Updated: Newin, Japanese porn and Buriram politics

10 03 2012

Some time ago, PPT took to posting funny, odd or quirky posts related to politics on weekends. We haven’t done that for some time, but can’t resist it today.

The Wall Street Journal carries a rather odd story about Buriram’s political chameleon and champion vote buyer-cum-royalist-cum-football promoter Newin Chidchob. First some background and serious stuff.

Newin and Abhisit with their kit on

Newin is the politician who left the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra fold to have his allied politicians join the Army-brokered deal to hoist the Democrat Party to government and Abhisit Vejjajiva to the premiership in December 2008.

His supporters formed the Bhum Jai Thai Party that grabbed important ministerial posts under Abhisit and milked them for political, personal and financial gain. Newin’s blue shirts also played a significant role in instigating the initial violence that led to the red shirt’s Songkhran uprising. Newin also pioneered the contemporary mobilization of ultra-royalists through fostering a campaign that painted the crown as under threat.

Newin, whose 5-year political ban is coming to an end in May, has been concentrating his recent efforts on consolidating his control in his home province of Buriram after cracks appeared in the 2011 election. His promotion of football has been a big part of this effort.

Like many old-style and wealthy provincial politicians Newin has a thuggish nak leng/gangster chao phor character. Often arrogant, men of this ilk often do things that raise eyebrows and draw criticism.

Now to Newin’s latest “coup.” The WSJ claims that he “plans to import a team of Japanese adult video [porn] stars to liven up the Thai New Year celebrations in his hometown of Buriram.” He appears to believe that “having stars from Japan’s pornography industry dance and sing at Buriram’s celebrations” would be good for tourism.

Newin told “local television this week, … [that] the Japanese performers would not be any naughtier than local dancers…”. Newin said that celebrations of Songkhran were already raunchy in Thailand, so why not add the foreign porn stars. We doubt Newin will be getting naked in public.

It is one of those “huh?/”really?” stories from provincial Thailand that brings a chuckle but incredulity as well. As the report points out, it isn’t “clear why Mr. Newin is stirring up what he surely knows to be a hornet’s nest. He couldn’t immediately be reached for further comment.” The WSJ speculates on tourism and politics and embarrassing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra while she is in Japan, as well as simply getting attention.

The WSJ reckons this plan will cause Newin political damage. Somehow we doubt it. Newin wants crowds, and this wacky idea will do that for him.

Update: An eagle-eyed reader has pointed out that we missed an important connection for Newin, and not nearly so wacky as the Japanese porno link. This most serious link was reported a few days ago in Prachatai, referring to one of the thuggish twins Supot and Supat Silarat who were kind of jailed for bashing Nitirat activist Worachet Pakeerut.

Matichon reported on 6 March that, according to Somsak Puapan, Thanyaburi District Chief, in Nov 2010 Suphot registered a semi-automatic .45 pistol, which was distributed in a government officials’ welfare programme, using an identification card as a volunteer ranger attached to Ranger Taskforce 26 in Buriram province, issued by a colonel in May 2008 which expired in May 2010.

Suphat also used a similar identification card to register two semi-automatic 9mm pistols, a Beretta and an NZU 707 Glock, the latter distributed to officials of the Department of Provincial Administration.

Readers may recall that Newin has long mobilized “volunteer rangers” and some of these were said by some to be the core of the blue shirts. The idea that the twins could be Newin’s hired or “volunteer” thugs is highly likely.





Updated: Topless teenagers leave elite outraged, while killing red shirts is ignored

17 04 2011

If the endless reports and blogs are to be believed, a couple of teenagers getting their tops off during Songkhran revelries is an outrage. The Nation is just one of the outlets reporting the shock and horror experienced by the self-appointed guardians of what is proper and what is to be condemned.

The Nation reports that “Bangrak District Office director Surakiat Limcharern yesterday lodged a complaint with police over topless female Songkran revellers whose sexy dancing near Silom Road was recorded and posted on the Internet.” He opined that such displays hurt “the image of Thailand…”. Surakiat also “urged police to track down the teenagers who have carried out obscene acts in public places.”

He was joined in this outrage by National Police Commissioner General Wichien Potposri, who “vowed action against both the topless revellers and their cheering crowds.” (Oops, there’s that telltale cheering again.) And the Minister for Culture Nipit Intarasombat demanded “action taken against those lending loudspeakers and stereo systems for the topless dancing.” He threatened the girls with fines and required “cultural work.” Culture Watch Centre (yes, that’s the name) director “Ladda Tangsupachai yesterday disclosed that Nipit also instructed her to officially ask the National Police Office and the ICT Ministry to ban the video clips on the Internet.”

PPT expects this moral panic to continue for a while yet. Politicians must certainly chime in.

