Patrolling boundaries III

12 07 2020

In late April, PPT posted on efforts by rightists and royalists in Nakorn Ratchasima tp protect the “honor” of the legend and monument to Thao Suranari, a statue created by an Italian sculptor and put in place in January 1934 and known as Ya Mo in Korat.

What we said then was that the statue had become a part of a royalist “protection” racket and the royalist legend has been widely consumed in the province.

So it is that officials jump into action whenever a transgression is imagined. This past week there was another paroxysm.

The Bangkok Post reports that the “Real Ghosts television programme is facing scrutiny over its controversial depiction of local historical figures in one of its episodes.” Channel 8 took the show off-air “following criticism.”

Tewan Liptapanlop, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, has crowed that “Channel 8 will face legal action for ‘distorting history’.”

Tewan, who “oversees the National Office of Buddhism … said the show’s depiction of Thao Suranari … and her adopted daughter was offensive.” He ordered the NOB to make a case against the program and have the “provincial administration, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and the Fine Arts Department” investigate.

The head of the Chart Pattana Party, Tewan transformed the monument into something Buddhist. That probably has something to do with the show being about the supernatural – ghosts. Of course, no Thai Buddhist could possibly have any interest in ghosts.

Tewan claimed many were “angry.” He declared: “The authorities will take legal action against it.” He seemed to poke Korat’s people into action: “The Korat people and I want to file lawsuits against the [channel].”

More ominously, Tewan called for more patrolling of the political and ideological boundaries: “This case is a lesson for other programmes that make historical references…”. He reportedly ordered “provincial Buddhism offices across the kingdom … to take part in monitoring the production of supernatural TV shows in their respective areas in the future.”

As a bit of background, this politically and ideologically correct Tewan is the younger brother of Suwat, one of the gravel haulers and dumpers who made a fortune from military contacts back in the 1970s and 1980s, becoming locally “influential.” Suwat’s father was an associate of Gen Arthit Kamlang-ek, who “provided the Liptapanlops’ company with military construction contracts. Most of the projects were in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), so the company and family that were responsible for building infrastructure and hospitals won considerable influence there…”.

It is somewhat ironic that the provincial influential persons are patrolling the state’s ideological boundaries.

Patrolling boundaries I

27 04 2020

Over several decades, Thailand’s royalists have been prompted by palace and state propaganda to patrol all manner of images, names, positions and readings of history that are considered to define “being Thai” and “Thainess.”

One of the odder elements in this has been a development of a protectiveness about the monument to Thao Suranari, a statue created by an Italian sculptor and put in place in January 1934. The legend of Thao Suranari, known as Ya Mo in Korat, is exactly that, a legend, with little reputable historiography behind it. What is odd about this statue and the legend is that it has become a part of a royalist “protection” racket and the royalist legend has been widely consumed in the province.

So it is that officials jump into action when a transgression is imagined.

According to Khaosod, the “legal office of this northeastern province has been instructed [by the governor] to track down a man for legal action after he pasted an image of his own face over a picture of the monument to Thao Suranari, the province’s heroine, and posted it on his Facebook page…”.

The report states that the “post was shared on the Facebook page of a public group called “Ruang Lao Khao Korat”, drawing wide criticism and condemnation from the people of Nakhon Ratchasima and other provinces.” Well, some criticism and certainly not from all “the people” of the province.

We imagine that the charges to be used will relate to computer crimes. However, this is not the first case this year. Back in January, a similar Facebook post was considered “illegal,” and caused Korat governor Wichian Janotai declare the “culprit” to be “mentally deficient” and stated that she “would face criminal charges for posting the photoshopped image on social media…”. Then, Wichian said “provincial lawyers are already looking at using defamation law to prosecute…”.

Presumably he meant that the “people” of Korat felt defamed as an inanimate object can’t be defamed. We have not seen any actual legal action taken on this case and we are left to wonder what happens to the latest “case.” Perhaps it is sufficient to “protect” the boundaries of “Thainess” by expressing “outrage” and threatening.

Thao Suranari is “revered” because legend has it that she helped the Bangkok-based Chakri monarch maintain his control over Korat and against an invading Lao army.

As so often happens, this story is not easily defended when historians look at the legend. Back in 1996 there was another kerfuffle when a History Masters dissertation became a book and questioned the legend. The “protectors” at that time were quite threatening indeed and the whole story was deeply politicized.

Quite a bit of the story is recounted by Charles Keyes in a chapter in Cultural Crisis and Social Memory: Modernity and Identity in Thailand and Laos edited by Charles F. Keyes and Shigeharu Tanabe and published in 2002. We found we could read a bit of it at Google Books.

