A PPT catch-up on Juntaland

7 04 2016

Having spent a considerable time putting together our Panama papers II post, we fell behind on other useful reports that have come out in recent days. Here’s a brief round-up:

Thai politics sink into vicious circle, from NewEurope. It begins: “Even though a new constitution is on the way in Thailand, it doesn’t seem this process will bring more democracy. On the contrary, the country is further sinking into its political vicious circle of instability.” It also cites Eugénie Mérieau, speaking at the hearing on the political crisis in Thailand at the French senate on 5 April.

Press Release from the Cross Cultural Foundation, Order bestowing sweeping powers and impunity to military breaches rule of law and human rights. Notes the allocation of police powers to the military and the threat to human rights and law. It ends: “The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) urges the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, to review and revoke the order to uphold the rule of law and human rights safeguard, particularly the right to justice process which is fundamental and indispensable for the restoration of democracy in Thailand.” Not much chance of that.

On the same topic, Asia Sentinel has the report, Thai Junta Turns Law Enforcement Over to Soldiers. It concludes: “The plan for continuing dictatorship is becoming clear, with military officers taking effective control of the criminal investigations, and assuming the powers of the police…. This is a new threshold, a whole new low on human rights in Thailand, that shows the NCPO is entrenching itself for the long term. What’s telling is that the NCPO’s list of ‘influential persons’ is not about so-called mafia only, but includes community leaders and activists who are being targeted by the military for standing up for their rights.”

Nirmal Ghosh at The Straits Times writes Thai military’s grand design in politics. It begins with a comparison with Myanmar: “The shadow of the army in Myanmar is a long one, but, over the past five years, it has shrunk. Next door in Thailand, though, the shadow of the Royal Thai Army is lengthening.” Much of the op-ed is in line with things PPT has been saying for some time: “It is obvious that the military’s grand design is to weaken political parties in order to have easily disposable coalition governments. The military will remain the real power whatever the outcome of the referendum and the election.” He quotes Thongchai Winichakul.

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed at The Guardian: Thailand is turning into Juntaland – and we are resisting. He begins: “Deep down, Thailand’s military junta leaders are probably aware that they are illegitimate. They’ve become increasingly paranoid and repressive in their crackdown against any form of resistance – both online and offline.” It ends: “Deep down, the junta knows that its power rests not on legitimacy but on the barrel of guns and the threat of arbitrary detention that is increasingly turning Thailand to Juntaland.”

Cleaning house / Moving house

31 12 2013

The Straits Times has a brief report by Nirmal Ghosh yesterday that includes the phrase that has come up again and again from the anti-democracy movement, “housecleaning”: “Just because we want to postpone the election, that doesn’t mean that we are denying democracy. No, we simply want to clean up our house first.” The same term was once used during Hitler’s time to describe operations in Poland. Far better, perhaps, to simply say that the term sounds very similar to the military’s “reset” following the 2006 coup. However, in the hands of extremists, “house cleaning” is chilling.

Here’s the story, which claims to set out the strategy for the creeping coup to be fully implemented early in the new year:

PROTEST leader Suthep Thaugsuban has declared that anti-government protesters will be out in force again and “seize Bangkok” after the New Year holiday ends on Thursday.”We will not leave an inch of this capital city for the people of the Thaksin (Shinawatra) regime to stay in and take advantage of the people,” said Suthep, who heads the self-styled People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

With the stock market and the baht having already fallen, the prospect is making the business community even more nervous.In its latest note, Kasikorn Research said that if the political stalemate continues into the second half of next year, Thailand’s growth will be only 2.5 per cent, compared with 6.5 per cent last year.

With a large chunk of Bangkok’s middle-class residents, who support the protests, out of the capital for a five-day festive break, the rally site was relatively quiet yesterday.

But underlining the potential for sporadic violence, a giant firecracker was thrown at guards near the United Nations building, injuring three of them [PPT: Some tweets suggested this was an explosion while assembling a firecracker, but no independent confirmation of this]. This, a day after a member of a student network allied with the PDRC died in a drive-by shooting nearby.

The PDRC has said its supporters will clean the streets around the sprawling rally site today.

