praagh and others who utter this nonsense apparently consider the vote of the parliamentary representatives themselves, after the new coalition was already arranged by Anupong, to constitute the equivalent of a popular plebiscite—a perfectly rational view, we suppose, for those who think the population cannot be trusted to vote properly and should have their chosen political representatives “vote” on their behalf (Cf. the New Politics proposal.)

Van Praagh’s second “truth” is remarkable enough in its intellectual and moral barbarity that it needs to be repeated in full: “what the world has seen in the weeks of confrontation is nothing less than an attempted coup d’état by Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister from 2001 to 2006, who was convicted of corruption and had about $1.5-billion of his assets seized by the government. Mr. Thaksin, now in exile, aimed to provoke a bloody massacre of so-called Red Shirt demonstrators by the army that would have led to civil conflict – the only way for him to return to power and end the monarchy that holds Thailand together. The coup failed when the army showed extraordinary restraint until it was no longer possible to allow the ruination of Bangkok’s business and shopping district. Even then, casualties were comparatively low.”

Like others who assert that a Thaksin coup attempt against the government and the monarchy was the source of the entire uprising, Van Praagh does not feel compelled to provide evidence for this “fact.” But the problem is not merely the lack of factual evidence. Indeed, under the current situation, with untold numbers of prisoners in detention, suffering who knows what unspeakable treatment, it would be shocking if we don’t very soon have a detailed Thai government account, based on statements by someone or other in custody, explaining how Thaksin bought and paid for the entire red shirt movement. And, if so, such “factual” evidence will be worth just as much as everything else pronounced by Abhisit’s mendacious government, not solely because the “facts” produced by it under these conditions cannot be taken seriously by any impartial observer without access to the information and the process by which it was elicited, but because the entire intellectually shabby foundation of the argument would be dismissed out of court by any serious social analyst. “Big men” theories of history, the sort that government officials like to propound in order to individualize their enemies and reduce complex events to simplistic morality plays, have no credibility, and certainly not when they assume that hundreds of thousands of people are no more than sheep, willing to walk unthinkingly to their deaths on promise of a few baht. (Well, we should note that some scholars, like Van Praagh, appear amazingly willing to sheepishly follow whatever ideological line those with power would like them to follow, but then again these people are rewarded for their sheepishness, not threatened with death.)

There is a remarkable arrogance in Van Praagh’s claim that the red shirts were merely trying to sacrifice themselves en masse for Thaksin’s alleged coup attempt—in this case, classist, racist, and imperial arrogance all at the same time—implying as he does that we should simply ignore what the red shirts said they were trying to achieve (dissolution of the parliament) and instead interpret events according to the “facts.” Once again, these “facts” are never presented—and can’t be—but perhaps divination or communication with higher powers is a better description of how Professor Van Praagh discovers reality? As to the claim that the military exercised great restraint and that the casualties–at least 80 people dead and nearly 2,000 injured) “were comparatively low”–one must wonder what number of casualties imposed on overwhelmingly unarmed civilians Van Praagh would consider “comparatively high.” The moral savagery of this claim is stunning, all the more so when the military violence is made to seem acceptable and inevitable because of the “ruination”—another “fact,” here—being imposed on “Bangkok’s business and shopping district.”

Fact number three for Van Praagh is that “Mr. Thaksin’s hard-core Red Shirts turned out to be not a force for democracy but for what can only be called a Thai strain of fascism.” Here Van Praagh’s already limited “analysis” degenerates into a flood of virtually incoherent assertions: “This was first evident in the 1920s, when King Vajiravudh created the ultranationalist Wild Tiger Corps. It became dominant when Marshal Pibul Songgram, an admirer of Hitler, Mussolini and especially Japanese imperialists, ruled Thailand before and during the Second World War. It re-emerged in the 1970s, when King Bhumibol Adulyadej ordered ruling generals into exile, and military officers and well-to-do civilians reacted viciously in the name of nationalism.” Setting aside the issue of how one should define fascism—does a regime that comes to power by military and judicial coups, refuses to hold elections, and guns down civilian protestors qualify?—or the stylized misrepresentation of the King’s role in Thai history, one might ask what any of this has to do with the red shirts. Van Praagh’s answer: among the red shirts, “some call themselves Black Shirts – modern-day Wild Tigers beholden to Mr. Thaksin.” We take it as unnecessary to say more about the “facts” that have been established by this line of argument.

The fourth and final “fact” is merely the usual blathery line about the monarchy being “above politics” but needed as “Thailand’s political mediator of last resort”—a ludicrous notion that we have addressed too many times to bear repeating here. From this point Van Praagh’s “argument” rambles forward to a happy conclusion: “Thailand is an innately conservative Buddhist nation. Thais’ great sadness must soon give way to their usual smiles.”

