Updated: Control and surveillance

25 12 2016

The puppet National Legislative Assembly’s dutiful passing of amendments to the computer crimes law came despite considerable opposition expressed in a giant petition.

The revised law expands the capacity of the military junta’s capacity to “protect” itself and the monarchy, there has been more opposition. Limited in so many ways by the junta’s repression, the opposition has involved hactivism, some brave demonstrations and more discussion.

A forum held today saw critics warning of the impacts of the law but also of the junta’s broader plans for greater control and surveillance.

Sarinee Achawanantakul of the Thai Netizen Network told the forum that several other draft bills, which will also be dutifully passed by the NLA, including the Cyber Security Bill and a radio frequency allocation bill, will expand the state’s control. Sarinee “said the government sector had an idea to control mainstream media.”

Its an important point.

The military dictatorship wants to control everything and oppress everyone. However, this is not new in any way. Rather, this is the “traditional” role of the “king’s servants.”

The civil and military bureaucracy has long allocated to itself the paternalist role, ensuring that the children-citizens are properly ordered. As with everything else the dictatorship does, this is rolling back the years and the political developments since 1992 that began to alter the relationship between the military-monarchy regime and its bureaucracy (amart) and the children-citizens (phrai).

Update: The Bangkok Post has an updated story on the forum.

Learning not to rebel

9 02 2013

With all of the talk and meetings currently going on about amnesty, it does look like something may emerge. How good a decree, bill or whatever it will be remains to be seen as the horse-trading continues.

There’s been some interesting developments. One story has a “red-yellow” alliance apparently having “reached an agreement to press ahead with a pair of political amnesty bills,” with this soon poo-pooed as little more than media hype; another has Thaksin Shinawatra expressing his concern for “ordinary red shirts” still locked up from the Abhisit Vejjajiva years, with Thaksin denigrating Abhisit; and we have accounts of soldier’s wives and Democrat Party ideologues sprouting amnesty ideas. The basic divide seems to still be about who is included.

Yellow shirts, including the widow of Colonel Romklao Thuwatham, Nicha demanding that “an amnesty bill must not cover criminal offenders or those implicated in lese majeste cases.” Many red shirts are demanding that it must include all political prisoners, including those charged or convicted of lese majeste.

In all of this, however, the comment that struck us as most telling was by loudmouth spokesman for the Democrat Party Chavanond Intarakomalyasut.

He is reported as stating that his “party was willing to seek a solution for the country with others and support an amnesty bill that would cover ordinary protesters. This should cover those who violated the emergency decree as well as the Internal Security Act.” He added the usual disclaimer that “the party opposed granting amnesty to those accused and convicted of physical assault and corruption.” The last bit is simply about Thaksin.

Of course, one has to take the Democrat Party’s claims on this with a grain or so of salt as they were the ones who locked red shirts up and let yellow shirts roam free.

ToffsYet it is Chavanond’s next statement that takes the cake:

He said those being granted amnesty should be educated and made to understand that they should not violate the emergency decree and the Internal Security Act again, otherwise the problem would resurface.

It seems to us that this bunch of toffs just can’t help themselves. If red shirts aren’t “educated” and “made to understand,” they just might rebel against the ruling class again! Can’t have that!

Toffs2We are not sure how this “education” would proceed, but it seems clear that Chavanond and his lot have seen locking up protesters as a way of “making them understand” their station in life as servants and phrai of the amart/ruling class. It is class war, where Chavanond thinks his lot are born to rule over the rabble of the lower classes (described once by the wealthy Korn Chatikavanij as the “great unwashed,” a term he picked up at Eton).

That they should rebel against toffs is dangerous and a sign that they are uneducated as well as unruly. For the toffs like this, the idea that the people should be sovereign is anathema.

Wikileaks: Thaksin and Boyce bombshells on palace and politics

26 09 2011

PPT’s posting of Wikileaks cables continues with a cable from U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce dated 18 May 2006 that discusses then Prime Minister-on-a-short-break Thaksin Shinawatra’s view of politics and monarchy. Thaksin had taken a kind of leave of absence after a meeting with the king.

Boyce begins by noting that Thaksin saw himself as a victim of a “palace coup” and that he was especially frank, dropping “several bombshells.”

By this time, Boce was noticeably anti-Thaksin – see below – and states that:

Thaksin spun an elaborate tale of palace intrigue, accusing privy councilors [General] Prem [Tinsulanonda] and [General] Surayud [Chulanont] of conspiring against him, including blaming Surayud for bringing Gen. Chamlong [Srimuang] out of retirement to head the opposition “People’s Alliance for Democracy.” He claimed that courtiers in the palace are manipulating the infirm and isolated King….