Meanwhile, the ruling Puea Thai party has begun putting up election posters, many of them featuring caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and urging people to vote on Feb 2.

However, for the second day running yesterday, registration centres in eight southern provinces were blocked by PDRC protesters, preventing candidates from signing up for the election.

The mid-term election is a major sticking point, with the government determined to proceed with it and the PDRC determined to derail it. The PDRC says it wants the country run by an unelected people’s council to institute reforms before an election is held.

Last Saturday night, it showed a short film in English appealing to “the world” for understanding.

“We most certainly do (believe in democracy),” a female voice is heard saying over footage showing the PDRC’s recent Bangkok rallies and marches. “Just because we want to postpone the election, that doesn’t mean that we are denying democracy. No, we simply want to clean up our house first.”

A PDRC insider, who asked not to be named, sketched out the movement’s plans to install its own government. This would be achieved by seizing TV stations and key government ministries, he told The Straits Times, in a shutdown that would last a few days.

“We will control Bangkok and the south and set up our own people’s council and order bureaucrats to report to us,” he said.

He admitted that if this happens, the army may be forced to intervene and seize power.

The Thai north-east and much of the north support the ruling Puea Thai party.

Bangkok and the south are strongholds of the Democrat Party, which is boycotting the Feb 2 election. The Democrats are strongly identified with the PDRC and its supporters [PPT: in fact, there is almost no distinction between the two], who are mainly the capital’s conservative middle- and upper-class elites.

Last Friday, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha indicated for the first time that the military may intervene. This may be welcomed by the royalist upper middle class, the PDRC’s main supporters, but could ignite a backlash from the largely pro-Thaksin “red shirts”.

“Thailand scholar and author David Streckfuss, based in the north-eastern city of Khon Kaen, told The Straits Times: “There are myriad ways the election could be booby-trapped. And there is a chance the military will intervene.” …But if this were to happen, Thais committed to democracy will not let it rest, he said.

Streckfuss reflected a view that was also in the Straits Times:

ANGRY “red shirts” in northern Thailand are preparing to hit back as anti-government protests in Bangkok are set to enter their third month.

Having stayed largely in the background, the red shirts, who propelled the Puea Thai party to power in 2011, are upset by what they see as a weak government response to the protesters’ attempts to paralyse the capital and disrupt the Feb 2 election.

And they are quietly making plans to retaliate if Ms Yingluck Shinawatra’s caretaker government is forced, by a military coup or other means, to cede power to an unelected administration.

“If we find that the elites are taking the law into their own hands, we will take the law into our own hands,” red-shirt leader Pichit Tamool told The Straits Times in the northern province of Chiang Mai, the hometown of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose clan has been denounced by protesters.

Red-shirt groups in all 17 of Thailand’s northern provinces, he said, have agreed among themselves to send tens of thousands of supporters into Bangkok if the military intervenes in the crisis.

“The situation in Bangkok would be pretty dire,” he warned.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha added uncertainty to the political crisis last Friday when he refused to rule out the possibility of a military coup, saying “it depends on the situation”.

The protesters, who are supported by the royalist establishment and urban middle class, have been trying since late October to topple the government led by Ms Yingluck, who is Thaksin’s sister. Though deposed in a coup in 2006, Thaksin continues to command great loyalty among the rural masses in Thailand’s populous north-east and north.

While protests in Bangkok have quietened down, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed on Saturday to “aggressively use every mechanism at our disposal” to shut down the capital after the New Year.

The red shirts draw their strength largely from rural Thailand and are supported by intellectuals who question the Bangkok- centric, elite-dominated political order. However, not all of them support Thaksin.

In 2010, the red shirts massed in Bangkok’s retail district to demand that the then Democrat-led government hold fresh elections. More than 90 people were killed in a subsequent military crackdown.New state

In the current protests, Thai police have shown relative restraint for fear that any sign of brutality would give legitimacy to protesters and provoke a military intervention. This approach has ironically hardened sentiment among red-shirt leaders.

“I am extremely frustrated,” Dr Pechawat Wattanapongsirigul, a leader from the militant Rak Chiang Mai 51 group, told The Straits Times.

