Thailand being junta-ed into the future

21 10 2018

Back in 2007, the end of the regime put in place by the junta that conducted the 2006 military coup was marked by the Computer Crimes Act. That junta-ed Thailand in the years that followed, with most of those charged with lese majeste also being charged under the computer crimes law. Of course, many others were junta-ed by the political law.

The current military junta has sought to strengthen the state’s capacity for surveillance. As Sanitsuda Ekachai says in her most recent op-ed:

All our personal and business information will no longer be safe from state surveillance if the draft of a new cybersecurity bill becomes law.

If the bill is passed, the cybersecurity agency, with god-like power could monitor our internet activities and penetrate our systems — without a court order. It could force us to submit information, stop our internet transactions, seize our computers, and issue other measures it deems fit to ward off perceived security threats.

Say “no” and you face a maximum of three years in prison and/or a maximum fine of 300,000 baht.

Like all “cybersecurity” in Thailand, the proposed law is secretive, vague and associated with military and monarchy:

One critic has slammed this cybersecurity law which was hatched in secrecy as being a blatant attempt to make Thailand a Gestapo state. And rightly so.

Make? It is already pretty much there under a military dictatorship. It is just that the current junta wants Thailand to be an anti-democratic state. The proposed law has a “definition of national security is so broad and so vague that anything deemed upsetting to the government and the status quo can be treated as a threat.”

Think monarchy and criticism of a military-backed regime.

Sanitsuda adds:

Also, how critical the threat should be to deserve state intervention is also up to cybersecurity authorities’ judgement. The room for abuse of power in this scenario is huge, especially when the accused has no right to appeal.

More importantly, military security is also defined as national security. This is why the military — in its capacity as an arm of the cybersecurity agency — will be entrusted with the power to freely penetrate our internet systems and force us to follow its order at will.

No government that is not a military government or a military-(s)elected will be able to oppose this military interference or roll back the power this draft law provides for the military. Truly, Thailand will be junta-ed for years, even decades.

When the military is on top XXI

3 05 2018

A theme of our now long series of posts on When the Military is on Top has been the embedding of double standards. One set of rules for the junta and its partners and another for those not connected with the regime or its partners seem never-ending.

The latest example is related to land. Since it seized power the junta has emphasized “illegal” uses of “state” land. We use the inverted commas to mark the fact that some of this land was, several decades ago, allocated to state agencies, institutions and people as part of the military’s counterinsurgency operations.

So when the military becomes involved in expelling owners and smashing down resorts in areas like Khao Khor in Petchabun, one might ask how it is that the Royal Forest Department and the the Internal Security Operations Command co-operate now to “take legal action against all 135 mountainous resorts suspected of encroaching on a land plot in Khao Kho district within three months.”

No doubt some of these resorts are the plaything of the rich, but so much of the land in the area was allocated to farmers who were encouraged into the area after the battles with the communists there in the 1970s. That those farmers sold their land decades later is a reflection of ISOC’s 1970s policies never having recognized the property rights of the villagers it encouraged and even transported to the area.

The mistreatment of land protesters is reflective of similar processes that began decades ago as, also as part of a broad counter-communism policy, the state commodified land, allocated land and titles of various levels of tenure and then saw business people take advantage of this land market.

The Bangkok Post refers to the “temporary detention of land rights activists in Chiang Mai and Lamphun by security authorities [as] disgraceful.” While this is rightly seen as ” intimidation” by “soldiers and policemen were dispatched to deal with the growing disgruntlement of ordinary people who were merely trying to make their voices heard. But using force to shut people up is a barbaric tactic that will only intensify public displeasure against the military rulers,” the roots of the problems of land in the policies of previous military regimes should not be neglected.

The double standards are obvious when the judiciary’s luxury housing construction project in Chiang Mai is considered. Sanitsuda Ekachai makes the all too obvious points in her op-ed. As she says, representatives of the regime and the judiciary have loudly claimed that: “People and the forest can live together in harmony…”. But there are people and there are others.