When it comes to approved versions of “national” identity, the stakes are high because it is only the royalist story that is permitted.



With 3 updates: Reflections on Korat murders II

11 02 2020

Gen Apirat Kongsompong is now seeking to deflect criticism over the Korat mass murder away from the Army.

He gave a long news conference where he stated: “Do not blame the army. If you need to blame someone, blame me. I accept all criticisms and thoughts because I am the commanding officer of the army…”. He added, however, “that he would not resign despite calls for him to do so.”

Moreover, he made the claim that the shooter was “not an army officer…. The minute he [opened fire] on civilians he became a criminal and was a soldier no more…”.

Apirat shooting at civilians in 2010

Given pictures of himself opening fire on civilians (above), we guess he’s making the distinction between soldiers who go rogue and those who do as they are ordered. But that, too, is only partially true as unresolved cases of murderous action like Chaiyapoom Pasae suggest that the military and its officers do indeed get away with murder. And then we could mention 1973, 1976, 1992, Tak Bai and many more such murderous attacks on civilians involving the military.

Gen Apirat also contradicted Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha and himself in earlier reports, saying that “safety protocols around armouries were ‘up to standards’,” adding: “I guarantee that the safety protocols are up to standards.”

The families of the victims of Sgt Jakkrapanth’s murders might have another view.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post states that an emotional Apirat “apologised for a soldier’s murderous rampage.” It also reports that the “army chief admitted the shooter was maltreated by his supervisor and said he [Apirat] had already terminated many unsound “welfare” projects, some of which involved middlemen.”

There are so many corrupt practices in the military that they are normal. One we recently heard of was the channeling of military salaries to commanding officers who let conscripts off duty after their initial training. Recall how vehement the brass is in opposing the end of conscription and think of the millions of baht that would not flow up the line. The “welfare” makes generals wealthy.

Update 2: An updated Post report states:

Army chief Apirat Kongsompong has vowed to terminate unsound internal army projects, after shady transactions were raised as a possible motive behind a soldier’s shooting spree in Nakhon Ratchasima that left 30 dead and 58 wounded….

The army chief admitted the shooter was maltreated by his commanding officer and the officer’s relatives, and admitted there were many “unsound” projects, including for welfare housing, loans, and projects which involved cooperation between military units and merchants.

Gen Apirat said he had already terminated some of these projects, adding this was the first step in sorting out problems that had plagued the army for a long time.

He attacked critics:

“There are people who criticise the army. I urge them not to blame the army … because the army is a sacred organisation … Blame me — General Apirat”, he said.

A major problem is exactly this: the brass consider the Army “sacred” and, by definition, inviolable and above the law, not to mention the people. Reform has been impossible.

Update 3: An editorial at the Bangkok Post calls for more transparency from the Army asking why only it can investigate itself. It points out that Gen Apirat needs to be reminded that the corruption he called “unsound internal army projects” is, in fact, “just the tip of the iceberg.” It is added:

For years, there have been allegations about unsound and fishy financial operations involving the military as a whole. Instead of being open to criticism and investigation, the military has always taken a defensive stance by slapping those daring to question its financial deals with legal action.

These include the sedition and computer crime charges filed by the former military regime against Thanet Anantawong, who once shared an infographic detailing the alleged corruption related to the military’s Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin.

And it reminds readers that as recently as December:

the Defence Ministry also countered the opposition Future Forward Party’s (FFP) move to scrutinise its 18-billion-baht off-budget spending in the 2020 fiscal budget.

This funding is off-limits to public disclosure or scrutiny by the Lower House thanks to the 2018 Financial and Fiscal Discipline Act passed by the former military regime. This law allows internal audits of such off-budget spending.

That’s a recipe for mammoth corruption.

With 3 updates: Reflections on Korat murders I

10 02 2020

It isn’t often that the unelected soldier at the head of the country and his critics are in agreement. But on the tragic events in Korat, there’s at least one point of agreement.

Prayuth’s political weapons

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha was reported as saying:

All I can say is if we had fully followed [the standard security procedure], we would have been able to mitigate the degree of violence [in this incident]….

Even if we insisted we had completely followed a proper security procedure, the question is what more could we have done to improve the efficiency of security measures?

By “we,” Gen Prayuth is continuing to think of himself as a soldier.

It is certainly true that the security of arms and armories is slack on military bases and soldiers arms trading is relatively common. This is a part of the corruption in the military that is organized to the top.

Meanwhile, Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong seemed to confirm slack weapons security when he issued an “urgent order” for:

all army units to adopt stricter security measures including that the bolt carriers of the guns in guard post armouries are removed and kept separately by the chief of the guard post.