But a moment’s thought will confirm how horrid this reaction is. A few young women getting their tops off gets the elite upset. Killing red shirts around Songkhran (in 2009 and 2010) seems to bring cheers and joy for the elite. Where was the outrage from the elite when the army killed protesters? Perhaps this event will serve as a reminder of the lack of morality amongst the royalist elite….

Update: One of the interesting responses on the 5 minutes of topless dancing that we found interesting, pointed out by a regular reader, is this from the Public Relations Department:

The Ministry of Culture is preparing to issue handbooks campaigning for greater awareness of youngsters on the genuine value of Songkran Festival after inappropriate behaviors were spotted during the Thai New Year celebration.

This refers to the exposed breasts while dancing and a “similar incident” in Pichit province, where the topless dancers were transvestites.

The minister said … [it] is necessary to instil awareness of Thai culture among children and youths, he said. The ministry will soon issue handbooks to be distributed for that purpose.

Protecting public morals is a task that the conservative elite takes on when “protecting” the “institutions” of the old society, most notably the monarchy. The need for protection usually signals a demise.





Royalism and Songkhran

28 03 2011

PPT may just have missed this seepage of royalism, but Hello! magazine’s website tells us this (with their bolding kept):

The monarchy is a fundamental facet of Thai life, and King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest-serving monarch, having come to the throne in 1946. This year’s Songkran will honour and pay particular homage to the king, and numerous special ceremonies have been organised in Bangkok and throughout the country. Songkran is celebrated in a similar fashion all around Thailand, but there are regional differences with local folk traditions playing an important part.

Note the “fundamental facet” claim. When did Songkhran become a celebration of the king and monarchy? Is this just more royalist propaganda? Or is it part of the royalist project of taking over all space that might be considered associated with red shirts or, more broadly, the masses?





Land of smoke and mirrors

5 05 2010

Justin Alick has a piece available at Austria’s FM4 web site on media and censorship in Thailand related to the 10 April events, with several pictures. Worth reading for its perspective on these events, including the red shirt confrontation with hospital authorities at that time.

The protesters then, fearing that the government might again be able to claim “no deaths” – as they had in April 2009. Alick then reports on the changing “story” of the Battle for Bangkok. He tells of how the “official story” of the events had to change as “recorded images and videos of the massacre … began to flood the internet…”.

Alick refers to the failure to – until Abhisit Vejjajiva’s recent offer of an early election – the failure to consider an  independent investigation into the events. He adds: “Thailand is many things, but a bastion of transparency it is not. The modern Thai state was born out of an unsolved murder over sixty years old, which still cannot safely be spoken or written about from within the country…”.

On this, he says:  “I have witnessed history being written and then unwritten before my very eyes. I have taken part in events that never officially happened. I have seen footage of protesters being shot or beaten by soldiers disappear behind censorship notices, later denied by authorities as ever having actually existed. This is a country where internet speeds have been reduced to a crawl due to the sheer volume of web sites being blocked, where people who speak their minds get put away with murderers and rapists.” The latter comment is about lese majeste.

Alick refers to “another war going on in Thailand, fought not with machine guns or grenades or even sticks or stones- but with camera phones, an internet connection, and a good proxy server.” It is, he asserts, “a war over what will and will not be in tomorrow’s newspapers, television shows, and history books, setting those who expose the uncomfortable truths about Thailand against those who wish to cover them up. It is nothing less than a war over reality itself – over what is truth and what is lies; what is real and what isn’t.” He notices that the “most potent weapon … is censorship…”.

The current Abhisit Vejjajiva government has used this weapon “with great enthusiasm…”. He again refers to lese majeste and adds the Computer Crimes Act as a second potent weapon. Others are the Internal Security Act, the Emergency Decree, and threats by the security apparatus, noting the recent case of the Student Federation of Thailand whose leaders were summoned to appear before the military. Alick points out that these students were amongst many who have been summarily told to appear to face unspecified charges.

Read the whole article.





With 3 updates: A brief lull and a renewed threat

22 04 2010

After what many assumed – including PPT – was a propaganda blitz that was preparing the way for another push to clear the red shirt demonstrators, this time from the Rajaprasong area, there has been a 24 hour lull. This saw much talk of negotiation, and several media outlets reported all sides reaching out for talks. However, the Bangkok Post (22 April 2010) reports that the ever-threatening Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the spokesman for the Centre for the Resolutions of Emergency Situations, “has warned red-shirt protesters camped in the Ratchaprasong area that troops are waiting for an appropriate time to take back the area.”

Sansern said: “Your time is running out. Please leave the area and report to the authorities…. This is not a threat. This is real…”. He added that”[a]uthorities will take decisive action against protesters when they disperse the mob…”.