The people who can live in harmony with forest are “good” people and the rest are the untrustworthy and the unworthy.

On using funerals

26 10 2017

PPT has previously posted on the military dictatorship’s use of the dead king’s funeral for its political promotion, including neglecting huge flooding, except for diverting waters away from Bangkok, fearful that floods at the time of the funeral will be seen as inauspicious and will be a black mark on the regime. Flooding farmers for months seems a “sacrifice” the dictatorship demands.

Belatedly, the (new) king is also making PR of the event. He’s declaring himself a monarch concerned for his people. Army chief General Chalermchai Sitthisart is just one more official over the last few days who has spoken of the king’s “concern.” This time he’s “worried” about “mourners having to endure strong sunlight during the day that could be compounded by heat rising from the concrete pavements.” Magically, mats appeared!

The General says the king has “instructed officials to treat them nicely, not to scold them and not to be too strict…”. (So has The Dictator.)

But fears for the future continue to fester. Some royalists, like Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post writes of “fear and trepidation about the future.” She asserts that a “question is hanging heavy in many people’s minds: What will happen now the country’s last unifying force has gone?”

One might question why Thais should be anxious now. A king dying in a constitutional monarchy should be pretty much meaningless in terms of the nation’s future. But Thailand’s last king and his supporters, especially those in the business class and the military, were anything but constitutional and they propagandized so assiduously that a “fear” has been created. Making out that the dead king was “god-like” and a symbol of unity was so powerful because the state, at least since 1958 and even more heavily since the late 1970s, hammered it in cinemas, on state radio and television, in school and university texts.

The lese majeste law and “social sanction” allowed little thinking outside the approved narrative except in periods of democratization in the 1970s and 2000s, both periods shut down by military coup and repression, always supported by the palace. So when Sanitsuda says that “[g]rief has the power to plunge us into a dark pit of hopelessness,” it is all palace and elite-inflicted.

Yet Sanitsuda seems to mean another fear. The fear of King Vajiralongkorn and his reign. She simply doesn’t mention him and leans on the elite hope that Princess Sirindhorn will “rescue” Thais and the elite from a king they fear as dangerous, grasping and erratic. They hope her propaganda can fill the void created by the death of the king.

Sanitsuda and the elite buy the palace propaganda that Sirindhorn is the one most like her father, lodged in a dysfunctional family that for many years has looked like something between The Addams Family and The Munsters but without much family togetherness or the good humor of those television families.

Now that the eldest brother is on the throne, the elite is hoping that they might follow Sirindhorn as propaganda piece while hoping the brother will not be too much trouble.

Some of the problems Sanitsuda identifies for Thailand seem surgically removed from the legacy of the dead king. While it is said that one should not speak ill of the dead, it is an act of ideological gymnastics to allocate good points to him without looking at his and the palace’s role in these issues and problems.

For all of the guff about the dead king’s work for the people, “wealth disparity in Thailand is among the worst in the world. The third-worst, to be specific.” But don’t blame him for that. In fact, though, as wealth disparities have increased, the monarchy became the wealthiest on Earth. The Sino-Thai capitalists attached to the palace and pouring money into it also became hugely wealthy.

But don’t blame the dead king or the system in which the monarchy was the keystone. Just go on repeating the propaganda that is a fairy tale that permits the elite to ignore the things that benefit them (and the palace): corruption, political repression, exploitation, impunity, state murder and more. The elite’s fingers are crossed that the new king can continue this system without draining off more than an acceptable share. The other side of that coin is the eulogizing of his sister as the dead king’s replacement in the propaganda game. After all, if the propaganda cannot be continued, the whole system of exploitation, repression and vast wealth will be threatened.

Updated: Going backwards serves the powerful

27 01 2016

A series of reports at Prachatai and at the Bangkok Post are a useful reminder of what Thailand is like when the military is in charge.

Corruption, the use of special powers, thuggery, working with business people to exploit the poor in coercive ways. And, impunity. The military and the bureaucrats can do whatever they want, and get away with murder, abduction, enforced disappearance and other gang-like bad behavior because, like a male street dog licking its undercarriage, they can.

