My heartfelt tribute to Mainueng, a great poet

25 04 2017

In Memoriam – a tribute to Mainueng

–  Narisara Viwatchara

วันที่ 23 เมษายนเป็นวันครบรอบสามปีที่ นักกวีเอก ไม้หนึ่ง ก. กุนที นักต่อสู้เพื่อประชาธิปไตย ที่ถูกสังหารชีวิตอย่างป่าเถื่อนเลือดเย็นโดยการบงการจากเผด็จการกลุ่มใดกลุ่มหนึ่งที่ครองอำนาจอันป่าเถื่อนในประเทศไทยมาเป็นเวลาช้านาน ดิฉันแน่ใจว่าบาปนี้จะต้องมีการชำระสักวันหนึ่งค่ะ และจนถึงบัดนี้ตำรวจก็ยังจับผู้กระทำผิดไม่ได้

ในโอกาสนี้ดิฉันจึงเขียนบทความเป็นภาษาอังกฤษสดุดีและไว้อาลัยด้วยความคารวะอย่างสุดซึ้งต่อการจากไปของนักต่อสู้ ไม้หนึ่ง ก. กุนที มาณโอกาสนี้ค่ะ

My Heartfelt Tribute to Mainueng, A Great Poet

On April 23, 2017, it’s the third anniversary of the untimely death of  Kamol Duangphasuk, widely known among Thailand’s Red Shirt activists as “Mainueng Kor Kunthee.” (ไม้หนึ่ง ก. กุนที)

He was assassinated by an unidentified gunman who approached his car and shot at him five times at close range in a restaurant parking lot in northern Bangkok.

The assassin escaped on a motorcycle. Mainueng, whose pen name (ไม้หนึ่ง) means “Wood One” –to be passed on — was hit twice in the chest and died later in a hospital.  His death came one month before the military coup that locked down Thai society,  abolished parliamentary democracy and took away from the rural poor a voice in society. In doing so, the coup leaders, headed by Prayuth Chan-ocha, have restored the elites to their accustomed but hardly justified place in Thai Society.

Mainueng strongly opposed the 2006 military coup and the subsequent crackdown on critics of the monarchy. He took part in many rallies of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). He was also very active in the campaign against Article 112 of the Penal Code, the  lèse majesté law, which has been widely used to criminalize free expression and imprison writers, journalists, academics and publishers. His murder is one of a string of violent attacks on activists.

His poems were published in a number of magazines including the prestigious Matichon Weekly in the 1990s. His poetry had a hard political edge, enough to make him a target of a pseudo-vigilante group known as the Rubbish Collection Organization that threatened publicly to hunt down opponents of the monarchy, describing them as trash.

Mainueng was not just a democracy activist, he was bright and visionary. He had been at the forefront of the Red Shirt and civil rights movements. He risked his life on many occasions by speaking of injustices in Thai society in which the elite enjoy privileges they believe to be granted from heaven while the poor have always been at rock bottom. He had received prior requests and warnings from the Royal Thai Army to stop his activities in pursuit of democracy and free speech.

His poetry depicted the causes and effects of the political situation and the plight of the poor under the watchful eyes of Thai dictators. He was popular for his direct poetic style and for articulating strong political messages. His poems call for social justice, the rights of the rural poor and for challenging the forces of oppression.

His style of poetry writing was unique and outstanding, not always conforming to the rules of Thailand’s traditional upper-class poetry. Rather he used his own mind and the free flow of thought in telling of the everyday life story in a simple way. Some of his poems were terse and on target, equivalent to that of Japanese Haiku, which seeks to pack the maximum amount of meaning into the fewest possible words.

Because of Mainueng’s outspoken public speaking and poetry, Thai authorities, particularly from the Rubbish Collection Organization headed by a mean-spirited doctor and army general, Riengthong Nannah, put a price on his head.  Although it has never been confirmed, democracy advocates believe this organization declared open war on them at its launch in 2013 and was responsible for Maineung’s brutal death.

The rubbish collection organization, which, reportedly, has received funding from the military and/or the untouchable, has offered rewards to urge people to inform them of any anti-monarchy or anti-lese majeste activities. Those who are not staunch supporters of the royal family and the monarchy are targets. Many of us have gone into exile rather than face prison.