We don’t wish to speculate about what planet Van Praagh must live on in order to maintain this perception. But two things seem worth noting: first, although we’re firmly in favour of freedom of expression and congratulate the Globe and Mail for publishing a letter betraying how remarkably infantile are some of the best arguments Thailand’s “friends” are mustering at the moment, we also have to note the disgraceful level of intellectual culture that must exist on the world’s political right to enable “analyses” like these. Second, as we said at the outset although a performance like this might be best ignored, the fact that this seems to stand for some on the right as a credible kind of argument needs recognition. It is not only people like Van Praagh who make such bankrupt arguments. Democrat Party leader and one-time intellectual Kraisak Choonhavan, in an interview on al-Jeezeerah, demonstrated his own decline into intellectual and moral bankruptcy as he bent over backwards to represent the red shirt movement as a mere puppet of Thaksin. Conveniently forgetting that the red shirts rallied a year ago, demanding exactly what they demanded this year (dissolution of the parliament), Kraisak asserts that the entire uprising was a response to the seizure of Thaksin’s assets by the Thai courts. And, like Van Praagh, Kraisak insists that the Abhisit government is in fact elected, as he knows because he was there for the vote!

The degeneracy of these kinds of arguments and presentations of the “facts” will not prevent them from being heard, and probably accepted by those who wish to believe. They will certainly not convince those who have been shot at, those whose friends were killed, those who are now detained or hunted, or the millions of supporters of a movement that faces daily the fascist repression of the most undemocratic government Thailand has seen since the era of Cold War dictatorship.





With 4 updates: Alert as crackdown seems closer

13 05 2010

This is a sign of tension rising regarding a crackdown on the red shirts. Dan Rivers of CNN decamps and the US Embassy and UN agencies are advising staff to leave the area around the red shirt encampment at Rajaprasong.

The rising fear of a crackdown is in response to the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s scrapping of its early election plan, the sealing of the protest site with heavily armed troops and armoured cars, blocking traffic, the closing of BTS stations and subway stations and reports that mobile telephone operators are prepared to cut signals in the area of the protest. Other plans for a shutdown in the protest area, including electricity supplies, have been reported.

Bangkok Post also reports that: “Employees of private firms near the anti-government rally at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong business area are leaving early on Thursday evening, fearing the impact of the government’s plan to besiege the protest venue.”

There have been previous alerts of a pending crackdown that have not been correct or have been foiled. However, the preparations at present seem extensive. The Nation headline at its website is: Noose Tightening.

Contrast that with the Post’s interview with Kraisak Choonhavan. We note that Kraisak still uses the “more than 2000 killed in the war on drugs, despite having served on a committee that decided this figure was exaggerated (by the Thaksin Administration).

Update 1: The Financial Times has a recent report on the state of play between protesting red shirts and the government and military.

Update 2: The government’s Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) is preparing for the reaction to the crackdown it seems to be preparing for. CRES wants to impose the emergency law in 15 more provinces in central, north and northeast Thailand. CRES spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the 15 provinces were: Chonburi, Samut Prakan, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Ayutthaya, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Chaiyaphum, Nakhon Ratchasima, Si Sa Ket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Lampang and Nakhon Sawan. The state of emergency remain in effect in Bangkok, Nonthaburi and parts of Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom and Ayutthaya. Should the government attack the red shirts at Rajaproasong, it expects a provincial reaction and wants the 2nd and 3rd region army commanders to be in charge of maintaining order in these provinces.

Update 3: The Nation reports that the army has been preparing to deploy 52 armoured vehicles in the operation to seal off Rajprasong rally zone. Troops are authorized to use live ammunition. Colonel Sansern stated that troops and police with armoured vehicles would close in on the rally zone. He said the armoured vehicles would “shield troops and police from being fired at because we are confident that armed terrorists are among the protesters…”. Sansern said troops will be armed with M16 assault rifles and Travo assault rifles.

Update 4: Read Pravit Rojanaphruk’s comment on being cleared from Rajaproasong and a culture of violence here.





What we want you to believe

11 05 2010

The responses from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to critical articles about the monarchy and the Abhisit Vejjajiva government are getting pretty standardized, but this one from Thana Duangratana, the Thai Ambassador in Kuala Lumpur to the New Straits Times (10 May 2010) is of some interest.

Thana is responding rather belatedly to the article by Sin-Ming Shaw, which got considerable international syndication. PPT posted on it here. Thana states that the article “contains a number of misunderstandings that make his analysis flawed.”

The first misunderstanding has to do with – no big suprise here – “the role of the palace.” The usual blather is presented including the above politics mantra and the idea that it is nasty unnamed others who draw the palace into the political fray. We at PPT assume that this group of nasty others must now include General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council for his political interventions in recent years. But then again he may be being told to intervene….