We apologize for this rather rude analogy but the actions of the military and the junta are uncivil, uncouth and brutish.

The first story at Prachatai relates to three suspects – red shirts, of course – arrested, tortured, kept in jail longer than the law allowed and accused of accused of “carrying out an attack with explosives on the PDRC protest in Trat on 22 February 2014, which resulted in the deaths of three people, two of them children, and 39 injured.” They were acquitted by the Provincial Court in Trat. The evidence was non-existent and the military thugs who arrested them didn’t even bother to appear in court.

The second Prachatai story is one that seems a remarkably 20th century account of primitive accumulation. Investors, in cooperation with the authorities sent hired thugs to attack a rural community the tycoons want moved (in many previous cases the thugs have usually military men out of uniform).  In this case, “a group of men with military and police officers came to the beach and surrounded the area, which the investors have been attempting to use for developing lucrative projects for years.” The local community was attacked and beaten when they objected to the tycoons taking their community and land.

The first Bangkok Post story is about the use of Article 44 to progress business interests at the expense of local communities, mainly in border areas, including coal-fired power stations. The idea is to prevent local communities complaining.

The last story is an op-ed by Sanitsuda Ekachai, with a title that sums up everything in the four stories: “Poor suffer as regime goes back to old ways.” Land “reform,” small-scale fishers, farming communities being pushed about by miners, and more, all supported by the political and economic bosses and their hired thugs. As one activist described it: “Our country is going backward in time, not years, but decades…”.

Update: On the second Prachatai story above, of course, there is no evidence that the company that had men beat the “sea gypsies” with sticks were linked to the local military mafia. A story in the Bangkok Post refers to a leaked document on social media showing the Baron World Trade Co asked brass at the Royal Thai Army Military Circle 41 base in Nakhon Si Thammarat to deploy troops to protect company staff during construction work.” Racism, accumulation and corrupt links between military and business are linked in this case.

Maintaining the fear

11 11 2015

Longtime Bangkok Post writer Sanitsuda Ekachai had an excellent op-ed on lese majeste deaths in military custody. She said, amongst much else, “Authorities can say whatever they want about the cause of Mor Yong’s death. But they cannot expect people to believe it.”

At the same time she noted the fear that pervades Thai society: “There is no need trying to get frank opinions from people face to face, however. No one speaks their minds with strangers anymore; it has become too dangerous.” She referred to “the climate of fear in our country.” She notes the “public distrust.” And she says that people are aware that the is a “danger” that chills.

She says that the military dictatorship claims to “want to protect the monarchy and punish those who abuse royal links.” Few believe this anymore.

She goes on to note strange happening with these particular deaths in custody of persons arrested in circumstances that are related entirely to events within palace circles. Mor Yong or Suriyan Sujaritpalawong “was cremated hurriedly without religious rites. The media was also barred from the cremation and taking photos.”

She asks “why do lese majeste suspects have to undergo the humiliating procedure of shaving their heads? Is this even legal?” Social media say it is a revived royal rite for the condemned. We wonder if Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, the last survivor of the three arrested in mid-October will appear for court on Thursday.

On the deaths she says: “According to the law, the death of a suspect while in custody requires both an autopsy and court investigation. The court has the jurisdiction to rule about the suspect’s cause of death — not corrections authorities or medical doctors. Why has this rule been ignored? And why the hasty cremations and press ban?”

Like others, Sanitsuda notices that these deaths in custody mean that “their testimonies are [were] crucial to the regime’s efforts to prevent further abuse of royal links” will no longer be heard. The unspoken accusation is that they have been both punished and silenced. Her view is that the “[a]uthorities are to blame if people think such fatal lapses were intentional.”

Sanitsuda concludes: “The regime should also realise the whole world is watching closely.”

They are watching a brutal regime that is intimidating an entire population in the name of protecting a monarchy that is implicated in the brutality.


