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.





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 II

7 04 2017

And how’s that promised “election” coming along?

The Nation reports that “Deputy Prime Minister [Deputy Dictator] and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said the controls [on political parties] might stay in place because the country’s political situation has not yet settled down.”

There’s a novel idea: “elections” without parties or their campaigning. Maybe voting can be done with blindfolds on and throwing darts at a giant target with “junta” written on it.

Prawit reflected that: “Things are still not alright now. We want more time and we want all the parties to help. Do not make trouble or it will be more difficult for us to make a decision…”.

We wonder if he’s thinking about that tiny but convenient bomb? Or perhaps that “assassination plot” for which no substantive evidence has been produced? Or the rusty bunch of weapons “seized” from red shirts that became a sparkling bunch of newer weapons after the military had the “suspects” and “evidence” for a while? Or maybe Wat Dhammakaya, although that all seems back to “junta normal.”

Prawit declared: “I’m responsible for security issues. I need time to work on this and everyone should cooperate with us too…. It’s not going to work if things are stirred up like this.”

Translated that means the junta will decided when to hold its “election” and who will “win.” That’s the way it has been since the coup.





Updated: All about the law II

2 04 2017

Bangkok Post editor Umesh Pandey gives some credit to the judiciary – the Central Administrative Court – for having ruled that “the military junta’s moves to take away the three passports held by the former Education Minister, Chaturon Chaisang, was a ‘serious violation’ of …[Chaturon’s] fundamental rights…”.

But he goes way, way too far when he states that the “judiciary is making great strides in bringing about fairness in society…”.

Thailand’s judiciary and its legal processes are somewhere between a joke and feudal. PPT has spent a considerable amount of space highlighting repeated failures and while we don’t expect Pandey to be a regular reader, surely he reads his own newspaper.

On the same day when he is full of praise for the judiciary and its “strides in bringing about fairness,” his colleague Alan Dawson lambasts elements of the judicial system and its double standards.

You might say that the judges are not the whole system, and that’s true, with Pandey slamming elements of it. However, there are now hundreds of cases that have gone to court in recent years that have seen judges fail all reasonable tests of fairness. Think of the scores of lese majeste cases, several cases we mentioned in a previous post, cases against Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, cases making coups legitimate, a judicial coup, cases against red shirts (and not against yellow shirts), allowing torturers to go free and many, many more.

Being honest, we think the judicial system is now broken beyond repair. We have royalists, the military, the palace and the judges themselves to blame for this sad state of affairs.

Update: A reader puts us onto another Bangkok Post story, where the headline is, NCPO urges Thaksin to stop ‘distorting the truth’. The junta says:

“Mr Thaksin [Shinawatra] should stop harming the country, show restraint and stop distorting information. If Mr Thaksin calls for justice from society, Mr Thaksin should give justice to society, too,” the NCPO spokesman said.

The junta demands that Thaksin stop harming Thailand. Yet it is the junta that distorts truth. It has done so for years now. And, if the junta demands the legal system for Thaksin, how about themselves? Why is it that Section 113 of the Criminal Code doesn’t apply to this bunch of thugs?

Section 113: Whoever, commits an act of violence or threatens to commit an act of violence in order to:

  1. Overthrow or change the Constitution;
  2. Overthrow the legislative power, the executive power or the judicial power of the Constitution, or nullify such power; or
  3. Separate the Kingdom or seize the power of administration in any part of the Kingdom, is said to commit insurrection, and shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.




A couple of corrections

26 03 2017

On a Sunday, as we read a few stories that continue to keep us glum about Thailand’s prospects for some political progress, as opposed to regression, we came across a couple of stories that appear to us to requires a little corrective attention.

The first is at Prachatai. Kornkritch Somjittranukit has a story on red shirt renegade Wuthipong Kachathamakul or Ko Tee as public enemy no. 1 for the old guys running the military junta. A couple of things bothered us a bit. One was mention of the 2009 Pattaya events without noting the role played by the Democrat Party’s Suthep Thaugsuban and his then new best friend Newin Chidchob who goaded and challenged red shirts with their own blue shirts, many of them being military and police in different clothes.

