US media on lese majeste threat

24 12 2011

The Voice of America has yet one more report on lese majeste, with a video included. The video is interesting as it is the first to include coverage of the new MICT censorship room. As Computer Technical Officer Narongdej Watcharapasorn states very clearly, forget all the porn and online fraud, the first priority is the monarchy. The idea that the intercepted “evidence” needs to be kept in a sealed room like some form of Ebola virus suggests that authorities are now seriously deranged on lese majeste.

The written report begins by noting that “Thai authorities are expanding the use of strict laws against insulting the monarchy, with recent prosecutions that critics say are eroding freedom of expression in the country.” We are still not convinced that the current government, despite its statements and actions has expanded on the use of Article 112 when compared with the previous royalist regimes. Even so, the threat is real enough.

The impact of lese majeste repression is shown in this quote from a protester who wants lese majeste amended: “Next time, it can be me, it can be my friends, my child or someone I know…Nobody should be jailed for almost 20 years for expressing an opinion which practically caused no trouble to anyone…”.

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, another lese majeste report begins with the increasingly common royalist xenophobic message: “If you live in Thailand, you must be loyal…. If you are not loyal, you are not Thai.” This is the same kind of right-wing rhetoric that has led to murders and massacres in the past. As human rights lawyer Anon Numpa explains, “We have reached a stage where people would want to drive you out of the country or even want to kill you for having different thoughts…”.

Oddly, the NYT report then claims that it is royalists who “say they feel under attack,” and it refers to comments on Facebook attacking the U.S. Embassy for comments on freedom of expression as if this were not an organized yellow shirt campaign.

Inside the country, the royalists have nominated the threat. Tul Sittisomwong is cited as stating that the threat to overthrow the monarchy is from Thaksin Shinawatra. As we have said before, Tul is not that sharp, and his “logic” for the claim is “If you want to be the most powerful person in Thailand, you have to get rid of the royal family…. Otherwise you will always be No.2.” We know this is a parroting of Democrat Party-inspired emails doing the rounds of supporters.

Pitch Pongsawat of  Chulalongkorn University is accurate when he is quoted: “the country’s ‘royal worship system’ was engendering fear. ‘People are keeping track of who loves the royals and who doesn’t,’ he said on a television program this week.”

At the same time, amongst the royalist witch hunt, Not The Nation maintains a sense of humor with a dig at Thailand’s cult of personality.

The Army and its flood PR

16 11 2011

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a useful account of how the disgraced Army has used the flooding as a public relations exercise to rehabilitate its public and political image: “Troops and army trucks are rolling through the streets of Bangkok again. But this time it is not to battle protesters or overthrow a prime minister.”

PPT is not yet convinced that the Army isn’t preparing to do the latter, but as Fuller makes clear in this first sentence, the floods are being grasped by an Army and their commander as a means to fight back against their disgrace at having killed civilian protesters in 2010 and their enormous loss of face when the electorate voted against their favorites to elect a government General Prayuth Chan-ocha had pointedly warned against putting in government.

Fuller says that this time they are “ferrying residents around the city on heavy-duty military vehicles that can get through its flooded streets, with banners on each one reading “Royal Thai Army helping the people.” Most also have English-language signs, just so the international media knows that camouflage painted trucks are Army vehicles.

For examples of the kind of pro-military propaganda that has become all too common, see this article in the Bangkok Post. Oddly, and reflecting some peculiar debates on the nature of the Army’s flood relief work and perhaps the Army’s own PR too, the Post has the story filed under “charities”). Remarkably, there was a far more realistic account in the same section of the newspaper on the very same day, and it is certainly worth a careful read.

Fuller observes that “Thousands of soldiers have been sent to the capital to help civilians.” Of course, if press reports are to be believed, far fewer were sent to the areas most heavily impacted by the floods. The top brass seems to have courted political impact more than anything else. (The official death toll is now 562, with 38 in “Greater Bangkok,” defined as including Prathumthani, Nakorn Pathom and Nonthaburi provinces. As far as PPT can tell from the data, no one is officially reported to have died in the Bangkok Metropolitan area proper.)

Fuller also observes that “the military has broadcast a series of slick television advertisements showing its soldiers as more than just battle-hardened fighters, including one in which children learn about soldiers who build roads and tend to the sick. ‘We are the people’s army,’ says a voice at the end of the ads.”