Platitudes on the military dictatorship II

25 09 2015

One of the striking aspects of the formation of the People’s Alliance for Democracy a decade and more ago was the involvement of “civil society,” and particularly the leadership of several NGOs. The link between anti-democratic movements and those who were then leading NGOs and managing the national NGO bureaucracy has not been seriously challenged.

Of course, civil society everywhere is reflective of the society in which it exists, meaning that the calls to develop civil society or to listen to civil society are rather blunt and politically naive as civil society includes some very nasty groups indeed. In Thailand, some of the space of civil society has been filled by noxious rightists and fascists.

Over the past 20-30 years, there has been a kind of competition for control of NGOs, with royalists like Prawase Wasi seeking to domesticate NGOs after the elite feared that many of the early NGOs were falling under the control of returnees from the jungle after the defeat of the Communist Party of Thailand.

More recently, as Sanitsuda Ekachai at the Bangkok Post points out, when Thaksin Shinawatra “was looking for innovative policies to launch his Thai Rak Thai Party, he looked for inspiration from activists leading social movements…”.

As is well known, he “was not disappointed.” He was delivered ideas on universal health care and community funds that “became his landmark policy successes…”.

Sanitsuda points out that, now, self-appointed premier and the country’s dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is moving down this path. It is no accident that The Dictator has turned to “civil society movements” for an “innovative policy product to win the hearts and minds of people on the ground,” and that this coincides with his hiring of former Thaksin minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

She says that The Dictator has “apparent support from many civic groups” as he grabbed Prawase’s idea for his “Pracharath (citizens and state) policy drive…”.

In campaign mode, The Dictator declared that he would “strengthen the grassroots economy to bridge inequality while civil society leader Dr Prawase Wasi, the owner of the Pracharath development concept, lectured on what it takes to rescue the nation from the ‘black hole’ well beyond a massive one-time financial injection.”

Sanitsuda points out that The Dictator’s event saw “[h]igh-minded phrases such as holistic development, livelihood rights, people’s participation, bottom-up planning, environmental conservation, green farming and community banks fill… the air.”

Noting that so-called grassroots and civic groups “have been pushing every government” for many years to address what they have determined are the “people’s real needs,” Sanitsuda says that the groups are dealing with the military dictatorship and hoping it will deliver.

Elmer and DaffyIn most parts of the world, and in Thailand for most of its modern period, only a looney would think that the military would deliver for the “grassroots.” But in the Thailand where elections are “undemocratic” and where universal health care is “populist,” these self-proclaimed representatives of the people, none of them ever elected to anything, say that “[w]ith strong military blessing, many activists hope it might be possible to make community groups part and parcel of community fund management to strengthen the local economy, transparency and grassroots democracy.”

Yes, these NGO and civil society leaders think that a military dictatorship can deliver “transparency and grassroots democracy.” They can only think this by ignoring the real world and the people at the grassroots.

Sanitsuda notes that these “leaders” “risk of being attacked as coup cheerleaders.” That’s true, but many of them did cheer the coups in 2006 and 2014, so they’d hardly be worried about supporting the military dictatorship.

We agree with her that “having Dr Prawase, the respected [sic.] development guru and reformer [sic.], on its side is the best legitimacy it [the junta] could ever have hoped for.” However, it is also a fact that Prawase has joined each of the anti-democratic cabals in recent years. His views are royalist to the core.

None of these self-proclaimed representatives seems to worry too much about working with a military junta that is, every day, working against the grassroots, kicking people off their land, throwing them out of forests, supporting cowboy capitalists doing mining and timber deals, proclaiming the rights of elites, using double standards in courts and repressing every person who wants to vote.


Updated: Things that seem normalized

25 08 2015

Reporting of the Bangkok bombs has taken up much of the media headlines in recent days. However, there have been a bunch of other reports that deserve some consideration. Here’s a selection:

Protecting exploitation: Migrant rights activist Andy Hall has been indicted on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes that could lead to 7 years in jail. He has referred to “judicial harassment.”