PDRC shooter

On the 2014 People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) seizure of the Lak Si District Office to prevent the 2 February election, mention is made of a “violent clash with Ko Tee and his supporters from Pathum Thani. The sound of gunfire came from both sides.” The latter is true but ignores something. After that event it was officially stated:

A police forensics director stated that his team’s investigation showed “39 shots have been fired from the position of PCAD protesters, and 3 shots from the direction of pro-election protesters.”

The second story is at the Bangkok Post. Editor Umesh Pandey briefly recounts the actions taken over the past few years as pro-Thaksin election winners were ditched, missing the important 2008 judicial coup. What bothered us was the headline, “Army needs to learn to be neutral.”

While the article doesn’t exactly amount that, the idea that the military could be neutral is baffling in the extreme. The military is now, after more than half a century of pro-monarchy and pro-elite military is firmly attached to the side of privilege, hierarchy, wealth and repression.





The Ko Tee trifecta

24 03 2017

In one of our earlier posts on the military junta’s marvelous story about a mammoth plot to accumulate war weapons, assassinate The Dictator using a sniper rifle and cause a rebellion based on Wat Dhammakaya, we had three predictions.

First, that Ko Tee or Wuthipong Kachathamakul was claimed to be involved in the “plot” as a way to gain his extradition from Laos. The junta has announced that. Second, we said the men arrested would “confess.” The junta announced that they have “confessed.” We added that the third usual event was a parade of “suspects.”

We now have the trifecta, with the Bangkok Post reporting, with video, that the men have been paraded. But, for the junta, they even get a “bonus” payout because after all this time in military custody, the “suspects” incriminated red shirts and and the Puea Thai Party, and that allowed for the rabid yellow shirt media to also incriminate Thaksin Shinawatra.

For the junta, this seems like a perfect “crime”! They have it all!





No hope for electoral democracy

23 03 2017

The Deutsche Welle headline actually says “Little hope.” We think “no hope” is far more accurate for Thailand under the military dictatorship:

Despite the promised return to democracy, the military government in Thailand has shown little inclination to hold elections anytime soon. Fears abound about the country sliding increasingly into authoritarianism.

We think Thailand is already in a deep authoritarian freeze.

DW is right to observe that:

A free and frank discussion about the prevailing political situation in Thailand can, under current circumstances, only take place outside the country. Since the 2014 military coup, the freedom of expression and of the press has shrunk drastically in the Southeast Asian nation. Critics are either coerced by the military to acquiesce in government’s actions or, in worst cases, vanished without trace.

It also notes that “foreign academics and scholars have refrained from traveling to Thailand.” We know that is true. We also know of at least one scholar turned away – deported – from the airport on arrival.

The report mentions “Wolfram Schaffar, who works for the Institute for International Development at the University of Vienna, hasn’t visited Thailand since the 2014 coup. The expert had previously been a regular visitor to the country for work and research purposes.”

DW then suggests that there’s a conflict between the traditional elites and “sections of the emerging middle class that demand more say in the political process. These segments are supported by peasants, particularly in the north of the country.”

We are stumped by the notion that middle classes in Thailand want democracy. In fact, they are the main ballast of authoritarianism. We can only guess that DW has swallowed the nonsensical line that red shirts are some kind “middle class.” Such falsities do nothing to advance clear analysis of the nature of Thailand’s deep authoritarianism.

Its on solid ground quoting Pavin Chachavalpongpun who observes that:

The traditional elites were driven by fear… adding that they were scared of facing an uncertain future. They were particularly afraid of the then Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is now king.

That fear resides in the middles classes who fear the loss of a “protection” they have from the “rough classes” in the current military-monarchy system. There’s also a great fear among the elite itself. They fear an erratic, greedy and violent palace. Managing both sets of fears requires a military regime prepared to establish succession and the new reign. Because Vajiralongkorn is unpredictable and unreliable character, that “management” may need to be in place for many years to come.