If the protesters succeed in installing an unelected administration, “we will separate ourselves from the central government”, he said. “We will not live under their control.”

According to Chiang Mai- based political scientist Tanet Charoenmuang, the red shirts have been toying with the idea of secession in recent months.

“If this political situation drags on, the question of secession will be more strongly discussed,” he said.

Though analysts say such a possibility is too remote for now, it nevertheless shows how dark the sentiment has turned, and how real the chance of major clashes erupting has become.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan said: “It reflects how the northerners are fed up with the Bangkokians, who are trying to dictate how Thailand is run, even though Bangkok is just a small part of Thailand.”

Elite warned (all of them?)

23 05 2012

At the Jakarta Globe, Nirmal Ghosh says that “Thailand’s red shirt movement is flexing its muscles again, saying reconciliation must be preceded by truth and accountability for the political violence that left 91 people dead two years ago.”

We agree, and this action makes a mockery of all of those royalists who bleated that  the red shirts were all paid and duped by Thaksin Shinawatra. Ghosh states:

While it is clear that the red shirts have an independent voice, it is also clear that the movement continues to support Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai party — and her older brother and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

If that isn’t clear to Thaksin and Yingluck , then they risk being just additional members of the royalist elite, whose days of rule are numbered.

Referring to the anniversary rally recalling the military crackdown in May 2010, “the leaders of the movement warned that the violence should not be swept under the rug in the interest of a cosy compromise by the political elite.”

The rally underlined the breadth of continued support for Thaksin, who spoke via a video link to the crowd. It was a reminder that, even after he was booted out of office by the army in 2006 and had two of his political parties disbanded, the Puea Thai party still managed to sweep elections last year and his sister became the country’s first female prime minister.

While red shirt  leader Thida Tawornsate Tojirakarn said: “We want to show not the government but the aristocrats our power,” that message is equally applicable to toadying counter-elites polishing the posteriors of their royalist counterparts. Thaksin seems to have learned very little from the historical uprising he facilitated!

Thammasat University academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul has declared:

“It is not fair to ask the grassroots to risk losing their lives while those claiming to love democracy, having been elected, do nothing,” he said. “You are elected to serve the people, not to enjoy political power and cling to your posts.”

Red shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said: “The purpose of today is to remember our heroes. We must bring the murderers to justice…”. He added that: “All the independent organizations are still in the hands of the oligarchs…”.

Thaksin seems like a slow learner on these things.

Thaksin book still not being sold in Bangkok

7 10 2011

Nirmal Ghosh at The Straits Times has an article regarding the effective banning on Tom Plate’s new book on Thaksin – for earlier posts at PPT see here, here and here.

Ghosh says the “book of interviews with former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is still unavailable in Bangkok, despite being in bookstores in other cities in the region such as Singapore, where it is now No. 8 on the Straits Times non-fiction bestseller list.”

The major booksellers Asia Books and Kinokuniya are not stocking the book. Why?

A Kinokuniya executive says its contents might be “sensitive.” The company’s policy “was to be ‘careful’ when it came to books which were ‘sensitive’ in terms of the social and political context.” Meanwhile Asia Books  has simply “decided not to sell the book.” No reason has been given.

Ghosh notes that it “is not unusual for Thai distributors and retailers to voluntarily withhold a book or magazine if they deem its contents sensitive – even without a formal ban order.” He writes of the copies of The Economist “with articles on Thailand’s monarchy did not reach the market although they were not officially banned.”

He observes that:

The book has appeared in the midst of this tension-laden environment, and touches on the circumstances around the 2006 coup and Thaksin’s apparently bad relationship with the powerful Privy Council – the King’s advisers.

He “declared war” on General Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Council president and a former prime minister, the book says.

The ageing former general, now 91 – a mentor to generations of elite army officers – is seen as having been behind the coup.

This kind of informal ban by the wealthy proprietors of large bookshops is reprehensible. However, PPT knows that a Thai version will come out soon, and it is unlikely that distribution can be easily stopped. The English version is probably no. 8 on the best seller list because of copies going to Bangkok. Photocopiers and scanners will be at work too.