The case is explained this way:

Natural Fruit, a pineapple processing company based in the Bangkok municipality of Thonburi and exporting to European markets, filed civil and criminal defamation complaints against Hall in February 2013. Hall had been contracted to conduct research for a report by European corporate watchdog Finnwatch that documented low wages, the employment of underage workers and other labor abuses against the company’s largely Burmese migrant workforce.

In response, Hall stated:

“I’m disappointed but I will respect the court’s decision…. I’m going to fight the case, and the case will expose many wrongdoings by many different people…I’m confident that in the end I’ll be served justice and be acquitted of all charges.”

Meanwhile, Finnwatch executive director Sonja Vartiala, said the prospects of a fair trial were “looking grim.”

No-one had yet been held accountable for the unlawful labor practices at Natural Fruit.

More slavery: In one of several reports of slavery in recent days, 13 Lao immigrants aged 15 to 18, who were reportedly treated as slaves, were rescued by officials who found them being kept in “animal cages” at a pig and chicken farm in Nakhon Pathom. Investigations focus on  the farm owner who is also a Krung Thai Bank manager. Usually such cases disappear as bribes are paid.

Enforced disappearance: The Asian Human Rights Commission shared an updated appeal from Protection International about the high-risk situation of Ms. Waewrin Buangern (Jo), coordinator of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group and a community-based Woman Human Rights Defender, who is under constant and surveillance by military authorities. Military personnel have threatened her with enforced disappearance.

As explained in the appeal:

Ms. Waewrin Buangern (Jo) coordinator of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group and community-based Woman HRD, who is under constant surveillance by military authorities, is facing a high-risk situation. As coordinator of the Conservation Group, Ms. Waewrin is under close monitoring by authorities and she is contacted on a regular basis by authorities for information on her whereabouts or on the Conservation Group’s plans. The threat of enforced disappearance against Ms. Waewrin was made during an ‘attitude adjustment session’, on 11th November 2014, when she was accompanied by another 10 villagers to the attitude adjustment session at Patoupah Special Military Training Facility. The attitude adjustment session was chaired by Deputy-Chief of Provincial Military Division, Colonel Chainarong Kaewkla, and there were heated exchanges between villagers and authorities during the course of the session. Ms. Waewrin has said that at one point in the session, she was told, “You know we can make anyone disappear.” During the same session, Ms. Waewrin was also the target of a gender-specific attack when she was told, “You will never be able to find a husband.”

Ms. Waewrin has been closely monitored ever since the Conservation Group joined the 1st Walk for Land Reform in Thailand on 9 November 2014 in Chiang Mai. Following such high-level intimidation and confrontation, Ms. Weawrin has been under surveillance and frequently contacted by local authorities. Everyday 2 plainclothes soldiers, on motorbike, patrol the Ban Haeng Village at around 7 p.m. Every day, there are different soldiers who patrol the village and they are always low-ranking soldiers. There is information that the soldiers are monitoring the movement of villagers, but also monitoring Ms. Waewrin specifically. She has never received any military personnel in her home and always requests that they meet her in the village Assembly Hall.

The clear and high-level threats from authorities that have been voiced against Ms. Weawrin are of grave concern, especially as authorities have adopted a clear oppositional stance against the activities of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group. One such threat of violence has arrived against Ms. Weawrin from a high-ranking and now promoted military officer. It indicates a clear and consistent risk for Ms. Waewrin as authorities continue to monitor her whereabouts and know how to gain access to her.

“Normal” military slaves: There’s been some commentary after a chained soldier walked into the military junta’s complaint center to ask for help. PPT can’t judge this particular story and its veracity, but it does highlight an issue that is quite common: the use of the lower ranks by their bosses as personal servants. Rear Adm. Benjaporn Bawornsuwan denies chaining Pvt. Anek Thongvichit to a tire, and unleashed on the soldier. Yet it is the details that are most revealing.

Benjaporn met with police and “speculated that several Navy commanders who harbor grudges against him may have encouraged Anek to file his complaints, telling reporters that other commanders abuse the system of ‘servant soldiers’.