Some pundits are suggesting Friday or Saturday evening as the likely time for government action. This feels a little like the standoff that briefly developed when troops surrounded the remaining red shirt demonstrators at the end of the Songkhran Uprising in 2009, which eventually led to red shirts, feeling that they were going to be crushed, accepted government offers to retire from the rally. The best scenario is that the government/military is hoping for a similar outcome this time. The worst scenario could be troops again clashing violently with determined red shirts.

Update 1: The government is making the most of anti-red shirt sentiment and is stoking it. Colonel Sansern said: “To take people in Bangkok hostage is not right…”. AP reports that “[a]nger among Bangkok residents is mounting against the Red Shirt protesters…. The weeks of protests have forced hotels and offices to close and are threatening the livelihoods of those who work in the “occupation zone.” This is only partly correct. There is no doubt that the occupation of Rajaprasong is hitting businesses in the area hard. Indeed, the government is thinking of compensating them. However, as has been remarked many times, the red shirts also have enormous support from Bangkok’s working and service classes.

And when AP says that there is a “loose coalition opposed to the Red Shirts has started taking to the streets and clashed with the protesters on Wednesday, tossing stones, bottles and shouting, ‘Give back our city’ and ‘Hillbillies, get out’,” they seem to be misunderstanding that they are attacking their workers, janitors, taxi drivers, maids, masseuses, wait staff, and so on. Or maybe they do understand and they see this as a class war.

Update 2: See Simon Roughneen’s updated photos including on the rally at Silom. Scroll down through his story and pictures.

Update 3: The Nation reports that the “Civil Court Thursday evening issued an injunction against the use of force to break up the red-shirt rally at Rajprasong Intersection. But the court noted that the demonstration affected the public so the government could use internationally-accepted measures to deal with the protesters form lighter to harsher measures.” PPT is not sure what this means, for the government always claims to be using “international standards.”





Updated: Red shirts, censorship and a predicted crackdown

9 04 2010

The Bangkok Post (9 April 2010) reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now with almost total control over the televised media, has defended the decision to shut down the red shirts’ People Channel, claiming it “aired disinformation so people would turn on the government. This endangered national security.” More specifically, Abhisit appears to be personally affronted because the red shirts played a tape on stage that Abhisit says “falsely claimed the government was using weapons to suppress protesters.” Propaganda and censorship chief Sathit Wongnongtoey “said the red shirts had provoked hatred of the government.” He claimed that the red shirts had “doctored video and audio material to discredit the government.”

Preventing oppositional voices is now defined as a means of defending national security.

Thailand’s Cable TV Association president Kasem Inkaew “warned that the closure of PTV would draw more UDD supporters to the red shirt rallies,” and said that members “had received many calls from subscribers who were angry after the rally broadcasts were suspended…”.

As usual, a couple of yellow-shirted academics have defended the government, with Thammasat University law lecturer Surachai Sirikrai saying the shutdown was warranted because People TV presented “one-sided information that threatened public peace.” That logic would mean shutting down all television stations in the country.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology is reported as “warning that all websites linked with the red shirt demonstrations and those encouraging people to join tomorrow’s mass rally will be blocked immediately. ICT permanent secretary Sue Lor-uthai yesterday said the warning came after the Centre for Public Administration in Emergency Situations authorised his ministry to tackle websites and Twitter users considered provocative and inciting disunity.  Mr Sue said the authority given to the ministry would help efforts to ban websites quickly rather than wait for a court order.  Mr Sue said almost 10,000 website links had been blocked since March when the red shirt demonstration began.  Bans on another 700 links were awaiting court approval, he said.”

At about the same time, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn has claimed that the government is only using peaceful means.Ominously, however, he adds that the “government was using the approach employed during the bloody Songkran protests last year.” That response to the Songkhran Uprising was claimed by the government to have been “measured,” but resulted in dozens of injuries and at least 4 related deaths.

It now seems just a matter of time – at least for the government – before the crackdown begins.

The government claims to have the military brass on side for its proposed actions against the red shirt protesters, but this is not absolutely clear. Wassana Nanuam says that it may be deputy army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha who will have “to head the operation to disperse the red shirt demonstrators…” as his boss, General Anupong Paojinda is “reportedly uncomfortable with a plan to break up the protests.” There is speculation he may refuse to act and that the government may have to get General Prayuth to do the job.

Wassana reports that Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “are reported to have locked horns with Gen Anupong on Tuesday over a plan to disperse the red shirts. The army chief was quoted as saying the security authorities had no authority to move in and break up the rally at Ratchaprasong intersection.”

General Prayuth is said to have “mobilised 50 companies of troops from the 2nd and 3rd Army Regions and from the Lop Buri-based Special Operations Command to help beef up security in Bangkok.” Anupong is not inactive however, and has “asked suppliers of tear gas and rubber bullets to speed up deliveries.” He has also  “given clear instructions to troops not to use firearms if they embark on an operation to disperse the demonstrators. Soldiers have been told to use only crowd control equipment – mainly water cannons, batons, shields, tear gas and rubber bullets.”