 Thaksin is said to have repeated his theory that “the King sees Thaksin as rival for the loyalty of the people in the countryside.” However, Thaksin averred that he was not trying to do this, adding that he was just a “simple peasant.”

This might be seen as one of the earliest references to ideas that eventually came to be summarized in the amart/phrai dichotomy.

Boyce claims that Thaksin then spoke of the king “with barely-concealed disdain,” as:

“provincial,” unaware of the changes that had taken place in the world (“never been on a Boeing 747”), and accused him of “thinking he owns the country.”

Thaksin advisor Pansak Vinyaratn added that “recent events were a return to ‘absolute monarchy’.”

Then Thaksin explained that he “cannot come back as prime minister as long as this King is alive.” He believed there was an effort to drive him into exile.

Thaksin “mentioned his strong relationship with the Crown Prince…”. Boyce considered that Thaksin was “implying that, once the present King was dead, he would have an ally on the throne.”

As mentioned above, PPT’s reading of this and other cables show that Boyce had become a determined anti-Thaksin activist by this stage. Hence it is no surprise that Pansak

expressed disappointment with the US position. They had expected a clearer public and private line that the US wanted all parties to abide by the rule of law, which they believe was subverted by the course of events. They hoped that the US would recognize that what was happening was a setback for democracy in Thailand.

They may have expected that the U.S. might aspire to some democratic ideal, but that would fly in the face of decades of U.S. foreign policy and, in any case, there was no chance of any support with a determinedly anti-Thaksin Boyce riding shotgun on U.S.-Thailand policy.

Even so, Boyce has to reluctantly agree that many Thais “cast the current struggle to a certain degree as a contest between the King and the prime minister.”

Then Boyce has a bombshell of his own, citing an unnamed source who states that:

the King had not been influenced by his [privy] councilors — quite the opposite, in fact. A close friend of the King’s had recounted how the King himself had been poring over law books and quietly preparing his response to the problematic elections. The Privy Councilors had been unaware of his plans and were taken by surprise when he made his speech criticizing the elections.

Boyce tends to write-off Thaksin’s “diatribe and revisionist history.” He says they are “highly suspect” and adds that “we are not convinced that the King and his minions pushed Thaksin out of office.” He then criticizes Thaksin’s “enormous ego” and disingenuously refers to the highly organized and well-funded PAD as “a rag-tag bunch of demonstrators…”. By this point, PAD had stopped demonstrating and the palace seemed to be leading the action against Thaksin.

Boyce even thinks that Thaksin’s “story” of “the palace’s machinations against him, and his accusations of a palace coup, may be part of his effort to ‘bring the King down with him’…”. Interestingly, while he says Thaksin is “delusional,” he is forced to add: “That said, we agree with the underlying theme of Thaksin’s complaint — the palace has aligned against him and will (carefully) seek ways to support the effort to drive him from politics definitively.” PPT added the emphasis; the implication is that Boyce supports this palace effort.

In a very real sense, by this time, Thaksin was up against the king, palace and the U.S. as personified by Ambassador Boyce.

Wikileaks cables, truth and Thailand

28 06 2011

A PPT reader has sent us his account of Andrew Macgregor Marshall’s Thailand’s moment of truth, which is the first narrative trying to make sense of American diplomatic cables regarding Thailand made available through Wikileaks.

The first volume (the second just out) has been published as a free electronic book. Marshall’s work and his perspective received some media attention, particularly in the UK and there has been considerable discussion among circles interested in events in Thailand, notably on some of the blogs.

Marshall’s work weaves together a review of Thai history over the last century, including the life of the king, excerpts from credible works by Paul Handley and Duncan McCargo as well as William Stevenson‘s questionable biography, and of course dozens of the leaked cables.

This first volume has considerable value for people with limited knowledge of Thailand and its society. The selection of cables will be especially interesting to observers who focus on elite perspectives. For those who take a broader view and are open to the possibility of the common person, or phrai, being an active force in these heady times, Marshall’s work will be but of less interest, perhaps as an occasional reference for reasons which will be elaborated.

It is perhaps courting trouble to consider and critique only the first volume when the three subsequent volumes have yet to be published. The first volume does not provide a clear introduction to the subsequent three volumes. Therefore, it is only possible to consider the first volume as it is and assume it sets the approach, perspective and tone for the subsequent volumes.