Mainueng came from an ordinary Thai family. He put himself through college like many students from the impoverished Northeast. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts while working part time doing odd jobs. Throughout his college years, he witnessed dictatorial behavior of many of his employers and thus he stated to himself in his various writings that he had to do something about change for a better society. He saw the democracy movement and politics as one of the ways for such a change.

With the third anniversary of his assassination, I wish to translate one of his most heartfelt political poems:

“Worship the free spirit and the courageous Red Shirts
Worship ordinary folks who dare to challenge the dictator
Worship the enlightened who escaped from the cult
Never ever worship those who tell you to live like the dust under the feet.*”

———————————-
*Dust under the feet (ฝุ่นใต้ตีน)” is a reference to ordinary people with no royal  lineage.





Self congratulations

25 04 2017

There’s very little scope for humility among the members of the junta and its minions which together constitute the military dictatorship.

The latest example of arrogance is in an “interview” with charter junkie and career anti-democrat Meechai Ruchupan by The Nation’s Suthichai Yoon.

A couple of decades ago, Suthichai portrayed himself as a journalist opposed to military dictatorship. Now he is an ardent supporter and his “interviews” and columns are propaganda pieces for anti-democrats.

Breathlessly, Suthichai asks how many times Meechai has been involved with writing constitutions. Of course, Meechai has been the rightists most important assets in opposing democratization, and this is why he claims roles in writing five charters, all military-backed constitutions. He also claims he “had parts in writing of the 1997 and 2007 charters.” He adds: “I did not help write them but I was in the Parliament and I helped checking and correcting. I also countersigned them after the royal endorsement.”

That’s quite a record of getting things wrong. Meechai’s task has been to ensure that royalist ideology is maintained and that popular sovereignty has been limited.

The aged Meechai complains that writing the military’s latest charter was exhausting for him: “It takes a lot of effort. Every day after work I always have to lay down very still. This is because it is not only the Constitution but also other legislation that is my job. This takes a lot of brainpower.”

We doubt the latter. Meechai essentially followed orders (orders he would have mostly agreed with). In fact, it was the military junta that dictated the terms of the charter, and with a puppet Constitution Drafting Committee and a puppet National Legislative Assembly, getting the required document approved was a doddle.

Suthichai then asks a seemingly rhetorical question that is is for the yellow audience. He asks if the new charter will keep those nasty “politicians” in line.

Yes, says Meechai.

He then asks if the military charter is durable. Meechai’s response is revealing:

Some said that when His Majesty the King presided over the ceremony to promulgate the Constitution it was the first time in 48 years. I thought to myself that this charter could be around for at least 48 years, too. I take it as a lucky number and think it is how long the charter will last.

He says this because the military makes it almost impossible to change the charter. Only a truly democratic revolution will change it, and the junta reckons they have seen this off.

Suthichai then allows Meechai to highlight his own greatness by asking how influential Meechai was in the process:

… I admit the wordings are mine because I was the one typing it for everyone to see in the screens. And we debated until we reached agreement. Also, we had to think about people outside the room, too. We tried to compromise.

Compromise and debate were actually missing from the process, along with any notion of public consultation. Debate was in a narrow circle of military and royalists.

Suthichai then allows Meechai to lie a bit when he asks, “Are you worried about criticism that you did this for the junta? Meechai’s response is a fairy tale:

No. We have treated the NCPO as everyone else. We sent letters to gather opinions from them. The Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) members had never seen PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. And the PM also left us alone.

We might believe that The Dictator stayed away, but only because he had a puppet drafter and puppet assemblies. But everyone knows that The Dictator is a meddler and there can be no doubt that he directed and coached, and the public record shows it. In fact, when Meechai states, “… there were no orders from the NCPO, I insist,” he is lying. He then adds:

… in the meeting we have Maj Gen Veera Rojanavas who is close to the PM. He only took notes and reported to the PM. I also told him to report to the PM too, assuring that the charter would be done in time.

Meechai then engages in considerable propaganda for the junta: no, the military won’t form a political party; the junta does not have a political base; the “election” will be held as soon as possible; The Dictator works hard and he does not want to stay on.

We can’t wait to see what further role the aged Meechai gets in a military-dominated future government.





Political vandalism and the control of history

23 04 2017

1932 plaqueThe political theft of the 1932 plaque has had unintended consequences.