It is a situation balanced on a knife-edge.

Update: Worth reading the report at Inter Press Service for an assessment of the politics of this current censorship. Also worth reading is this TIME report on the military.





With 3 updates: Reaction to reds and talks

30 03 2010

Update 1: It seems that the Bangkok Post’s usually reasonably reliable military affairs reporter Wassana got it wrong in her article cited below on the location of the cabinet meeting. Channel 3 shows the cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Public Health, surrounded by soldiers and police.

Update 2: The Nation (31 March 2010) has a surprisigly fair account of the second round of talks. This is an interesting point:

Veera [Musikapong] tried to befriend the youthful premier by saying: ‘We are the same, we are all victims of the military coup’. ‘Not exactly,’ Abhisit should have said, before he began justifying the 2006 military coup, the junta-sponsored Constitution and his government that took the power in accordance with the Constitution. Instead, he implied: “If there was no Thaksin, there would have been no coup.”

PPT can confirm from our own meetings that most senior Democrat Party members have this same view, blaming Thaksin Shinawatra for everything and believe that the “fight to the death” is justified in keeping Thaksin at bay. See our earlier post about Kasit.

And this also: “As the Oxford-educated Abhisit continued lecturing about the philosophy of democracy, Jatuporn Promphan, another red-shirt leader, decided to fight back like a pit bull, breaking up the philosophical debate and dragging the negotiators back to the real issue. ‘We are here to talk about the dissolution of Parliament. If the government will not accept this, should we all stop now and go our different ways?’ he said.”

Another point seldom made: “People keep saying that Jatuporn is fighting for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, but in actual fact, this red-shirt leader is no stranger to the fight for democracy. He started fighting for the principle from the uprising against the military in May 1992. Yet, as he says, he has nothing more than a Toyota Fortuner to show for his decades in the political field.”

Update 3: Wassana Nanuam explains the change of the location of the cabinet meeting on Monday. She reports in the Bangkok Post (31 March 2010) that “The cabinet also opted to relocate the cabinet’s meeting venue yesterday from the prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment to the Public Health Ministry.  A CAPO source said army chief Anupong Paojinda ordered the relocation late on Monday night.  The order was made after a number of cabinet members said they did not want to enter the barracks because the government had already been accused of being propped up by the military, the CAPO source said.

It was stated that “another important reason was the criticism of holding a meeting in a prayer room in the presence of a huge Buddha image, which is inappropriate…”. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said “many cabinet members preferred to meet at the Public Health Ministry because they felt it was a more convenient location with several entrances and good services.”  And, the “number of soldiers guarding the venue of the cabinet meeting was reduced from about 5,000 troops to 1,200 to avoid panicking staff at the Public Health Ministry…”.

**

On the first day of the talks, red shirt co-leader Veera Musikapong said: “”Our request is simple and direct. We would like Parliament dissolved to return power to the people, so they can make their decision…”. This, however, is the stumbling point. The government believes that it cannot win an election, so its negotiating point is on “constitutional reform” and hence delaying an election for a further 9 months.

The government side and its supporters and backers are also firmly of the view that elections cannot solve the problems created by the political contestation that has continued for several years. Given the response of the military, palace, royalists and their yellow-shirted supporters to elections in 2005, 2006 and 2007, this position may well be correct for these forces can never accept a government that they cannot control or which they believe is linked to their hated enemy, Thaksin Shinawatra.

On Tuesday, The Nation (30 March 2010) reported that the talks between red shirts and a Democrat Party team led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had “reached an impasse yesterday as both sides failed to find a common stance to end the ongoing stand-off.” In fact, PPT’s taxi driver earlier on Monday had already said that the talks were dead because of the government’s unwillingness to consider a dissolution in the near term (on the news of this, see the Bangkok Post). At the same time, the taxi driver continued to listen to the live broadcast of the second round of talks.

The two sides initially appeared to agree on further talks after Abhisit returned from a trip to Bahrain. The Nation reports, however that the red shirts “suggested the talks be suspended indefinitely as the stances of both sides looks unlikely to change.” There’s no indication why this trip is more critical for Abhisit than the political negotiations with the red shirts.

On Monday evening, Abhisit had demanded that there be no dissolution until “late this year after a referendum on amendments to the Constitution. Abhisit also said the government needed time to pass the budget bill for the next fiscal year. His finance minister later appeared on television news programs opposing any dissolution and arguing  for keeping the economic recovery on track.

All the talk of constitutional reform and a referendum remains somewhat mute as the Bangkok Post reports that the coalition parties have agreed to dissolve parliament by the end of the year after the government amends the constitution but reject a referendum.