In brief, the cables that form the spine of the account are accounts of discussions between American diplomats and figures from royal circles as well as Thaksin. The volume reports there are several significant fissures within the amart, doubts and debates over the succession, and concerns for the future of the monarchy and by implication the current structure of power, and some confusion within the elites. In short, no groundbreaking insights, perspectives or explanations on what is or might be happening in Thailand.

If the cables are the basis for the book, it is how the cables are understood and interpreted that matters. It is here where the book falls a little short. The cables are lightly classified. They represent only a part of the information available to the American government. No access has been provided to highly classified cables, nor do we know the range of electronic and human intelligence assets that are reporting to the American government. Therefore the cables must be treated with care and caution.

Marshall sets them up as gold. Some of them may be lead. A thorough assessment and interpretation will only be possible in the years ahead after events have unfolded and historians are able to go to work. Only then may it be clear if what has been told to American diplomats was accurate. For now, they must be considered preliminary. Moreover, consideration has to be given to the motives of the elite interlocutors and their agendas. This is absent from the first volume.

The cables often appear to peddle the rumors that surround what one U.S. ambassador calls an opaque monarchy. This is seen in accounts attributed to elite actors on the health status of the heir to the throne and his young son. Some of which is conveyed in the cables. However, in person they appeared healthy to American diplomats. Of course it might be said that there is no smoke without fire. The prince, and perhaps even his son, may not be 100%. We simply do not know and should perhaps treat such claims coolly until proven otherwise. Indeed given the distaste for the prince among privy councillors (and many not in the elite) it is hardly surprising if ill thinking about the prince translates into whispers and gossip.

The cables presented are exclusively about discussions with elite actors. Several interpretations arise. It seems that American diplomats are not sending many cables about the state and change in mass society. This leads Marshall to a bias towards elites and an implicit discounting of the agency and power of subaltern actors, experiences and perspectives.

Those with some knowledge and experience of Thailand and its society, especially the dramatic changes in life and economy over the last decade or so, will see numerous weaknesses in Marshall’s elite-centric perspective. The masses barely exist, whether by accident or design the book implies politics and political change in Thailand are solely the business of the elites. In so doing, the work, unwittingly perhaps, tacitly accept claims made by the elite and some other observers that the mass is incapable of thinking or acting or being anything other than bystanders and buffalo to be lead in as muscle when needed. The most striking recognition of the great changes in society is a cable reporting a discussion with a friend of the prince who points out that people under 40 may be less enamoured with the monarchy because of pressures and entertainments of modern life.

The king is portrayed as honest, wise and a victim and universally adored when in fact there are several good accounts and arguments of why he is an active player and backs the winner in disputes such as 1973, 1976 and 1992. It is curious that early in the book Marshall discusses 1973 and 1992 as examples of the king supporting change and progress (questionable in any case) while ignoring the monarchy’s support for the fascist backlash in 1976.

His repetition of the tired media line, itself a mindless broadcast of elite propaganda, that all Thais love the king and respect the monarchy is simply bizarre given recent events. The monarchy is, among significant segments of the masses, looked upon with disdain. Such developments are not always obvious but are built up through countless conversations with ordinary people and by watching the reporting of the past couple of years.

Thailand is in period which might be described as one of paradigmatic or revolutionary change. The coup of 2006 was unusual, even unique. It toppled a prime minister with unparalleled popular legitimacy expressed through winning two consecutive elections (leaving aside the odd 2006 election). Part of this legitimacy stemmed from the innovation of campaigning nationally on a policy manifesto attuned to the needs and interests of the masses and then acting upon it. Many people perceived they were benefitting directly from government policy for the first time. This is a new era.

The coup against a prime minister holding such legitimacy can be interpreted as a move by the amart to contain and halt this change that could have fundamentally restructured the distribution of power in society. The coup was a reaction against the change heralded by the action of the majority of voters in selecting and delivering power to the prime minister through their votes. So while it might be said that most of the time in most societies the masses don’t matter a great deal it might be said that when it comes to big change they matter absolutely because it is they that collectively hold the power to force change in one way or another including de facto alliances with certain elements of the elite.

Thus the cables and Marshall’s work is important background, especially for what elements of the elite were telling American diplomats and policymakers. What is needed is a more thorough, comprehensive and nuanced account that uses the cables and situates them within the context of a country living with great uncertainty and the politics of subaltern revolt.

Ji Ungpakorn calls for immediate elections, 9 April 2010

9 04 2010

Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s latest is posted below.  As with his prior statements, PPT is concerned that this will not be addressed in the mainstream media, which is why we have reproduced it in full.