PPT wishes that it were true; we can only observe that the military has a reprehensible history of repressing, gunning down and killing its own people. And, as Fuller points out, General Prayuth who says, “I want people to love soldiers,” is the same man “who led the troops that broke up antigovernment demonstrators in Bangkok last year in a violent episode that left at least 90 people dead…”.

Meanwhile, Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation states: “After launching nearly 20 ‘successful’ coups d’etat, the Army has established a firm presence in Thai politics, arguably becoming almost a state within a state. Now, the flood crisis and the Army’s role in assisting flood-affected residents has, whether intentionally or not, reinforced this view and suggested how difficult it would be for Thailand to cut back on the power and introduce solid civilian control over the top brass.” That’s the point of Prayuth’s “charm offensive.”

None of the charm changes the Army’s ultimate political position. As Pravit says, “the Army is increasingly affirming itself a major ‘semi-independent’ political player, claming to be the ultimate defender of the throne and the country.” That self-proclaimed role means that the military will continue to choose when it can ditch out civilian and elected governments. The current PR blitz makes that a potentially easier task for the undemocratic Army.

Pravit essentially pleads that: “Repeated military interventions will only further weaken civilian control of the Army, which is not elected and thus not accountable, and eventually render the system ungovernable because there is still a substantial section of Thai society that will no longer put up with another putsch. As supporters and cheerleaders of military rule continue entertaining these prospects, Thailand would do well to understand their myopic and draconian minds better.”

Unhappiness and political intrigue?

30 10 2011

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times reports that:

shielded by hundreds of thousands of sandbags piled shoulder high along the city’s outskirts, most of Bangkok remained dry on Sunday, allaying fears for the time being that the massive metropolis would be swamped by monsoon floodwaters. But along the flood walls, which ring the city and were being patrolled by soldiers and police officers around the clock, there was a mixture of relief and resentment.

He reports on a factory worker who says:

“I am just hoping this flood wall will break… [L]ike several million other people in Thailand, had found himself on the wrong side of the wall.

By sparing Bangkok, Fuller says, “officials have sacrificed the provinces that lie to the north of Bangkok.” Of course, this has been the pattern for a decade now. Farmers in Ayutthaya are used to yearly and deep floods so that the dainty elite in Bangkok keeps dry.

While the quoted worker sees himself in a minority, he’s wrong. The elite has long been willing to sacrifice the rural “buffaloes” for their own comfort and wealth. As Fuller observes: “The minority in a country of 65 million is a large group. The flooding, the worst in at least half a century, has affected two million people and left close to 400 dead, many by drowning and electrocution.” Those figures on the number impacted are way too low, leaving out millions more.

More worrying for many of them, “large swaths of provinces north of Bangkok are likely to remain inundated for several weeks, the government said. And bitterness is likely to persist long after the water has receded and the mud has dried.”

AFP photo by Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

Fuller makes this interesting observation:

Some flood barriers had been destroyed under mysterious circumstances in recent days, despite the deployment of what the military said were 50,000 troops to guard and maintain them. A nighttime breach near the city’s domestic airport, Don Mueang, last week contributed to waters’ pouring onto the tarmac of the airport and inundating thousands of nearby homes and businesses…. The surge of water also forced the government on Saturday to move its crisis-management unit, Flood Relief Operations Center, which had been based at Don Mueang.

Interesting indeed. Military guards at one of the major sites to be protected and still it floods. No doubt the military won’t have to explain…. Political actions or something else?

NYT on censorship and the monarchy

4 10 2011

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times keeps many Americans abreast of events in Thailand. Hence, his report on censorship and lese majeste is going to be widely read in the English-speaking world. In his most recent article, he paints a troubling picture regarding the ideas and infrastructure of lese majeste repression. He begins by describing the first-ever visit by journalists to the bowels of institutional lese majeste censorship and repression:

Down a maze of neon-lit corridors in a massive government complex here is a windowless room where computer technicians scour the Internet for photos, articles, Facebook postings — anything that might be deemed offensive to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family.

The technicians work in what is called the Office of Prevention and Suppression of Information Technology Crimes. The government that came to power in July prefers to call it the “war room,” the headquarters of a vigorous and expanding campaign to purify the Internet of royal insults.

The officials are a “team of 10 computer specialists led by Surachai Nilsang, whose title is cyber inspector.” Surachai indicates the ideological dimension of repression that might be similar to that heard from goose-stepping ideologues in North Korea: “The thing that drives us to do our duty is that we love and worship the monarchy…”.