The thief-in-chief was seeking to remove a perceived threat to the new reign and the junta’s constitutional basis for authoritarianism.

One unintended consequence has been to shine a light on 1932. The understanding of that time and the revolution that ended royal absolutism has been “controlled” by royalists for a considerable time. Think of the King Prajadhipok Institute and its mangled version of history. (If the KPI “The history” and “About KPI” seem reasonable, then you are a victim of the royalist control of history.)

Over the past couple of days, the Bangkok Post has had several op-eds that have posed questions about the received “history.” Each deserves attention. We’ll just quote some bits and pieces.

The first is by Wasant Techawongtham. He begins:

The switcheroo involving the 1932 Revolution memorial plaque seemed at first to be a simple act of theft or vandalism. But once the matter was brought to the attention of the authorities, things rapidly spiralled into the realm of the surreal.

And the more people try to make sense of it, the murkier it becomes.

He points out the quite banal and seemingly inexplicable initial responses from the junta:

Both government [junta] spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd and National Council for Peace and Order [junta] spokesman Winthai Suvaree, who can normally answer anything the press might throw at them, were lost for words.

The Dusit district chief who has jurisdiction over the area knew nothing about it either. The Fine Arts department chief not only did not know anything about the switch but claimed — rather hilariously, I should say — that the plaque was neither an artefact nor had any historical value.

The police not only did not know about it but would not accept complaints to look into the matter, claiming — I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry here — that no one owned the object, and therefore no one could file a complaint. Huh?

You have to ask yourself: Is this for real?

The plaque was installed there for only 80-plus years and is associated with arguably the most significant political development in modern Thai history.

He refers to more ridiculousness by the junta and its minions before observing:

The silliness in this country knows no bounds. But this latest episode really takes the cake.

This really worries me. The Thai people under this military regime are already under orders not to think or speak their mind. But now we are supposed to not see or hear as well.

George Orwell would love to have written such a story.

We seem now to be living in another dimension where reality is distorted out of all proportion and truth is anything the powers-that-be say it is.

A second op-ed is by Ploenpote Atthakor. She begins:

… the plaque, which marks one of the most important incidents in modern Thai history, is a hot potato politically.

But though I fully sympathise with those inflamed by this apparent act of “political vandalism”, the extent of the public outcry has surprised me. Like those who are up in arms, I also wish the plaque, which marks the political transition from absolutism or constitutional monarchy, had stayed at its original site.

I believe Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ordered a probe into the case, will never give a full account of what has happened. Nor could he restore the original plaque to its rightful place….

She seems to believe she cannot say why this is. The vandal-in-chief is beyond criticism. The Dictator is beyond criticism.

She continues by noting the failure of people to understand 1932 or to respect its symbols. Likewise, she does not point to the royalist hold on “history” as the reason for this. It is fine to opine about “the people” being “ignorant,” but the reasons for their alleged ignorance need to be explained. But she sees a silver lining:

… its sudden disappearance has triggered an interest in this particular period of Thai history like never before. The people who removed it probably didn’t expect that.

The third op-ed is by Kong Rithdee. He begins:

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present (tada!) controls the past. In summary, the military, like quantum physicists or mad sorcerers, controls time: The past, present, future, ad infinitum.

Through their coups, their fantasies and their laws, they control history — meaning the things that have happened or they want us to believe have happened. They also want to control the making of history — history as work in progress — meaning the shifting of glaciers and governments, the removal of memory and the manufacturing of dreams. Through the new 20-year national strategy bill, they also want to control the laying of future laws that will govern our life until eternity….

Much has been pondered about the missing plaque marking the 1932 Siamese Revolution. The erasing of history, an elusive heist, a voodoo ritual? Take your pick, for it looks like the burglary of the artefact is going down as one of the greatest puzzles of modern times. The sorcerers know they can’t change the past, even with chicken blood or powerful mantras, so they feel a need to change the record of the past — the imperfect past written by the revolutionaries who transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy.

He can’t get into the palace’s role although he could look at the role of royalist “historians” in the service of palace and military, writing “politicians” and the anti-royalists out of “their” history that is now “the” history. Or maybe he can, by allusion:

With the new plaque discreetly put in place of the original one, a palimpsest of history is being constructed before our eyes by the hand that appears firm, inexorable, invisible. So invisible that even the CCTV cameras (which only function when you’re speeding) lost all trace of what happened. The ghost did it. Again.