“Friday 9th April, Thailand, time for immediate fresh elections

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

After the military-backed Democrat Party Government of Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency and issued arrest warrants for pro-democracy Red Shirt leaders, the Government has attempted to close down all internet and satellite media or websites which don’t tow the government line.

Since late March the Red Shirts have been holding peaceful and disciplined protests in Bangkok. They have not destroyed anything or held weapons of any kind. Their demands are for the dissolution of parliament and immediate fresh elections. The military-backed Government is totally opposed to elections, since the Democrat Party has never ever won a majority.

The Red Shirt protests are in stark contrast to the Yellow Shirt PAD demonstrators in 2008. The PAD used violence and carried weapons. They occupied and wrecked Government House and seized and shut down the international airports. No one has been punished for these criminal acts. The PAD demand that the democratic space be reduced because they believe that the majority of the people do not deserve the vote. The Democrat Party has worked hand in hand with the PAD and the army. Yet Hans van Baalen Dutch MEP, President of the Liberal International, supports the military backed government in Thailand and claims that a crackdown on Red Shirts would defend the Rule of Law in Thailand.

Abhisit justifies his state of emergency on the grounds that the Red Shirts are blocking shopping centres! This is a lie, one of many lies told by the Thai Prime Minister. Another lie is that the Red Shirt media is advocating violence. They have done nothing of the kind. Yesterday’s brief invasion of the parliament grounds by Red Shirts was in response to CS gas canisters being thrown at the peaceful crowd outside.

Today the Red Shirts went to their satellite TV station to ask for it back, yet foreign media like the BBC claim wrongly claim that the Red Shirts were trying to “occupy” the satellite station. What they wanted was for the transmissions to be reinstated.

The Red Shirts are a mass movement of workers and peasants. They are demanding a restoration of Democracy. Most support former PM Taksin because his government introduced Thailand’s first ever universal health care scheme and pro-poor policies. Foreign media often incorrectly portray the Red Shirts as rural people. They are poor people from urban and rural areas, including Bangkok. They represent the vast majority of Thai citizens. They proudly call themselves “serfs” in a class war with the authoritarian elites.

Record of the Abhisit Government

The Democrat Party took over the Government after:

  • Continuously criticising the Taksin Government for using state funds for the poor
  • Refusing to take part in the elections of 2006 because they knew they would lose
  • A military coup in September 2006
  • A military Constitution was introduced in 2007 which decreased the democratic space
  • They lost the December 2007 election
  • They supported the PAD violent demonstrations which seized Government House and closed down the international airports
  • The Royalist Courts were used twice to dissolve Red Shirt parties which won majorities
  • Corrupt politicians were bullied and bribed by the army to change sides and support the Democrat Party

Class, fear and propaganda

20 03 2010

PPT has for some time been posting about the way the mainstream media has been pro-government and, in substantial parts, essentially yellow-shirted in its biased reporting. That has now changed. Large parts of the media are now simply acting as the tools of the military-backed and palace-supported government fronted by Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Part of the reason for this is a ratcheting up of the fear of the red shirt rallying that is now felt by the government and its supporters. So fearful have they become, that they have allowed the red shirt agenda to become the agenda. Some of this is made clear in a Bangkok Post (20 March 2010) report that tells of Prime Minister Abhisit’s supposed “offensive to counter ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s daily video-link where he encourages people to join the red shirt rallies.”

Abhisit got together a group of local media and broadcast in Thai for a substantial time yesterday (Friday). On other channels, commentators made exactly the same points that Abhisit made. In other words, this was a concerted media propaganda campaign organized by and for the government.

Abhisit also spoke to Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN. (PPT has yet to see the latter international interviews/reports, but we sat through the Thai versions). Abhisit was agitated, spoke very rapidly and seemed quite disturbed by the events on the streets and by the developing class warfare discourse. Another campaign is under way attacking the red shirt blood sacrifice.

The Post claims that Abhisit wanted to attack “Thaksin’s repeated messages that prai [phrai], or proletariat, are oppressed by the elite and that Thaksin wanted to fight for the proletariat…”. In a strict sense, the phrai are not the proletariat, and Thaksin and others use the term more to mean the “commoners” who face the aristocrats at the center of the amart. Other outlets were more accurate in simply using the terms “amart” and “phrai.”

Abhisit is reported as saying: “Pol Lt Col Thaksin used to be an extremely rich prime minister. Is he an elite or one of the proletariat? This morning I saw a photograph in Matichon newspaper picturing where demonstrators were lying down…”. He continued to say he saw a “photograph of Pol Col Thaksin and his children overseas. Do these represent the elite and the proletariat?” Abhisit was trying to capture a contrast between Thaksin and his supporters, but it is meaningless to people who see themselves sacrificing something for change (and, in many cases, for Thaksin).