The visit indicated that cyber-technicians “in the war room have blocked 70,000 Internet pages over the past four years, and the vast majority — about 60,000 — were banned for insults to the monarchy…. Each blocked page requires a court order, a request that judges have never turned down, Mr. Surachai said.”

Fuller observes:

Because the monarchy remains a taboo subject in Thailand and is often discussed elliptically, the motives of those who attack the royal family remain largely a matter of speculation. After his six decades on the throne, public protests against the king are unheard of in Thailand. And not even the most strident anti-establishment protesters would openly call themselves republicans.

Surachai confirmed that the number of anti-monarchy pages “increased sharply after the September 2006 military coup.”

He says that: “Some cases of lèse-majesté are clear-cut…”. Others involve royalist and frightened officials searching for “metaphors” in so-called “code words.” Here Thai officials become the royalist Gestapo.

Fuller notes that “the campaign against royal insults, which some compare to a witch hunt, worries many Thais, including groups of writers, academics and artists who say the lèse-majesté law is easily abused.” He adds that: “In August a group of 112 professors, both Thai and foreign, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that said the crackdown threatened “the future of democracy in Thailand.”

War room technicians say they receive “from 20 to 100 e-mailed complaints a day. Like Thai society itself, the e-mails are split between supporters and detractors of the crackdown.” A 24-hour call center “to handle reports of Internet abuse receives dozens of calls a day. But many are frivolous.” Many are prank calls.

Surachai revealed that he “uses a ‘spider,’ a specialized computer program that trolls the Internet and flags potentially offensive content. He then often consults with a special military unit attached to the king’s palace to inquire about the veracity of some Internet postings.”

When one of the senior officials decides to block, Surachai follows orders.

This is rather bleak material but captures the nature of lese majeste repression exceedingly well.

NY Times on the failure of investigations into deaths and injuries in April-May 2010

25 01 2011

Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a story on those injured and killed in April and May 2010. It needs wide circulation and considered reading. It begins:

A zookeeper was shot and killed as he was leaving work. An anti-government demonstrator who sought shelter in a Buddhist temple was shot five times but lived, possibly because a coin in his satchel deflected a bullet. A soldier who rushed to help a fallen comrade after an explosion suffered severe brain damage from a second blast. The tales of the dead and wounded from the political violence last year in Bangkok could fill volumes. But they are not filling case dockets in the Thai courts.

He notes that the now 8-month investigation into the more than 90 killed and thousands injured and wounded appears to have “faltered.” What’s more, the so-called Independent Fact-Finding Commission for Reconciliation complains that “the military and the police are refusing to cooperate.” Because of the failure of authorities to provide information and to be interviewed, the “commission, which on Monday postponed a meeting at which it had planned to issue an interim report, now says it is not sure when the report might be ready.” This failure includes police, military (Somchai Homlaor, a member of the commission says: “We have sent them many letters and never heard back from them — at all.”), the government’s forensic department, which has not responded to requests for autopsies, and “telephone companies [that] are not cooperating…”.

What does the military say? Colonel Sansern Kaewkumnerd, a military spokesman, previously of CRES, said military representatives had twice met with the commission “last year” and “gave them all we have.” He added that “he was not aware of further requests for information from the commission.”

PPT has no doubt that Sansern is dissembling yet again. It is clear that the military knows far more than they will ever admit. And we are not alone. Fuller cites “Teera Suteewarangkurn, a law professor at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said the military leadership feared it would face a public outcry if it admitted that soldiers had killed civilians.” Teera also notes that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government “is concentrating on winning elections, which must be called by the end of the year”, and therefore “needs to drag its feet,” on the investigation. Jaran Cosananand, a professor of law at Ramkhamhaeng Universit, says the “legal process here has had unusual delays…. Political power undermines the law in Thailand.” Fuller concludes that the “military’s refusal to cooperate in the investigations underlines the ascendance of military power in Thailand.”

Fuller’s story gives attention to the victims of the violence, including soldiers, and has a photo essay here.

With 7 updates: Bout case mystery deepens

27 08 2010

Readers will recall PPT’s recent post on the case of alleged arms dealer, the Russian Viktor Bout. PPT got interested due to references to royals or their “advisers” in a New York Times report. That report raised some curiosities.

The current report fronting the Bangkok Post is making things curiouser still. It seems that some US agency has rushed a jet to Bangkok to get Bout back to the US, but almost no official in Thailand seems to know why or how this has happened or who has authorized Bout’s transfer. The report opens the way for all kinds of speculation. Weird indeed.