Royal shush

25 09 2011

That’s the headline for Simon Roughneen’s most recent story at the Christian Science Monitor on lese majeste. He cites Chiranuch Premchaiporn who reportedly stated “that the coup changed the debate on the online forum she moderates, ‘people became more aggressive and anti-military, while before they were more against Thaksin’.”

Nirmal Ghosh also has a story worth reading at the Jakarta Globe. Amongst many points in his assessment of post-coup events, he states:

Anti-monarchy sentiment began surfacing, mostly on the Internet. When the conservative and military-backed Democrat Party government came to power in a parliamentary vote in late 2008, it said growing anti-monarchy sentiment was a threat to national security.

The coup sparked more, not less, talk of the role of the monarchy in Thailand – though still not in public or in the media.

What he doesn’t say is that anti-monarchy sentiment had long existed but had been repressed, through the lese majeste law and intense propaganda, backed heavily by the military and an elite that decided to hitch its future to a royalist-capitalist alliance. What the coup did was lay bare the alliance and some breaks from the alliance, opened by the 1997 economic crisis. Behind the coup was the unleashing of political forces long repressed – and that was Thaksin Shinawatra’s “crime” in the eyes of the elite.

Ghosh concludes: “Beneath the seeming normalcy of the post-election landscape, there remains great unease in the kingdom.” That’s true.

Red shirts, monarchy and the change that is coming

19 11 2010

Nirmal Ghosh has a useful article in the Straits Times based on interviews with two red shirt leaders who are in hiding. He says the “interviews took place on condition of anonymity, and on condition that the locations were not disclosed.”

Importantly, Ghosh also notes that these leaders “did not represent the whole movement, which as observers know has a wide range of agendas. Leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have always had differing agendas.” He also notes that “… Veera Musigapong … split from the rest of the leadership” even before the final moments of the May crackdown. Is that why he was the only one granted bail?

Military repression means leaders are in hiding and cannot meet regularly, meaning that “the evolution of a new strategy” is also hampered.

The leaders who met with Ghosh “acknowledged that there was a growing anti-monarchy vein in the red shirts – and made the extraordinary claim that as much as 90 per cent of the movement’s followers were now against the monarchy.” PPT doesn’t know if this estimate is accurate, but we do know that there has been a huge spike in anti-monarchy views and sentiment. Nothing like this has been seen for decades.

One of the leaders states that Army chief general Prayuth Chan-ocha “is not overreacting” in his frenzied series of plans, warnings and attacks on perceived anti-monarchists. Here, PPT disagrees. Each time Prayuth speaks and acts, we think he builds republicanism. Essentially, though, his task is protecting more than the monarchy; his task is to protect the royalist ruling class. Making lese majeste and royalism the overt political symbols of opposition to red shirts, Thaksin Shinawatra, representative democracy and other opposition means that the political battle lines are remarkably clear.

The leaders are also right to discount the prospects of an imminent “revolution” against the “monied aristocracy that the red shirts have attacked.” Both agreed that “[s]eizing power was not on the cards or indeed possible…”. One of the interviewed leaders stated: “We should encourage democratic activism to run its course. Change is coming anyway…”.

Foreign correspondents, Thailand and the yellow howl

5 09 2010

PPT posted recently on a Time story and added this footnote:”Time refers to Abhisit [Vejjajiva] specifically as ‘Thailand’s elected Prime Minister’ and to the king as the ‘constitutional monarch.’ PPT suspects that this is an attempt to appease those – especially in the current government – who have criticized the foreign media. A bit of toadying to the powers that be? Both statements might be technically accurate, but it is clear that neither carries the true meaning inscribed in these positions by Abhisit’s rise to his position or of the king’s political acts.”

We now hear from Nirmal Ghosh that CNN correspondent Dan Rivers is leaving Thailand, for a plum position in London. Nirmal states: “The move is well timed; seldom have foreign journalists working in Thailand come under the kind of pressure that Dan has. The government of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, soon after taking office, took a dim view of Dan’s reporting on the Rohingya boat people issue in early 2009.” One of those reports is here.