Some might see the ghost as a devil. He concludes:

The mark of dictatorship is when someone controls our life and our choice — that’s harder now because modern dictatorship still operates under capitalism, a system that values choice.

So it’s true dictatorship when someone attempts to control the concept of time — the mad aspiration to rule history and lay siege to the past, present and future while preventing us, the true holders of destiny, from writing our own parts. The clock is ticking but time is frozen. It’s not, as they often say, Orwell’s 1984.

This is a dystopian sci-fi, a country beyond Brave New World.

 





Updated: Who took the plaque?

18 04 2017

Being on holidays and out of Bangkok for a few days, the social media frenzy surrounding the political vandalism of the People’s Party plaque has been a bit difficult to follow.

This post is quite a bit out of the ordinary for PPT as we are getting into very heavy speculation with little to go on other than joining some dots together. We are posting now because we think this is a very dangerous reactionary trend in Thailand, one that goes far beyond that of the military junta.

We think we know why it is difficult to follow, but more on that below.

The vandalism was not a minor bit of pilfering. This had to be a fair sized and well-planned operation.  After all, the historic plaque had to dug up and stolen on a day with light traffic and replaced with another plaque commemorating nothing significant, but displaying ridiculous monarchist graffiti.

That piece of royalist metal pap was set in cement, or so the pictures suggest, and that takes time to set, so this was not a snatch and grab raid.

This is all suggesting an operation that could only have been done by the authorities or with their connivance. (We will pretty much ignore the predictable ultra-royalist cheering that another step to re-establishing feudalism has been taken.)

The junta and its minions, including the police, are Sgt Shultzing this. They know nothing.

But, oops, someone complained. This brings one of those police responses which is the response you get when you just know that something is being hidden or that the cops have their private parts in an important vice.

Then some unexpected persons decide to protest, and the cops quickly get agitated and see off these more-or-less unknowns operating for reasons that are not entirely clear. It’s a small group and hardly threatening, but the cops feel differently. This is suggesting the motive behind the removal is somewhere reasonably high up.

This is followed by serial prodder of regimes, Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, showing up at the junta’s “public service centre” to “submit a letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asking him to look for the 1932 Siamese Revolution memorial plaque…”.

So far The Dictator has been silent, suggesting that the normally talkative general is feeling unable to comment. It is as if he feels constrained, dumbfounded or fearful.

Odder than that, when Srisuwan shows up, soldiers are waiting and he is “whisked away in a military van … for talks at the 1st Cavalry Regiment…”.

That suggests there’s something to hide and that the regime is jittery as hell.

And then there’s the linking of the plaque and the earlier “order” about three overseas bloggers, seeking to criminalize and prevent contact with them.

We think there’s a story here of orders coming from the king. Of course, we have no evidence, but the fingerprints are there. There’s a fear that the banned bloggers are able to soak up leaks from close to the palace and that they will publicize them.

They already publicized the odd behavior of one of the king’s favorite concubines just meters from the plaque a month or so ago.

There’s a perspective emanating from the palace that suggests a desire to roll back 1932 as an aberration. In fact, the view is that the 17th century was a time when kings ruled with few constraints on their often aberrant behavior. Don’t be surprised to hear of suggestions that pre-Bangkok laws might still be useful in contemporary times.

We kind of hope our speculation is wrong.

Update: We think that Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s latest post at New Mandala, on the fear that infects palace circles and which infects much else, should be read with this post. He makes some excellent points about the reign after just a few months.





Feel the repression

14 04 2017

The repressive military dictatorship continues to behave badly. It says it behaves badly because the people cannot be trusted. Well, that’s our interpretation of what they are saying, but that’s the message.

And when they say these things, they also lie.

Recall that the use of Article 44 has been carried over into the 2017 constitution. “Liberal” critics complain about this, but they miss the point: this is an “illiberal” constitution that seeks to limit popular sovereignty.

The junta and The Dictator have said that the use of Article 44 would be limited and only for really important stuff. Then The Dictator promptly used it for a special interest group of schools.

The Bangkok Post reports on the junta’s statements on its need for Article 44, noting the Army chief’s defense of the draconian power that resorts to knee-jerk monarchism:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha needs to retain his wide-reaching Section 44 powers for the sake of security and for maintaining peace for the late King’s royal cremation as well as the coronation of [the new] … King….