Update 1: For more on this increasingly convoluted and strange case, read the excellent post at Bangkok Pundit. That post suggests that the extradition of Bout followed his failure to provide links that would have implicated Thaksin Shinawatra and red shirts in the North Korean arms shipment that was impounded for a time at Don Muang airport. This was the Democrat Party perspective on those arms…. Presumably if Bout had made the claim, then the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime could have made an international case against Thaksin as a “terrorist.” It is all very strange, especially when a personal envoy from the prime minister is apparently involved!

Update 2: Read Democrat MP Sirichoke Sopha’s own account here. Sirichoke is described as “a close aide to Prime Minister Abhisit…”. Read more here about the now delayed extradition.

Update 3: In yet another intriguing report, The Nation has a brief story on the alleged taping of Sirichoke’s meeting with Bout. Corrections Department chief Chartchai Suthiklom discounts this but the claim is that Bout’s wife has a tape. He does say that Sirichoke met and talked with Bout. (See Update 7 below)

Update 4: The satirical – but oh so close to the truth – Not the Nation has a great story on the auction of Viktor Bout. Thanks to the regular reader who pointed this out.

Update 5: Thaksin’s lawyer Robert Amsterdam and his colleagues are also posting, writing and speculating about the Bout case. See these accounts here and here.

Update 6: This story just goes on and on and gets weirder by the day. See this account at New Zealand’s Scoop and also read this revealing story – if one interprets just a bit – in The Nation. The latter story does try to connect the dots to the mysterious arms plane allegedly from North Korea and Sri Lankan arms – the story that kept making the yellow-hued Bangkok media a few months ago.

Update 7: As the Huffington Post has it, “Robert Amsterdam is an international lawyer retained by the former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra to advocate on behalf of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).” It is also worth noting that Amsterdam has long experience on Russia. PPT mentioned him above at Update 5. He now has another article that takes the Sirichoke story a little further. And, to further liven this story up – in what may eventually become a Saudi gems-like saga – Bout says in the Bangkok Post that “Sirichoke Sopha, a close aide to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, met him to make inquiries into how ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s plane could be brought down.” He also stated that “He claimed Mr Sirichoke asked him whether Thaksin had paid to have an aircraft smuggle arms from North Korea to Sri Lanka in December of last year, before the shipment was seized in Thailand.” And, just for good measure, “Sirichoke asked him whether Thaksin might have bought the weapons to arm his red shirt supporters.” Finally Bout says that “Sirichoke also allegedly asked Mr Bout about the state of Thaksin’s health and why other countries were uncooperative in helping to arrest and extradite the former prime minister to Thailand.” Now if all this is true, Sirichoke must rank as one of the country’s dumbest politicians. Bout adds that there was no tape recording.

Russian perspectives on the Bout case

22 08 2010

Readers of our post on Arms trading and the royals might find the following links of some use.

Thailand finally to extradite alleged “arms baron”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Meets with Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Pirom[ya]

Bout punished by US for taking over CIA’s arms business

Bout Lost: ‘Merchant of Death’ faces US extradition

Merchant of Death Doomed for Not Playing to USA’s Rules

They are from various Russian media and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and are provided simply as a counterpoint to the reporting in the US and in the Thai media. Bangkok Pundit has also commented on this story and the New York Times approach to the story and the royal connection.

Updated: Arms trading and the royals

20 08 2010

Update: Fascinatingly, the New York Times story now posted has removed all of the references to royal advisers…. Of course, there could be several reasons for this change. Because of the change, we include all of the original article below our original post.


Thomas Fuller at the New York Times has a really interesting account of the court appearance of alleged Russian arms trader Viktor Bout. He notes that a Thai court has ordered Bout’s extradition to the United States as he is “suspected of running a large-scale arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.”

Then it begins to get interesting. Fuller says that “Russia, which had been seeking to prevent Mr. Bout from being placed in the American legal system, reacted angrily to the ruling.” Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister,said: “Based on the information we have at our disposal, the decision was made under very strong outside pressure. This is lamentable.” Obviously some of that outside pressure has to do with the US.