There was more spark in the discussions, with Abhisit repeatedly talking over the red shirt leaders and trying to rebut their statements. Red shirt negotiator Jatuporn Promphan stated that the “government and Prime Minister Abhisit had no legitimacy to stay in the power, because the government was set up undemocratically.” He added fuel to this fire by mentioning corruption, double standards and pointing to hypocrisy: “You used to call for the late prime minister Samak Sundaravej to dissolve Parliament when the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance’s for Democracy protested in 2008, so why don’t you apply the same principle today…. Just simply follow your own words, and you’d be a great leader.” A series of other allegations got Abhisit upset – these tend to be the more personalized attacks on him – and relate to violent actions last April during the Songkhran Uprising.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post (30 March 2010) reports on an “historic first when it is held in a prayer room at the 11th Infantry Regiment compound surrounded by 5,000 troops.” The image of a cabinet meeting being held and guarded by 5,000 troops is astounding. It is reported that more than “1,500 [soldiers] have been assigned to undertake foot patrols. Armoured vehicles, personnel carriers and water trucks are also on alert.”

But it gets better. Apparently, the cabinet is to “discuss national affairs before a statue of Phra Phutthachaisirinimitpatima [also called Luang Phor Cherd]. A government spokesman said it was hoped the move would boost morale among MPs disheartened by the continuing political turmoil.” Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “said it was the first time he would attend a cabinet meeting in the presence of a giant Buddha statue.”

Readers may notice that when the government resorts to ritual and religion, it is termed “historic,” but that when red shirts do the same thing, albeit far more spectacularly, they are rounded on as superstitious Neanderthals. Weak-kneed, middle-class academics wince and cry foul because the pouring of blood is “gruesome” and they consider it some kind of “violence” against people’s state of mind. Perhaps this government ritual is meant to show the difference between black and white magic.

Some of those weak-kneed academics are the core of NGOs. Today they also seem to be the main constituency of these organizations. The Bangkok Post reports that NGOs, academics and senators “have welcomed negotiations between the government and red shirt protest leaders but doubt they will solve any problems.”

The “Network of Non-governmental Organisations yesterday praised representatives of the government and the …UDD … for talking to each other…. The network called for a dissolution of the House in six months, public participation in constitutional amendments, a referendum on any amendment, public participation to work out solutions to social inequality and corruption and an end to unreasonable accusations and threats through the media.”

While Somchai Preechasilpakul of the online education forum Midnight University sounded reasonable when he, “criticised Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for trying to buy time by demanding the constitution be amended before he would dissolve the House,” others lined up to support the government with statements about dissolution not solving problems and needing to be delayed.

Senator Prasarn Marukhapitak saw dissolution as unlikely to “lead to any solution,” Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn “said a dissolution was not the only problem,” Senator Surasak Sri-arun “said red shirt protest leaders were always changing their demands. Initially they battled for constitutional amendments but later turned to demand a dissolution of the lower house.”

The real leaders of the minor coalition parties, none of them actually in parliament, want different things. Newin Chidchob favors constitutional change but no referendum. Banharn Silpa-archa election rules amended. Suwat Liptapanlop wants a dissolution but no constitutional change. There are also differences within the coalition parties on the sections of the constitution to be amended. The Democrat Party has no desire to “change the section regarding the election system from multi-representative to single-seat constituencies.”

It seems that the talks have been used more or less to reduce pressure on the government and to buy time, still hoping (what are seen as) the horrid peasants occupying Bangkok will tire and go home, leaving the government free to continue in office. Such a perspective draws on beliefs about who is born to rule and the perception that most of the red shirts are Thaksin proxies and duped or paid. These attitudes run very deep and have been reinforced – rather than shaken – by recent events and the language of class warfare. The elite understands that they are in a war that their class and allies must win.





Updated: Will they get it?

14 03 2010

Update: PPT went back at about 9 p.m. and the crowd had swelled considerably and had moved onto Rajadamnoen, and out of the shade that had been so prized under the blistering sun earlier in the day. It seemed that many people from close to Bangkok had joined in, and more people from the “middle class” and workers from factories and the service sector had joined in (this is impressionistic, based on a few quick questions to people who said they couldn’t get there until after work). The festive atmosphere remained – PPT got there just after the Thaksin phone-in. Still very difficult to estimate numbers, but safe to say that most of the mainstream media estimates are way too low and the government’s figure via the Ministry of Interior – less than 50,000 – is deliberately misleading. Anyone relying on television reports of the event would have no idea what it was about and who was there. That “reporting” is shameless propaganda.

***

One of the PPT collective spent several hours at the red shirt rally at the Pan Fah Bridge and Rajadamnoen Road, from about 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The taxi driver on the way there in the morning told of taxis and buses being kept off the road today because of fears growing out of the Songkhran Uprising.