The second point is a little less predictable: “discussing the monarchy is certainly not taboo. Thailand’s so-called lese majeste law has never been an obstacle to discussions, particularly academic ones, on the monarchy…. Indeed, only two years ago, at the 10th International Conference on Thai Studies held in Bangkok, lively discussions took place about the monarchy and its role in Thai society.”

Now this is interesting, for the ICTS was not devoid of conflict. Yes, it took place, but only through the glare of international attention and stoic attention to attempts to censor or pressure by Thai academics. Giles Ji Ungpakorn is an academic who published the book A coup for the Rich and found that he was charged with lese majeste. Many would consider Sulak Sivaraksa an academic and intellectual commentator and he has been charged several times. Thanapol Eawsakul edits Fah Diew Kan which is used and read by many academics. He currently faces two charges/accusations of lese majeste. Very few academics are willing to discuss the monarchy openly for fear of lese majeste charges. PPT thinks the ambassador and the bosses in Bangkok are selective in their historical memory.

The third point is to deny that there is any element of class struggle “or urban-rural division…”. The current government line on this is to simply note that “many other democracies [have] economic and social disparities” and that all Thai governments face this problem. Mirroring Kraisak Choonhavan‘s recent line, the ambassador says a “more thorough study of its welfare-oriented policy is recommended for those who believe the government is not pro-poor.” PPT has already commented on this. There are now a plethora of yellow-shirted semi-serious emails circulating claiming the same thing.

Fourth, the Ambassador points to an error in the Shaw article, where it is stated that the red shirts: “demand that the government dissolve the current legislature immediately, and that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resign because he was never elected and is viewed as a front man for the traditional anti-Thaksin monied groups.”

Of course, Abhisit was elected to parliament. However, what Shaw was presumably pointing to was the tawdry manner in which Abhisit was catapulted to the premier’s chair and his party to government, in coalition with breakaway members of the (court dissolved) People’s Power Party in a deal brokered by the military, some business interests and the palace. To say, as the Ambassador does, that Abhisit “was voted prime minister by the majority of the House of Representatives in the same manner and by exactly the same house as his two predecessors” is a misrepresentation.

Abhsit’s two predecessors were made prime minister in quite different circumstances. Samak Sundaravej was leader of the largest party to come out of the 2007 election. His successor, Somchai Wongsawat, was elected to the leadership by his party – still by far the largest in parliament – after Samak was disqualified in the bizarre cooking case. Abhisit needed non-stop demonstrations by his PAD allies, including the occupation of Government House and Bangkok’s two airports, a shonky court case dissolving the PPP, and a behind closed door deal brokered by the abovementioned extra-parliamentary forces to get levered into government.

Fifth, the Ambassador claims that “the legal process on certain cases — including those outstanding against both the so-called ‘Yellow Shirts’ and ‘Red Shirts’ — takes time [and] should not be construed as impunity. The judicial system in Thailand is independent. How quickly each case proceeds depends largely on its complexity.” This is another misrepresentation. As the abovementioned case that dissolved PPP, the earlier case dissolving the Thai Rak Thai Party and the decision to declare the April 2006 election void indicate, politicized decision-making is a trait of the judiciary. They also show that the courts can move fast when they want to.

The sixth point Thana makes refers to the rise of civil society, where the Ambassador reminds Shaw that it was “civil society” that was responsible for rallying “against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, holding him and other public officers to a higher standard of accountability and propriety.” It is difficult to know what Thana means here. For one thing, it is often said that civil society was intimidated and repressed under Thaksin. Perhaps he refers to the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which was often violent and decidedly uncivil in their actions? PPT wonders if he would also include the red shirts as a part of civil society?

The Democrat Party and its supporters are desperately trying to win back the international support that they have lost. It seems clear, however, that the international media and foreign governments are unlikely to see Thailand’s political crisis and its current government in the terms Abhisit and his spin doctors prefer. However, gross exaggeration, misrepresentation and lies are unlikely to be appreciated.





Differing perspectives on the crisis

4 05 2010

There are two recent articles in regional online magazines worth comparing and contrasting.

The first is by Democrat Party member and deputy leader Kraisak Choonhavan in The Irrawaddy (1 May 2010). Kraisak once considered himself a leftist and with the people. He was well-connected with a range of NGOs and civil society organizations and was and is a bitter opponent of Thaksin Shinawatra.

In this article, he is ticked off that the “international media has largely portrayed the protracted protests in Bangkok this past month as a class struggle between rich urban elites and a poor, neglected rural mass.”  He thinks this is some kind of “clever marketing slogan” that he seems convinced is the work of the ever evil and devious Thaksin: “this discourse of class struggle is a … rather abstract message to propel the real strategy, which is the struggle for Thaksin’s return to power.”