Having soldiers stationed at their masters’ homes like this is normal. And it’s widespread. Especially the rich people’s kids who couldn’t dodge the draft in time, they asked for help that way,” he said at a Nakhon Pathom police station. “They asked to be posted in commanders’ homes, but they aren’t really there. And the commanders get the money, 9,000 baht per month.”

Today Gen. Udomdet Sitabutr, commander of Royal Thai Army, defended the practice of sending soldiers to serve as personal servants.

“Right now, we don’t call them ‘servant soldiers’ anymore. This word doesn’t exist anymore. Right now we call them ‘service soldiers’ who have a duty to assist their commanders.”

He said the work conditions of servant soldiers are enviable.

“People who sign up for this work do so voluntarily. They want to have a living that is different to the barracks and their friends,” he said. “Mostly, service soldiers will be well taken care of. Soldiers in some units even compete with each other to be service soldiers, because puuyai will take care of them. As for their duties, they are light, small things, not something that would frighten people.”

One of PPT’s writers has personal experience of “servant soldiers.” A few years ago, this person lived in a high-end condo where a Navy officer had five such servants or personal slaves. They spent their days at the beck and call of the officer, his wife and his children, washing cars, doing housework, acting as chauffeurs and even as enforcers when the Navy officer was in dispute with other residents over unsanctioned modifications he made to his condo. None of them were chained, but they wor So this is a “normal” as the Army commander claims, and it is reprehensible. It is part of the payoff for being a “puuyai,” and a part of the enforcement of hierarchy.

Update: Readers may be interested in the Bangkok Post’s Sanitsuda Ekachai’s Feudal system stunts shoots of democracy, which reflects on some of the issues above.

Sufficient nonsense

16 10 2013

Sanitsuda Ekachai is an editor at the Bangkok Post specializing in Buddhist issues and rural development and NGOs material. We were somewhat surprised that she has been beating the sufficiency economy drum again.

PPT had thought that the sufficiency economy discourse had died an appropriate death when it was linked with the geriatric royalist regime that the 2006 coup put in place. After all, the royalist Democrat Party gave it little attention, except in ideological terms, when they were hoisted to power by military and palace. So while it was put in development plans – does anyone look at these any more? – and posterior polishing conferences were organized bringing together well-paid luminaries with no particular knowledge of this “philosophy,” it seemed, well, forgotten.

While Sanitsuda knows it is an “empty mantra,” she seems to think that it needs resurrection in the fight against rapacious capitalists.Now which is the largest capitalist conglomerate in Thailand? Oh, yes, the (never sufficiency) monarchy…. Yet it was this line that got our attention:

The sufficiency economy concept initiated by His Majesty the King is lauded worldwide because it addresses the much-needed moral dimension of development and capitalism.

Lauded the world over? Really? We did a bit of a search, and apart from Thai royal pandering sites, there isn’t much. The best of these we saw was at a UNESCO site, where this was the blurb:

UNESCO Future Lecture – Towards a Sufficiency Economy: a New Ethical Paradigm for Sustainability: In Homage to the Philosophy on “Sufficiency Economy” by His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej

All of this event was Thai officials using taxpayer funds to promote the monarchy. A bit of an expensive yawn. There are some blogs that link to the notion and competing claims for ownership of the idea, For example,

Samuel Alexander is a founder of the Simplicity Institute, a group … making some of the most interesting contributions to the post-growth debate at the moment. In particular, their work has focused on the ‘sufficiency economy’….

Alexander is a new kid on the sufficiency/simplicity block, but there’s little evidence that  the king’s idea – if it was his – is being lauded worldwide.

The question is: why make this stuff up and publish it in a newspaper? To be honest, we can’t think of a single reason why a serious journalist would do this.

Tears and silences

22 11 2011

It has been interesting to observe how those who claim to be anti-Thaksin Shinawatra and also the bastions of true democracy in Thailand have shown themselves to have more than their fair share of anti-democratic values and ideas.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy showed that democracy was only really meant for an educated few. The PAD stage was often a site of pure right-wing xenophobia that sometimes descended into racism, usually directed at Cambodians. The crusty royalists, who have never even been pretend democrats, have also shown themselves capable of racism and anti-foreign comments.