The first thing that is noticeable from PPT’s visit to the rally is that many of the estimates of its size depend entirely on which agenda is being promoted. When PPT returned to watch some television reports, one commentator at ThaiPBS claimed 5,000 in the morning and 40,000 at noon. PPT would say that this commentator was out by very large factor. Various press reports said there were 80,000 last night, and this was a police estimate. At 6 a.m, PPT would estimate some 40,000.However, most people were not at the stage area at this time. By 10.30 a.m. it took PPT a full 15 minutes to pass across the Pan Fah bridge, so thick was the crowd.

PPT walked from Lan Luang to Sanam Luang, back to Pan Fah Bridge, down Rajadamnoen Nok and all the way back to Sanam Luang, before ending up back at the Democracy Monument. PPT cannot guess how many people were there by noon. However, we can say that from Pan Fah to the end of the road closure at Rajadamnoen Nok was packed. From Pan Fah to Democracy Monument was pretty much full and from the Monument to Sanam Luang, both pavements and the first lane on each side were packed.

At 3 p.m. news reports were saying that people were still traveling in, especially on the river, where the government was trying to prevent landings by (according to ThaiPBS) some 200 vessels.

The atmosphere was reasonably festive. It was incredibly hot by 10 a.m. and almost unbearably so for those like PPT who were taking long walks through crowded areas. Lots of little things caught the eye: the small children at the rally; everyone in red, some literally from head to toe; massage available at footpath points; the red shirt crowd at the Rattanakosin Hotel watching the Manny Pacquiao vs Joshua Clottey fight; a monk writing up red shirt placards; the huge range of red paraphernalia for sale; the large number of elderly red shirts assembled; the police with all indentifying insignia and names removed from their uniforms; and so on.

The contingents of police and military were there, but relatively small groups. Larger groups were assembled at strategic points at some distance from the rally area.

Because PPT was continually moving across a wide area, it was not always easy to keep up with the speeches from the stage. A few observations can be made. One is that the speeches were devoid of nationalist and royalist references. PPT cannot recall such a determined avoidance of these symbolisms in the past. No royal symbols in the crowd at all. Heard one guy who walked upt o friends wearing a yellow shirt get quite a ribbing – we think it was the only yellow shirt PPT saw. They were replaced by calls for fairness, justice, opposition to Abhisit’s government, amart, Prem Tinsulanonda, double standards and the military (the latter tempered by statements about how many soldiers and police were “red at heart”). One of the speeches PPT heard but could not see who was making it was one that placed all of these things into a context of class warfare.

The main speech at just after midday made the call for the government to dissolve the House of Representatives within 24 hours. This call was made much earlier in the day, but this time it was by a leader – we couldn’t see, but understand it was Veera Musikapong. Very little chance of that, so the next step is tricky for both government and red shirts.

PPT doubts that many of Bangkok’s population will ever know what is being said at the rally apart from the call for the government to call an election. The media are doing a remarkably poor job of reporting what is happening, even to the point of hardly showing the crowds assembled (TNN had shown some silent shots) and, as far as we can tell, no attempt to present the views of those in the huge crowd. Most of this crowd present a profile that is very different from the “average Bangkokian.” That might seem a slightly odd statement, but there is a clear difference. It is not so much an ethnic difference, although that’s there; and it is not simplistic rich vs. poor; it is, we suspect, basically a class difference. Bangkok is very quiet outside the rally area. They’ll only be getting pro-government views from television and will never hear the issues involved, let alone understand them.

If PPT gets over sun stroke and dehydration, we might get down to the rally again later tonight, when the crowd will probably assemble and grow.





Worrying about the red shirts

13 03 2010

The mainstream media is stoking further fears regarding the red shirts. ThaiPBS has been running a series of government spots that recall the Songkhran Uprising and calling on “all Thais” to defend against the evil ones who create problems. One animated spot seemed to imply that the problems all derived from outside Thailand’s borders. ThaiPBS is a government mouthpiece, but the nature of this propaganda is breathtaking.

The Bangkok Post reports “threats” by red shirts and refers to them as a “horde” descending on the city and adds: “Red shirt protesters in the provinces are gathering momentum before they are due to flood into Bangkok…”. The same source, in the first cited story seemed disappointed that the red shirts were somehow orderly and non-violent: “The first day of the 72-hour red shirt protest drew embarrassingly small crowds but leaders said it was a ‘prelude’ to much bigger events.”

The Nation claims to have discovered “red scandal.” This involves various red shirts receiving funds. While it might be recalled that the red shirts were yesterday said to be broke and that Thaksin Shinawatra wasn’t paying “his bills,” it is now found that the red shirts are “paying supporters.” This plays nicely into the view of red shirts as all being paid protestors. The problem with the story is that the red shirts made it clear that they were raising funds and that those providing transport would be paid at the various staging points on the way to Bangkok.