Also under the same set of new measures, bullets and machine guns will also no longer be stored at any guard post….

Apirat shooting at protesters

As the events of the terrible events in Korat remain somewhat murky, Gen Apirat’s orders on machine guns remains unexplained, at least in what we’ve seen.

Gen Prayut also said:

he had learned from investigators that it was a personal conflict involving a dispute over a house sale involving a relative of Jakrapanth’s commanding officer, which arose three days before the shooting incident.

In another report, citing some of the regime’s critics, it is agreed that “Thailand’s military faces hard new scrutiny of its ability to secure weapons and control troops at its bases and barracks.”

While this report is wrong that this “the worst mass shooting of civilians in the often violent kingdom’s modern history” – think of the military’s many attacks on civilian protesters in recent decades – it raises important issues.

Not least, critics are right to point to the unprofessional nature of Thailand’s military and:

the wisdom of the wisdom of having many of its senior-most officers busy in politics, running ministries and staging frequent coups instead of imposing discipline among its rank-and-file.

“Discipline” in the military is usually feudal, with torture and violence used on its own and junior soldiers have to act as the servants and laborers for officers. As the report adds:

Thailand’s heavily politicized and sometimes poorly disciplined military culture has not yet been mentioned as a possible motivating factor in the killings. But officials, dissidents, politicians and others have frequently criticized its lack of focus on purely military affairs.

Apirat on his knees. Clipped from Khaosod.

It might also be asked if the military’s focus on supine obeisance to the monarchy, where its senior leaders gain their positions through playing palace politics and, now, doing all it can for the king, following his compulsive-obsessive manias and spending billions on exalting and “protecting” the king.

Clearly the brass has its attention to politics and propaganda.

This is all worse by the impunity enjoyed by the brass and those working for them. This allows the military to get away with murder. This adds to ill-discipline and promotes corruption and money-making.

All of this is (possibly) seen in the motives of the murderous soldier in Korat:

The gunman’s rage allegedly erupted after a land sale where he apparently expected to receive a commission fee. Thai soldiers are often involved in side businesses, many security-related, to bolster their low incomes.

The first person among three killed at the Suatham Phithak military camp was his commanding officer, who allegedly was involved in the land deal. Details about their relationship were not immediately clear.

Whether this is true or not, you get the picture.

Update 1: Above we mentioned that we were unsure about the mention of machine guns. That is explained in a Khaosod report which states that shooter Sgt Jakkrapanth Thomma “left the base with firearms including a Heckler & Koch rifle, an M60 machine gun, a shotgun, a handgun, several types of grenades, and over 700 rounds of ammunition.” It adds: “The soldier reportedly switched to a machine gun loaded with armor-piercing rounds when fighting the besiegers, leading to the death of one police commando.”

Update 2: Readers might be interested in Ji Ungpakorn’s views on the Korat massacre.

Update 3: Worth looking at Atiya Achakulwisut’s op-ed at the Bangkok Post and her criticism of the military that runs Thailand via the unelected PM.

With 3 updates: Mourn for Korat

9 02 2020

Reports from Nakorn Ratchasima of a mass shooting, beginning at an Army base and then in a major shopping mall suggest more than 20 persons are dead and dozens injured.

Mourn for those killed and injured. Watch for how the military brass deals with this event.

Update 1: According to the BBC, “Thai soldier Jakraphanth Thomma killed his commanding officer, stole weapons from a military base, and went on to launch a devastating attack on civilians in the city of Korat.” Of course, getting weapons on base by a soldier is easy; there’s plenty of stories of weapons disappearing from bases.

Stories in the media: Bangkok Post, Khaosod, Thai PBS, The Nation, Aljazerra, CNN, CBS, MSN

Update 2: Bangkok Post reports that the soldier on a shooting rampage has been shot and killed.

Update 3: Latest figures on this tragedy are that 27 are dead and 57 wounded.

New online newspaper Thai Enquirer has shown up its longer-established competitors. The op-ed by Jasmine Chia is well worth reading. So too it the brief overview of Thai gun laws and statistics. Wikipedia notes: “In 2016 Thailand’s rate of violent gun-related deaths stood at 4.45 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. In comparison, that of the Philippines was 7.42; the US, 3.85; Cambodia, 0.96; Myanmar, 0.56; Malaysia, 0.46; Indonesia, 0.10; and Singapore, 0.03.”

Not a royal safe

20 02 2010

Update: The Nation (20 February 2010) reports that Prem has returned to Bangkok just a day after arriving in Korat. The media has related this return to a shooting near his Korat residence.