It has never been clear why Bout was in Thailand. Fuller sheds some light on this matter, drawing on the court case. He says:

One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court, but Captain Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, Mr. Bout’s lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout indeed traveled to Thailand to take part in a project tied to the royal family, his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

Speculation about the navy being in search of a submarine has been about for several years. However, submarines for the navy were one project sunk under the Thaksin Shinawatra government. Following the 2006 coup, discussion of navy subs re-emerged. In November 2007, the navy said getting a submarine was its top priority. Indeed, for some time, the king was said to be opposed to the navy having a submarine but seemed to change his mind following the coup. In his 2007 birthday speech, the king is cited on Russian subs: “A Russian one may cost just half the price of a German-made or a US-made one, but if we bought one from Russia, the US, for instance, might be upset. However, Russian submarines are very good.”

Earlier, in 2005, the king had appointed Admiral Chumpon Pajjasanon, a former Navy commander-in-chief, to the privy council. Before being “named Navy commander-in-chief in October 2003, he had served as commander of the RNV Tong Pliu, RNV Phra Thong and RNV Tapi, chief of combat operations, deputy chief of staff for submarines, commander of Coastal Defence District 3 and Navy chief of staff.”

PPT wonders if there is something in the NYT story? If so, extraditing Bout to the US for trial could result in some embarrassing revelations.

The original NYT story:

BANGKOK – A Thai court on Friday ordered the extradition to the United States of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman suspected of running a massive arms trafficking organization that provided weapons to governments, rebels and insurgents across the globe.

The decision, which overturns a lower court’s ruling in August 2009, is a victory for the Obama administration, which this week summoned the Thai ambassador in Washington to the State Department to “emphasize that this is of the highest priority to the United States,” a spokesman said.

U.S. prosecutors say Mr. Bout, 43, commanded a fleet of aircraft to send weapons to rebel groups and warring countries around the world. He was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation two years ago.

Mr. Bout stood after the ruling was announced and embraced his wife and daughter, who wept. He said nothing to reporters in the courtroom as he was being led out in leg irons and an orange prison uniform. The court ordered his extradition within three months.

Mr. Bout’s lawyers had argued that the request to extradite Mr. Bout was part of a pattern of the United States reaching beyond its borders to punish its enemies. Chamroen Panompakakorn, Mr. Bout’s principal lawyer, alluded to the rendition of suspected terrorists by the U.S. government and argued that the overall credibility of the United States government had been tarnished following the failed search for weapons of mass destruction Iraq.

A panel of judges in August 2009 sided with the defense and wrote in their decision that Mr. Bout’s “guilt cannot be determined in Thailand.”

The court on Friday did not contradict this but said there was enough evidence to extradite Mr. Bout to the United States.

“This case has to be further pursued in a court in the United States that has jurisdiction,” said Siripan Kobkaew, one of three judges who read parts of the decision on Friday.

Mr. Bout’s notoriety helped spawn the 2005 film, “Lord of War,” and his arms dealings are detailed in “Merchant of Death,” a book by two American journalists who describe Mr. Bout’s dealings as falling into a “legal gray area that global jurisprudence has simply failed to proscribe.” Mr. Bout has delivered weapons into Africa and Afghanistan, among other places, but has also flown missions for the U.S. Pentagon in Iraq and the United Nations. Sometimes Mr. Bout was hired to fly in arms to a particular group, the authors note, and then was paid by the U.N. to deliver humanitarian aid to the same area.

Mr. Bout was arrested in March 2008 at a hotel in Bangkok after agreeing to sell millions of dollars worth of arms to undercover agents for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

It remains unclear why Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand. One witness called to the stand, a Thai naval officer, suggested Mr. Bout’s trip was connected to a project involving a Russian submarine. The officer, Capt. Anurak Phromngam, testified that he had been told to expect a Russian expert to assess whether a particular Thai port was suitable for docking submarines. The Russian expert was not explicitly identified in court but Capt. Anurak testified that he “found out that the person who was supposed to do the survey had been arrested.”

Thai intelligence officials say that Russia was in talks with Thailand to provide a small but sophisticated diesel-powered submarine in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his more than six decades on the throne.

When the hearing began Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, submitted a list of witnesses that included advisers to Thailand’s royal family. He also submitted copies of speeches in which members of the royal family called for closer military cooperation with Russia.

If Mr. Bout traveled to Thailand to take part in a royal-related project his arrest, organized and mainly carried out by American officials, would have been highly embarrassing to the government.

It remains uncertain whether Mr. Bout was the Russian expert or whether the evidence was a strategy by the defense to elevate Mr. Bout’s status in the eyes of the court. Mr. Chamroen, the defense lawyer, shook his head when asked during an interview whether Mr. Bout traveled here as part of the submarine mission. “He came to do business,” Mr. Chamroen said.