Unlike members of the Shinawatra family, media does not have Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s family “fleeing.” The Bangkok Post says they have “moved out of the house following the two attacks.” The attacks refer to two men throwing bags of excrement at his house from the street. Like so many others in the elite, Abhisit’s wife and children have made the trip to Hua Hin. PPT knows of several Democrat MPs that have also made the trip to Hua Hin. Maybe the next red shirt rally should be there.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post states that Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban are at the 11th Infantry Regiment base in Bang Khen, which is “the government’s and the army’s command centre as it enforces the Internal Security Act, which will be in effect until March 23.

Abhisit and Suthep are said to be using houses “built on the orders of Sonthi Boonyaratkalin while he was chairman of the Council of National Security, which engineered the 2006 coup.” Maybe Sonthi is there – he still occupies one of the three houses – and they can compare notes with the man who prepared the way for the Democrat Party-led royalist government.

They also have four helicopters on standby for emergency evacuation.

Outspoken Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij is in Tokyo – presumably he didn’t flee either – and, according to the Bangkok Post has chimed in with a prediction of violence. Some red shirt leaders apparently agree. Both sides point fingers at each other. But the red shirts claim reported in the Bangkok Post is interesting: “Natthawut [Saikua ] claimed to have detected an unusual movement of thousands of people to Bangkok, where he said they would put on red shirts and instigate chaos and violence. He said he suspected this could be the work of ‘an exorcist from Buri Ram’ an apparent reference to Newin Chidchob of the Bhumjaithai Party.

All news outlets continue to report that red shirts traveling from the countryside are experiencing exceptionally long delays – there are several reports of this at the Bangkok Post website – and there are claims made that this is a deliberate strategy. Bangkok Pundit even reports that the military are using their useless GT200 to check vehicles. Bangkok Pundit is also correct in stating that there is an inordinate effort to weed out “foreigners” from those traveling to Bangkok. All the news reports have had police and military talking about stopping migrant workers participating in the red shirt rally.





Abhisit, king, red shirts, rallies

10 03 2010

As readers can imagine, there is lots of news to follow at present. Here we present some summaries of those that caught our eye. Readers might want to follow the links for more details.

Abhisit meets the king: The Nation (9 March 2010) reported the royal audience and dissembling or revision. It was earlier clear that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made a special visit. Now The Nation says: “There was no official word on the meeting, particularly what was discussed, but it was understood that the simmering political situation was included in Abhisit’s routine briefing to the King.” Hardly a routine visit. By the way, aren’t there health regulations about dogs in hospitals?

Some have suggested that Abhisit postponed his trip to Australia following the meeting with the king. That seems not to fit the timeline of events.

Fears expressed and made: In the report cited above, Abhisit continues to share his rumors with the ever eager media. This time he reveals that unnamed “people” have been calling him – who has his number apart from colleagues and friends? – and “told me a lot of military fatigues were bought at the Chatuchak Market and bullets at gun shops in the Phahurat area were sold out. Water pipes were also bought to make guns…”. It may be true, but why is the country’s leader spreading unverified rumor? To instill fear and loathing perhaps?

Meanwhile, and along the same lines, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban states: “Our intelligence shows that many of the [red shirt] groups show a tendency to use violence…”. He also claimed that “some of the red shirts planned to besiege government offices and residences of important figures, like Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda.” He added that “many groups were likely to ‘operate’ … [and] threaten normal life and the welfare of city residents.

Just for good measure, The Nation (9 March 2010) reports that the Democrat Party-led Bangkok administration has stated that it fears grenade attacks during the rallies. Why do they have this fear? The answer seems to be that Prime Minister Abhisit “informed them about intelligence pointing to violence in the capital.” That intelligence apparently concludes that there will be “bomb attacks in at least two locations and grenades would be thrown at 30-40 locations, particularly ‘important places’.” The police are reported as expecting “worse violence than before.” PPT assumes they mean worse than the Songkhran Uprising last year for there’s been no violence at red shirt rallies since then.

There are also a myriad of rumors being spread by email and text messages. The Nation reports on university students receiving warnings of a big riot and urging them to “stock up on food and to withdraw money from banks.” PPT has received similar emails, usually forwarded from unknown sources that have all kinds of advice for Bangkokians on how to oppose the red shirts.

The Nation in full froth: The Nation (9 March 2010) is in full panic mode, frothing over the upcoming red shirt rally. It expects a “huge” rally and comes up with the idea that the red rally is “Maoist tactics of the ‘forest surrounding the town’…”. That should cause apoplexy amongst the already frightened middle class who tend to see the red shirts as a Khmer Rouge-like danger.