Then Abhisit started to sound like an American Republican by damning “class war,” saying “Thaksin should not speak in a way that could create hatred between the rich and poor. Society would be fine as long as people could do their jobs lawfully and had opportunities and rules that everyone respected. Mr Abhisit warned that attempts to divide society and incite people to topple the system were dangerous.”

That seems to be the point. The red shirts have hit on a deeply felt resentment of power and privilege, and the conservative establishment is spitting mad. Few red shirts or any of their supporters is going to seriously buy into an argument that society “would be fine as long as people could do their jobs.” This is the pampered elite speaking to the people they exploit.

Abhisit “explained” – pleaded and dissembled might be the correct terms here – that Thailand no longer had a proletariat and an elite. He said: “All Thai people are equal in terms of freedom but they are unequal in opportunities and his government is trying and doing more than other governments to solve this inequality.” He claimed that “his government was doing what other governments dared not do.” Most red shirts would just laugh at this or get angry. Only this week Abhisit personally vetoed a proposal for the government to raise the already low rice price by a measly 200 baht a ton. Symbolically that is a telling move.

The Nation (20 March 2010) adds to this story, saying that Abhisit asked: “Is Thaksin an ammart or a phrai? He was prime minister and super-rich.” Does Abhisit really think that red shirt supporters don’t know that Thaksin was rich? We’ll forget the historical examples of wealthy people supporting various people’s struggles, but Abhisit seems to live in a different world.

He demonstrated this when he claimed: “Inequality is normal in any society, but it should not be used to incite hatred in society…”. Well, yes, but the downtrodden don’t want to see inequality justified, and when the premier asks “whether Thaksin had tried to solve the problem of inequality between ammart and phrai while serving as prime minister between 2001 and 2006,” most red shirts would claim that he did more than anyone before him and certainly any leader since. That’s one of the reasons why Thaksin continues to be supported; he was seen as trying to do something.

The media propaganda campaign for the Abhisit government is also shown in the Bangkok Post’s (20 March 2010) report that Saturday’s red shirt 46km caravan around Bangkok will cause traffic chaos as “30,000 protesters” join in. Maybe 30,000 will join the drive around Bangkok, but having been to the rally site at Rajadamnoen again last night, PPT was staggered by how many protesters were there.

PPT walked around a very large area where the protesters are camped out and then up to Pan Fah Bridge and down to the Democracy Monument. Our estimate is 50,000 to 75,000 people were there. We were very surprised for having been limited to local media for the last few days, PPT expected a hugely diminished crowd. Some media reports were of 10,000 protesters left. Looking at the crowd from the apex of the Pan Fah Bridge, it was a huge sea of red. At the same time, many screens have been set up around the area where the rally is going on, and so there are groups numbering from tens to hundreds sitting in front of the screens, some of them a considerable distance from the main rally site. In addition, there were smaller stages, with various groups talking to small crowds. Thousands of other red shirts camped out all over the area, sleeping, eating, singing and shopping.

The latter might seem odd, but the mushrooming of vendors selling everything from Marxist-Leninist literature to mosquito nets to VCDs and shoes and, of course, food (in remarkable regional variety) is something PPT wasn’t expecting. The atmosphere is laid-back – indeed, quite literally as red shirts seem to have purchased deck chairs and now make themselves comfortable for the night time talks. People there seem happy and friendly. Also noticeable was the number of couples with kids arriving for the evening and small groups of workers arriving as they finish their shifts. Groups of red shirts were still arriving at 10.30 p.m. Traffic in the area was light but flowing easily. Back up in the Sukhumvit, the traffic was horrendous, even at 11 p.m. That’s the elite partying on a Friday night.

It is remarkable how inaccurate the reporting from the red shirt rally is. As PPT left the rally, we ran into an outside broadcast van for Thai Television, so we asked the reporter there why the reporting from the rally was like this. She might have felt threatened by the accusation, but said that was what “the bosses” ordered. PPT left it at that.

To finish this post, we point to the The Nation’s (20 March 2010) story where it is stated: “Fearing the urban middle-class Bangkokians would either join the red shirts today or confront them, Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has advised people to stay at home while the demonstrators march through the capital.” Televison commentators keep telling people to stay at home. Based on experiences of the past few days, they really do fear that the support for the red shirts will be huge. That said, recalling events in 1975 and 1976, marches like this, even if motorized, offer opportunities for opposed forces to attack.

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