Junta member General Chalermchai Sitthisart declared that Article 44 “remains an essential instrument for maintaining security.”

He maintained that after three years of junta control and repression, the military and the junta has failed, at least in its own terms. Again, they are our words, but that’s what he’s saying when he opines that “the security situation has been fairly stable although anti-government elements were staging movements ‘to stir up trouble’.”

Article 44 is also essential to the junta’s control of politics as it manages any “election” it decides to hold and win.

Gen Chalermchai then went strange, declaring “the army would never again seize power – because it would not have to.” He’s either lost his marbles, been drinking or really means that the military won’t act against the junta? But this is strange indeed.

By saying: “I can confirm that there won’t be a coup,” he’s really saying that there is coup talk about.

On his ridiculous royalism, why does the junta need Article 44 to “ensure a smooth arrangement for the royal funeral, expected towards the end of October, and of the coronation…”?

Is this simply using the monarchy for the junta’s gain? Or is it another admission of the junta’s failure? Or is it a fear that if anything goes wrong, then the junta’s future is at stake. If the latter, then they can blame themselves for manufacturing monarchism as a justification for military rule.

Meanwhile, The Dictator warned people that if “the exercise of people’s rights and freedom can go unchecked, [then] this could lead to conflicts…”. In other words, the repression continues. Just to emphasize this, he warned the media that it should not encourage people to exercise their rights.





Elections vs. the patronage system

11 04 2017

The Puea Thai Party may think it has a chance of doing well in an election, even if it is the junta’s “election.” We have serious doubts that they could win another election under the junta’s rules. Even if they did, the junta’s constitution will stymie them as a government.

In line with their faith in electoral democracy, the Puea Thai Party has demanded a “general election early next year, revocation of ‘unconstitutional’ orders of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the military junta] and freedom to express opinions about legislation.”

Somewhat oddly, at least in our view, the party sees the “promulgation of the 2017 constitution last Thursday started a process to restore democracy…”. We see it as the beginning of a period of military-backed government.

Meanwhile, the enemies of electoral democracy met with General Prem Tinsulanonda, the President of the Privy Council. The now frail Prem beamed as he accepted the obeisance of some members of the junta (who was missing?), cabinet members, military commanders-in-chief, the national police chief and other top officials.

General Prem “wished Prime Minister [General] Prayut Chan-o-cha success in his handling of the country’s administration and advised him not to be discouraged by problems he has encountered.” For the grand old political meddler, “success” involves “returning happiness” to “the Thai people.”

The Dictator was puffed up and proud, praising General Prem, “who he said was a role model for everyone in the country in terms of loyalty to the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

Readers will be amused to learn that The Dictator “presented a vase of flowers and a basket of gifts to Gen Prem, who in return distributed a CD on the tribute to the late King … and a book of prayer to everyone present.”

Just the thing for men who were responsible for the attacks on red shirt demonstrators seven years ago to the day that eventually left scores dead and thousands injured.

Meanwhile, it seems that Prayuth has decided that as The Dictator, he deserves Prem-like obeisance. He will “open Government House on April 12 for cabinet members, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, armed forces commanders and other officials to perform a rod nam dam hua [water-pouring] ceremony for him to mark the Songkran Festival.”

The juxtaposition of these political positions is defining of Thailand’s political present and indicative of its futures.





Nothing changed IV

8 04 2017

Forget the constitution, it is Article 44 that still matters.

The Bangkok Post reports that the day after the somewhat bizarre constitution-granting show, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the use of his dictatorial powers to allow him to make the “selection of new Constitutional Court judges and members of a committee linked to the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG)…”.

Ostensibly because “the law pertaining to them under the new constitution has [not] been completed,” the use of Article 44 means that the shape of the most important and most highly politicized court is going to be maintained as the junta’s plaything.

The order means that “Constitutional Court judges must be selected within 45 days.”

While there are rules about senior judges “approving” appointees, it is pretty certain that the appointees will be rapid royalists with a penchant for military government and not much time for electoral politics and politicians (the latter being a dirty word in yellow shirt and junta argot).

Both the judges and the Auditor-General Committee will “serve a single term of seven years.”

That committee “will nominate a new auditor-general for consideration by the NLA “for a single term of six years, the order states.”

That all allows plenty military influence for a long time to come.