Overthrowing the royalist government: In the same report, red shirt leader Nattawut Saikua is quoted as saying that “low-rank military officers from the lower class and grass-roots would work to help the red shirts topple the aristocrat-backed government.” He adds: “We call it the watermelon army – meaning they wear a green uniform but have a red heart inside. They will come out to help us…”.

The red shirts have circulated an email in English to various people and groups in Bangkok headed “A Message to the Good People of Bangkok and International Communities.” It says, in part: “On Friday the 12th of March, a campaign aimed at ending the age of the Thai military dictatorship and restoring freedom, democracy and justice to our beautiful nation will begin. At this very moment, hundreds of thousands of people from all across our country not already in Bangkok are preparing to make their way to the capital, in defiance of a regime that has proven its willingness to commit violence and strip away the human rights of those who speak against it.”

On the red shirt beliefs, it says this: “These people are united by a few key beliefs. The belief in our constitutional monarchy. The belief in the power of non-violent change. The belief in double-standards-free justice. And the belief that, as Thai citizens, they deserve to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. These people are united under the banner of the … UDD. And they are not to be feared- because if you believe in these things, then you are one of them as well.”

Recognizing the fear of people in Bangkok, it says: “We are convinced that for the coming struggle we need no guns, bullets or blades, but only solidarity and sincerity in our hearts. We have learned from the mistakes of the past, and will allow no repeat of them. We will stand together, we will remain vigilant against troublemakers, and we will take care to ensure that no foreigner is harmed or intimidated. We will stare defiantly down the barrels of the guns of the soldiers who remain loyal to the men who wish us to remain silent and submissive, and we will embrace with open arms those who wish to put down their weapons and join us.” The red shirts call on Bangkokians to join them in their struggle.

Internal Security Act: As expected, the royalist government has decided to use the Internal Security Act that puts the army in charge. The ISA is to be enforced from 11 to 23 March for all of Bangkok and Nonthaburi, and some districts in Pathum Thani, Samut Sakhon, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Chachoengsao and Ayutthaya.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep is reported in The Nation (10 March 2010) as referring to protesters wanting to “paralyse Bangkok traffic and some may even carry out violent actions, throwing grenades or burning down government buildings in a bid to provoke the use of force.”

Suthep also made the remarkable claim to cabinet that “the international intelligence community also agreed that the red shirts’ moves were undemocratic and that their protests could be regarded as terrorist acts.” PPT wonders which international intelligence sources Suthep has access to? Maybe the British as their ambassador Quinton Quayle, who has expressed his admiration for Abhisit, came out on television last night supporting the government. He’s reported in The Nation (10 March 2010) as having “yesterday expressed his concern over the red-shirt demonstration.” Presumably he won’t be chastised for interfering in domestic political affairs.

Meanwhile, PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey has been assigned to come up with a television program “on the state-run TV Channel 11 from 10pm to midnight to explain the security measures being taken.” Sathit is one who has a tendency to propagandize, so this will be an interesting intervention. While Channel 11 has limited viewers, it is nationwide and presumably bits of the program will be relayed via other channels as news.

Fleeing the country?: The Bangkok Post (10 March 2010) and The Nation (10 March 2010) have roughly the same headline but significantly different stories on what the Post headlines as “Shinawatras flee country before rally” and “Family said to fear being held hostage.” The Post says that “Members of Thaksin Shinawatra’s immediate family have left or are leaving the country ahead of this weekend’s rally by supporters of the fugitive former prime minister.” It says Potjaman and the three Shinawatra kids will have left by Wednesday night. The Nation’s headline is “Thaksin’s family not fleeing, but flying out.” It says only the two daughters will have left, on business in Zurich. It states: “Thaksin’s ex-wife Pojaman na Pombejra, their son Panthongtae, will remain in Thailand though they plan to leave the country soon…”.

Abhisit saw a political opportunity and in The Nation (10 March 2010) is reported as noting that it “was intriguing as they had done the same thing before last year’s Songkran mayhem.” Abhisit added: “I would like to ask the protesters to think carefully about what and for whom they are rising and fighting…”.

PPT is not entirely sure that this Songkhran Uprising is correct for that event, but recalls reports of some of them leaving. Readers may know better. Our record show PM’s Office Minister Sathit making this claim on 8 April 2009, but this was denied a day later, suggesting that only some members of the family had left and some even appeared at a red shirt rally in subsequent days.

In any case, why are the Shinawatra’s accused of “fleeing” but not, say, Newin Chidchob? The Nation says “de-factor leader of the Bhum Jai Thai party, has reportedly left for London where, according to Pheu Thai Party’s chief adviser Chalerm Yoobamrung, he has set up a war room to order a crackdown on the red shirts.” A party spokesman said he was only in London on a private visit. He visits while Shinawatra’s flee…. And when the premier and other government ministers are offered “safe houses,” presumably this is prudent rather than fleeing to safety (Bangkok Post, 10 March 2010).