PPT would not have mentioned Princess Sirindhorn’s motorcade crash in Bangladesh, that left a Thai diplomat dead, if it wasn’t for the fact that that the story from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs keeps changing. This could be put down to the availability of better information, but PPT has some doubts. Initial reports from Dhaka were consistent. The motorcade was returning to the capital after a rural visit. A speeding truck hit one of the vehicles, but not the one Sirindhorn was riding in.

Thai news reports were similar until Friday when the MFA came out with a claim, broadcast in the noon television news reports, that Sirindhorn was not even in one of the cars in the motorcade, which was reportedly 90 kilometers outside the city. It was said that the vehicle in the accident was taking the diplomat involved home after the rural visit. That doesn’t match the earlier reports in any way.

The other odd thing in the various stories was that Sirindhorn is in Bangladesh as part of a team from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. PPT didn’t really understand this. After all, Sirindhorn is not the “acclaimed health scientist” in the family. However, a quick search of the School’s website shows that it has an advisory council peppered with several royals from several countries and that there has been considerable mutual back-slapping between the School and Sirindhorn.

It will be interesting to see if there is any further news emerges. Or is there some kind of cover up to “protect” a royal?

Meanwhile, the government has confirmed an extra security presence at the king’s temporary palace at Siriraj Hospital, on the 5th month anniversary of the king’s admission to the hospital. It seems the government worries that the king might be “troubled” at Siriraj by red shirts.

Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda is not a royal but he certainly seems to be treated in the same category. Prem has decamped to Nakorn Ratchasima while his house in Bangkok is surrounded by troops and police who are expecting a red shirt rally there. In Korat, where Prem gives his house the royal imitating title, as stated in The Nation (19 February 2010): Prem is at “his official Rai Kangwon residence.” Wasn’t it Thaksin Shinawatra who was once accused of mimicking the king?

Prem is still concerned about his safety, however, and he “met with local military and police commanders and the provincial governor yesterday after he arrived…”. There are reportedly “more than 50 police and military officers … assigned to guard duty. Police checkpoints were also set up on roads in the adjacent areas to prevent the red shirts, who have campaigned against Prem, from holding a demonstration at the residence.” In addition, Korat police have been drilling for clashes with demonstrators.

Things have changed for the royals and their minions.

Another lèse majesté charge in Korat

26 04 2009

Prachatai (26 April 2009: “Red-shirts in Khorat charged with lèse majesté for burning coffin in protest against Prem”) reports yet another politically-motivated lèse majesté charge in the northeastern gateway province of Nakorn Ratchasima.

On 24 April, Papatchanan Ching-in, a red shirt and leader of a group that staged a protest against Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanond, PAD and the government by burning a mock coffin at the  Tao Suranari statue, reported to police after arrest warrant had been issued for her by the provincial court.

She and her friends were charged with lèse majesté following their 7 April demonstration where the coffin reportedly included an attached message referring to Prem by a royal prefix meant to mock Prem and PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul. Prachatai includes a clip of the statement by Sondhi, trying to avoid lèse majesté charges against Prachatai. The Korat Post includes this: “The text on the front of the coffin read, “His Majesty…General Prem…The PAD…Government of Crooks…born….died 8 April 2009.” See Bangkok Pundit on the earlier story on Prem and Sondhi.

Police said that charges had been filed by a military officer attached to Army Region 2 and by PAD members, claiming “lèse majesté, violations of national security under Criminal Code Articles 113, 114 and 115, and defamation under Article 326.” Papatchanan has denied the charges and was released on bail. She must report to court on 6 May.

No charges have been laid against Papatchanan’s friends, who have yet to be identified by the police.

Papatchanan (or Daeng) is a controversial figure in Korat and has previously accused others of lèse majesté (see here for one account).

Continuing the use of lèse majesté – another charge

18 04 2009

Prachatai (18 April: 2009: “Woman arrested for photocopying offensive leaflets in Nakhon Ratchasima”) reports that Thossaporn Ruethaiprasertsung, aged 48, has been arrested at a photocopying shop in Nakhon Ratchasima, “with several leaflets whose contents reportedly were offensive to the monarchy and the Privy Council.”

Of course, despite what this report implies, insulting the Privy Council is not against the law.

Thossaporn claimed she found the leaflets. She said she “picked up some to read, and found they were about the monarchy. She brought them to the market and wanted to share with friends, so she went to the shop just to make copies, with no other intent.”

The police charged her under Article 112 of Criminal Code with lèse majesté and despatched a team to find the source of the leaflets.

The Matichon report, which is the source, is here: ตร.รวบสาวใหญ่โคราช ถ่ายสำเนาเอกสาร “หมิ่นสถาบัน”

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