This is one of the human rights issues that the Abhisit government was able to simply sweep aside. As Ghosh points out, “The government immediately denied the accusations, saying the images had been faked and were misleading. But CNN stood by the story. Last year, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva admitted there had been ‘some instances’ when boats had been pushed out to sea, and pledged an investigation. The Department of Special Investigation was put in charge, but so far no results have been announced.” We know that the DSI is a political force, so supporting the regime is its main task. It was also another case where Abhisit was able to lie and get away with it.

More recently, Rivers and CNN came under attack from yellow-shirted nationalists like Napas na Pombejra, who made patently absurd claims that CNN’s coverage of red shirt protests in Bangkok was biased against the government and Thailand. Her claims drew the support of the queen and large numbers of the Facebook-generation of yellow shirts. For Rivers, this created not just personal threats, but a boycott by the government: “it has been impossible since the storm over CNN …, for Dan to get interviews with government officials. Even Thais in the private sector have been wary.”

More ominously, it brought out the ultra-nationalist, right-wing vigilantes in search of foreign correspondents seen to damaging the nation. Ghosh adds: “Rivers was not the only foreign journalist under attack. BBC correspondents were and still are, also subjected to criticism and vilification, for their coverage of the clashes. The trend is not new; in 2008 many foreign correspondents were blasted in speeches by right wing, royalist ‘yellow shirt’ leaders; on one occasion a right wing radio host urged members of the public to attack then-BBC correspondent Jonathan Head if they came across him.”

The howling of the yellow-clad right wing, reinforced in public ways by a right-wing monarchy, should be shameful to all Thais. Sadly, they will consider that this move by Rivers is a “victory.”

Various perspectives post-violence

11 04 2010

2bangkok.com, which is generally anti red shirt has this up [PPT’s comments in brackets]:

Assessing the situation – 10:26, April 11, 2010

From 2Bangkok.com: bodies of red shirts killed on stage. Part of the reason for this is as a reaction to events following the Songkhran Uprising in 2009.

* There is an uneasy calm this morning as well as shock at the resistance put up by the Red Shirts and the high death and injury tolls on both sides. [Quite a number of these reports of “uneasy calm’]

* The government is trying to present its side of the story–even having news reports in the Northeastern dialect to explain the situation to rural people. [Interesting indeed. Given that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government now has zero credibility in many parts of the NE, this is probably wasted effort. Reports of red shirt action in the countryside remain difficult to access]

* Perhaps most troubling for the government is that the situation on the ground is apparently unchanged–Red Shirts are still encamped at several key rally spots in town. [As PPT reported last night, the sight of tens of thousands of red shirts continuing to rally at Pan Fa must be spooking many and, for others, a sign of great hope.]

* While it is not clear what the next move will be, it is likely that the Red Shirts will feel their cause is considerably strengthened. The pro-Thaksin and then Red Shirt groups have been predicting and trying to provoke a violent crackdown ever since the 2006 coup. [PPT thinks this is an odd observation indeed. For the past year, as we have repeatedly posted, it has seemed like the government has been itching for this fight.]

* Of interest will be the military mindset. There has already been considerable chatter about alarm and anger among soldiers at how they were opposed on the streets of Bangkok by an armed force. This has undoubtedly led to coup rumors. Several factors could encourage a coup, particularly if the government coalition seems shaky, then controlling the military budget and the appointment of a new commander-in-chief in coming months would be of top importance. However, cooler heads will likely want to protect the military from further blame and attention now that the Democrats are in the hot seat for the moment. If the government really does seem to be unable to maintain control or implement its decisions, the possibility of a coup increases.

* The push and pull of previous days–with many demanding action while at the same time security forces being a hesitant to act fits the overall feeling of most political players. This idea is that the perfect outcome would be that the Red Shirts and the Democrats be either literally destroyed or have their reputations ruined, thus leaving a bright future for the coalition and opposition parties while shielding the military and police from blame for initiating violence.

Andrew Buncombe at The Independent, with quotes from Duncan McCargo where he points out the lack of any neutral figure who might be able to mediate.

Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation reports on the red shirts protesting, rallying and their reactions:

Anger, anxiety and fearless defiance filled the air as tens of thousands of red-shirted protesters at the Rajprasong intersection geared up for an all-out battle with the government’s security forces. They learned in the early afternoon that their fellow protesters had clashed with soldiers at the other main protest site along Rajdamnoen Avenue and Phan Fa Bridge. By early evening, at least 83 had been injured.

Red-shirt leaders warned that a full-fledged “people’s revolution” would break out if brute force was used on protesters. At 7.45pm, the red shirts cheered long and loud as they heard their leader Veera Musikapong declare onstage that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva must dissolve the House and leave the Kingdom immediately.

Reinforcements led by Arisman Pongruangrong left Rajprasong for Phan Fa to help their comrades shortly before 8pm in a huge caravan. They also called on all red shirts to gather at all provincial halls nationwide. “Get out! Get out! Get out!” shouted thousands as stories of what protesters considered as a brutal crackdown were being told on-stage including that of government helicopters dropping teargas canisters from the air and allegedly blinding a protester in one eye.

Red shirts at Rajprasong prepared goggles, teargas masks, helmets, towels and water in anticipation of the final face-off. “If they kill us, we will kill them too,” one angry protester said.

Dario Pignatelli: Wounded Italian journalist

At 3.40pm, Pol Lt-Colonel Waipot Aphornrat, one of the 22 red-shirt leaders wanted by the government, warned on-stage that Abhisit would end up spending his life in exile if he starts killing protesters. “We shall fight until we emerge victorious!” If people are “frightened”, they might seek refuge by breaking into the posh shopping malls around the junction. “Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Versace, we shall find out where they are.”

Red-shirt leaders warned people about misinformation since red-shirt media were mostly shut down by the government on Wednesday. They urged people to ignore state-controlled media, which they accused of spreading lies and propaganda.

As night fell, red shirts kept flowing to Rajprasong until the crowd grew into the tens of thousands, in a clear sign that they won’t leave the venue they had occupied for a week without a fight. People nearer the centre appeared more relaxed than those guarding the fringes of the protest site.

In the evening, at Henri Dunant intersection, a red-shirt man on the back of a pickup truck shouted, “Victory will belong to the people when the government starts shooting us!”

Nirmal Ghosh at his blog.

From a reader who says that maybe these quotes are useful:

video footage (2 clips)
“What he [Abhisit] did yesterday was unacceptable. He claims that he wants to handle this in peace but clearly what the army did was fire live bullets … what the prime minister said about the peaceful handing of the reds is simply not true,” Boonpracong said.

As night fell, troops opened fire again with rubber bullets about 500m away at an intersection leading to the popular tourist area, Khao San road.
Shop and car windows on Khao San Road were shattered as many people lay wounded on the street.

‘I was just standing there, taking pictures, then the guy near me threw something at the troops… I think it was a bamboo stick… and they just started shooting at him……..‘‘But then, as I was standing round the corner, someone said they were firing live rounds, so I wasn’t too keen to come around again. They were just firing and firing, indiscriminately.

“I just saw a red-shirt protester shot 3ft from me. Through the chest. It happened at around 2030 local time. He was doing nothing but sitting on a pick-up truck across the road from the Khao San road intersection and about 100m from Democracy Monument. ….I crouched as there were more shots and then I left. I think the army are firing live rounds on civilians. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

Chakkrit Parapuntakul, director-general of the Public Debt Management Office, said representatives from Moody’s Investors Service, the US-based credit rating agency, would meet Finance Ministry officials next month to conduct a review of Thailand’s credit rating. …….”If we can explain that our economy still expands despite political uncertainty, the credit rating agency may upgrade our credit rating to “A-“, he said. Currently Thailand’s sovereign credit rating by Moody’s is “BBB+”.

Economic impact of protests now and with PAD (before the recent problems)


Emergency services said two protesters were killed by gunshot wounds to the head……….
“Did anybody inform the king that his children were killed in the middle of the road without justice?” Reds’ leader Jatuporn Prompan asked protesters. “Is there anyone close to him who told him of the gunfights?”