Perhaps a little miffed that his own efforts to promote class struggle in an earlier period were rejected, like numerous pundits he makes the appallingly obvious point that the “political struggle in Thailand … is not so easily pigeon-holed as an ideological battle between rich and poor.” Perhaps he should have also recognized that a class struggle is not simply an “ideological battle between rich and poor,” but something infinitely deeper and messier.

Kraisak tells his readers that a “true class war” is about having a “clear policy of promoting the participation in government of people from every level.” He’s wrong. For one thing, in the Marxist sense, class is about a relationship to the production process and the ownership of the means of production rather than some kind of sociological definition of rich and poor. As the Communist Manifest  had it, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another…”.

Kraisak notes correctly that the red shirts want to return “power to the people through elections…”. He seems to dismiss elections as useful or a means of participation – an odd admission for a parliamentarian who is elected – and argues that the red shirts have no “clear program of social and political reform to follow.” He appears to confuse a political party and the red shirts, who initially came together to oppose the 2006 military coup that Kraisak supported. For PPT, the red shirts should be seen as a vehicle for the expression of opposition to oppression.

Kraisak then embarks on a discussion that is meant to show that his Democrat Party is really the party of the people. He denigrates Thaksin’s government for exclusing “people’s participation in the process of decision- making in government, or the scrutinizing of big projects and whom they benefited.” Instead, he says, Thaksin’s “government adopted policies that showered poor people with money and easier access to services…”.

He makes the same PAD case that was made in 2005 and 2006 even to the extent of claiming that “Thaksin’s government deployed populist policies to gain popularity among the people.”  That’s not to diminish his point, but to indicate that the case ignores many of the changes in participation that did come at the local level and which have been the subject of several academic papers over a number of years.

Oddly, he then argues that the Democrat Party is doing a better job of showering people with money and access to services. He says that: “Before accusing the current government of ignoring the poor and calling for class war, it is necessary to point out that this government did not abandon Thaksin’s policy of direct budget allocation to villages throughout the country.”

In essence, Kraisak’s appeal is to a logic that many red shirts find insulting and which epitomizes the “old elite’s” thinking. The people who benefited from Thaksin’s time in government amongst the working and farming classes were duped or bought. Meanwhile, those in the capitalist class who recovered and benefited from Thaksin’s policies are now deriving benefit from the party of business, the Democrat Party.

Kraisak ignores all of the hierarchy, judicial double standards, and unrepresentativeness that has been enhanced under his party, including its use of extreme censorship to protect the monarchy.

The second is by a political risk analyst based in Hong Kong, with Allan & Associates, G.M. Greenwood and in Asia Sentinel (4 May 2010), who begins, appropriately enough, by noting the complexity of the current crisis and pointing to “widely differing and frequently opposed expectations, grievances and fears that underpin the motives and issues driving the country’s protracted political instability.”

Greenwood points out that “Thailand is not simply experiencing a binary struggle between pro- and anti-government forces but is in the midst of a complex series of revolts that now involve much of the population and most institutions. The depth and force of commitment may vary, but disentangling the now exposed divisions between classes, regions and within key organisation cannot be dealt with through a superficial compromise between already discredited political leaders…”.

Greenwood is correct to note that this crisis “began for the more perceptive members of the country’s traditional elite in January 2001 with Thaksin Shinawatra’s first election victory, now defines Thailand’s political and social system.” This is perceptive and is often overlooked. The palace went into action immediately against Thaksin, recruiting people like Kraisak to a long-term struggle against Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai.

With “Thaksin’s massive popular reaffirmation in the February 2005 polls, an existential threat to Thailand’s established order, ignited a series of revolts that now engulf the country. These … rebellions are largely concealed by the noisier narrative that Thailand’s crisis is a simple struggle between the impoverished, neglected and marginalised countryside seeking redress from the wealthy, distant and disdainful city.” Greenwood looks at how these tensions underpin the strugglesgoing on in several institutions, including the military, police, monarchy and the sangha.

Greenwood argues that the red shirt appeal, particularly in the rural northern and northeastern provinces “reflects economic, class, social and even ethnic divisions between the hardscrabble lives most lead, in contrast to the reality and perceptions of those in distant Bangkok. Ideological mobilisation may be evolving, but the principal catalysts for revolt are for improved personal outcomes based on more stable income, affordable health and education provision and freedom from usury and indebtedness.”

Such expectations being achieved would be a way to resolution of the current crisis, “but opposition to such largesse from the country’s still narrow tax base stirs counter- revolts.” And, as Kraisak’s plea shows, even if the Democrat Party has been doling out the dough, there is something else missing: respect and perceptions of fairness, equality and so on.