The case has put Thailand in the awkward position of referee between Russia and the United States. Thailand is one of the United States’ closest allies in Asia but Bangkok’s relations with Russia have warmed considerably since the end of the Cold War. The country’s beach resorts have become a major draw for Russian tourists looking to escape the long winters.

The case has offered a window into the scale of arms trafficking. During the meeting in March 2008, Mr. Bout told the undercover U.S. agents that he could deliver 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 assault weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, land mines, C-4 explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the U.S. indictment.

United States prosecutors filed fresh charges against Mr. Bout in February alleging that he and his former business associate, Richard Chichakli, sought to purchase two aircraft from U.S. companies in 2007 using front companies. The sale was in violation of U.S. and United Nations sanctions and was blocked.

Pravit on Darunee and the whitewashing the 2006 coup

1 09 2009

At Prachatai (1 September 2009), Pravit Rojanaphruk has this article “There She Was: Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul on The New York Times” about reaction to the harsh sentencing of Darunee Charnchoensilpakul. A couple of points from the story.

First, readers should note Pravit’s self-censorship when citing the New York Times article on Darunee. All that is left out is the word “supported” in “The three-judge panel ruled that even though she did not mention the king or queen by name in the speech, she had insinuated that they supported the coup.” This is interesting, for as PPT pointed out in an earlier post, journalists made this point about palace support right after the coup. In fact, there is plenty of journalistic and academic comment on this support from that period.

This comment on support for the coup is one of the reasons for the lese majeste charges against Ji Ungpakorn. In his book A Coup for the Rich, which Ji says is an academic analysis, it is stated: “The major forces behind the 19th September [2006] coup were antidemocratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the Monarchy.” Why Ji was singled out for stating the obvious is unclear except for the fact that he was politically active in opposing the 2006 coup.

In other words, the palace, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, various other official agencies and the courts are recruited into a campaign to wipe out all references to the monarchy’s support for the coup. A whitewashing of history that is practically impossible, but an enforcement of a particular political position in Thailand.

Second, Pravit mentions the controversy over the attempt to have Yale University Press drop the Paul Handley book, The King Never Smiles, before its publication. For more details of this tawdry little affair, conducted by the Thaksin Shinawatra government and led by Bowornsak Uwanno, there is an account in an academic paper about the book in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, available here.

Thailand’s monarchy-military-bureaucracy complex

18 04 2009

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is just about every foreign correspondent’s favoured source for interesting quotes on Thailand’s politics. He is the Director of an institute at Chulalongkorn University and a regular op-ed contributor to the Bangkok Post. He has now written an interesting and probably controversial op-ed for the New York Times (18 April 2009: “Why Thais Are Angry”).

On the Songkhran uprising, he says, “I had never seen anything like it. This was raw anger, expressed in wanton violence.”

Then he observes: “The demonstrators claimed to be protesting systemic injustices and differing standards for rich and poor. But the rebellion reflects a deeper problem. Westerners think of Thailand as a democracy, ruled by the will of the majority. In reality, our country is governed by an establishment made up of the monarchy, military and bureaucracy. Elections are held, but if the establishment doesn’t like the winning party, the government is dissolved. Unable to rely on the ballot box, people take to the streets.”

Thitinan argues that “Mr. Abhisit and his backers still seem reluctant to recognize the red shirts’ grievances. This is a mistake.” He worries that Thailand may go the way of the Philippines, where “periodic people’s power movements have brought neither political stability nor economic vibrancy.” He rejects the Burma model of never-ending military dictatorship. Worse, he worries that Thailand may take the Nepal route and get rid of the monarchy. Thitinan accepts the monarchy’s view that it is a part of an imagined ” Thai identity.”

Remarkably, he sees “Indonesia’s transition to democracy after decades of autocratic rule” as offering “the best model” for Thailand. The country’s descent is measured by this statement. A decade ago, who would have thought such a comment possible?

Thitinan continues: “The onus rests on Mr. Abhisit and his backers. The elite must stand aside and let the power of the ballot carry the day. We need to discard the undemocratic provisions of the 2007 Constitution and replace them with elements of its popularly drafted 1997 precursor. We need a fully elected legislature, courts that can make impartial decisions on election outcomes and independent watchdog agencies.”

And, ominously, he concludes: “don’t be fooled by [the] uneasy calm. Until Thailand becomes a true democracy, we can expect more chaos in the streets.”

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