From the BBC, with a useful short video:

“A government spokesman denied reports that live rounds had also been fired. “There were no live bullets fired at protesters,” Panitan Wattanayagorn said on national TV, AFP agency reported.” [This is why the Abhisit government has lost credibility. Panitan should be sacked.]

Thailand’s Troubles blog has a really very interesting report post-violence, with some useful and interesting pictures.

For a yellow-shirted journalist’s response, from a reader at New Mandala (comment #84):

“This is how Bangkok Post journalist Don Sambandaraksa responded to the reports of deaths on his twitter page last night (twitter.com/smartbrain):

RT @fishmyman: @smartbrain Are you happy now? that the reds have died? < Oh, I am elated, but I’m a bit busy on my Playstation now.

This is the Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/smartbrain?ref=ts

Shrinking political space

26 05 2009

Nirmal Ghosh (The Malaysian Insider, 25 May 2009: “Shrinking space for honest debate”) has an interesting story on the narrowing political space in contemporary Thailand.

Ghosh points out that while Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva may have won one round against red shirt protesters, he is now “surrounded by the tightest security for any premier in recent memory – and it is handled by the army, not the police.” He adds that “Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya rarely sleeps in the same place every night, and his security too is handled by the army.”

Academic Michael Nelson speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, saw a conflict between monarchism and democracy that has not been resolved since the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy.

At the same event, Chulalongkorn University’s Thitinan Pongsudhirak spoke of how former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s manipulation of the political system resulted in an end to the old “consensus” amongst the Thai elites which saw them pitted against each other. That struggle has also seen the poor recruited.

The red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s supporters manifest “a sense of injustice. In their eyes, it is unjust that elected pro-Thaksin governments have been thrown out by the army or by ‘judicial coups’.” Every dismissal of their grievances by the establishment, every example of favourable treatment of the yellow-shirts or the blue-shirted vigilantes deployed against them in Pattaya last month, fuels their resentment.”

Ghosh explains that “the UDD is about more than just Thaksin; he is just a rallying point for broader grievances.” He points out that “leading intellectual, Mr Prawase Wasi, argues that the fights over Thaksin and the supposed plots to destroy the monarchy are ‘distorting the complexity of justice, simplifying it to a single-dimension issue’.” Prawese is further quoted: “In a pluralistic society…there are people who worship the monarchy and those who don’t – it is natural. The key is how to channel the differences towards creative collaboration and output. Justice is the only common ground…”.

Ghosh observes that: “In Thailand’s polarised environment, however, expressing opinions freely is like negotiating a minefield.” He cites Thitinan as saying: “We live in a tightening box of space for intellectual honesty.”

And, with the Abhisit government actively recruiting and encouraging spies, the space is narrowing exceptionally rapidly.

Blue shirts “protect the institution”

11 04 2009

Nirmal Ghosh has been reporting from the troubled ASEAN summit in Pattaya (“Flashpoint Pattaya”). These are interesting reports worthy of reading in full. This piece caught PPT’s eye:

“Red shirted pro-democracy [UDD] protestors  on Saturday returned in greater numbers to Pattaya, pushing their way to the summit venue for a second day by around 9.30am.

Earlier, enraged by attacks by blue-shirted pro-government thugs [PPT – it is not at all clear who these people are. There have been pictures of them in action with the police] the previous day, in which some red shirts were hit by stones, the red shirts had called up greater numbers and scores of taxis from Bangkok overnight.

In the early morning they began marching up the hill to the Royal Cliff Resort, venue of the summit, but came face to face with a few hundred of the pro-government militia, well organized with freshly printed dark blue T-shirts saying ‘Protect the Institution’ – institution being the a reference to the monarchy.

All the blue shirts were armed with sticks, clubs and iron rods.”

Other reports show the red shirts becoming armed also. The reference to “protecting the institution” is eerily reminiscent of right-wing groups claiming palace support who worked with the police and military during the bloody attack on Thammasat University on 6 October 1976.

Update: Bangkok Pundit has some reports from the Thai-language press showing the links between blue shirts and the Democrat Party-led government, together with a photograph of former Thaksin supporter Newin Chidchob dressed in blue directing forces in Pattaya.

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