A few days ago PPT commented on the “throwback male chauvinism” of an article by a senior editor at the Bangkok Post when referring to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. That comment could apply to much of the mainstream media.

In the Bangkok Post today there is a malicious piece of chauvinism disguised as an opinion page. You get the picture when you read: “… our lady prime minister‘s leadership style might not be well-suited to the situation. A flood is best managed with military-style leadership and centralised decision-making, with decentralised execution.” Note the Army is great refrain as well. Then this: “The prime minister’s matronly style and her aristocratic charm hardly fit the bill.” And, finally: “All of us were smitten by her demeanour, her glamour and her charisma.” This is a sexist call for a tough, manly leader dressed up as a call to Yingluck to bang heads and be a “real leader.” That it comes from Prapai Kraisornkovit “Lifestyle Editor” of the same gender as Yingluck doesn’t make it any less sexist.

One central element of this antediluvian chauvinism and a call for testosterone-laced leadership has been the focus on the premier’s alleged capacity to shed a tear when faced by the tragedy of the floods. That is nowhere better demonstrated than in the cartoons from the yellow-shirt mouthpiece known as ASTV/Manager, reproduced here, here and here at It is pretty nasty stuff and totally outdated. It can be nastier still, as Sanitsuda Ekachai commented in an article a few days ago.

In addition to Sanitsuda, there have been other critiques. We reckon that expressions of compassion has been sadly lacking in Thailand’s politics for some time. Think of all the political massacres that have been the work of a few men who were ever so manly in their violence.

Nowhere has the political divide been clearer than in the stunning silences that punctuate the discussion of leadership and tears, not least from people who claim to be feminists. They are the ones who should be most offended and very angry about this reassertion of women are weak trope.

We use that last word deliberately as a pointer to the claim that so-called new social movements were to be the leading edge of progressive politics in the 21st Century. That notion appears to have fallen on its postcolonial face in Thailand, where “new politics” is royalist, class-bound and anything but progressive.

Frustrations and valid demands

16 04 2009

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor at the Bangkok Post and no fan of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In a recent op-ed (16 April 2009: “The lie is out, now see truth for what it is”) she observes: “Thaksin has tapped into real popular frustrations with the status quo. They are fed up with the patron-client and the phuyai system and they want to have freedom of expression in order to make the establishment more transparent and accountable.” She adds: “These are valid demands in any democratic society.”

Just in case you thought that she was weakening in her stance against Thaksin, Sanitsuda continues, “Since there is no platform for them to express themselves openly and safely, they are forced to turn to the fugitive Thaksin whom they adopt as a symbol of challenge against authority. The Songkran riots showed how destructive things can get if their perceived injustice is ignored and whipped up by a powerful demagogue like Thaksin.”

This is at least a step ahead of those at The Nation who claim that all the protestors were bought by Thaksin or the Democrats view that all the rural “luk nong” were misled because they lack education and knowledge.

She continues: “Like it or not, the 2006 coup and the ensuing battles between the yellow and red shirts have opened a floodgate of dissatisfaction against old taboos. Since we cannot turn the tide, the only way forward is to provide a political safety-valve for change. This requires fixing structural inequalities and providing safety for political expression of all shades. It also entails a rethinking of the lese majeste law to strike a balance between cultural reverence and freedom of expression. An open society which allows dissenting views is not only an indicator of political maturity, it is also key to long-term peace. If and when that is the case, Thaksin Shinawatra’s political trantrums will become meaningless.”

This “cultural reverence” notion reflects Sanitsuda’s well-known penchant for rural romanticism and also appears to accept something like the Bowornsak argument about the monarchy and  lesè majesté. However, as she has done in the past in different contexts, Sanitsuda now needs to ask who it is that has created a society that is full of taboos, injustice, inequality and repression.

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