Crush the red shirts!

24 12 2010

These days PPT generally ignores the rantings that are apparently meant to pass for opinion at The Nation. However, Sopon Onkgara’s latest is worthy of some attention.

Sophon, ever-exercised by red shirts because he considers them Thaksin Shinawatra allies, seems rattled that such a large crowd of red shirts “flexed their muscles again on Sunday…”. He still believes that it is Thaksin who finances every red shirt action.

The big issue for Sopon is that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is altogether too sanguine and too weak, only being “saved” by the military in 2010 when  “Abhisit had to seek protection inside a military barracks.” The government has “limited imagination” and lacks the guts to take decisive action against its opponents.

Apparently the deaths of almost 100 and injuring thousands is not enough for Sopon. He wants the government to take decisive action against rising red shirts. He wants them crushed and Thaksin arrested and in jail. The government is, according to Sopon, “almost pathetic.”

In these circumstances, Sopon expects “Thaksin … to go all out again in a bid to regain political power and eventual absolution for his crimes, convicted or otherwise.” The red shirts will again lead the charge, rallying, blocking traffic with “the risk of more violence and total chaos.”

The conclusion for Sopon is that the “government might still rely on the armed forces, chiefly the Army, but with a false sense of security…. If this complacency and lack of imagination persists, it will not be a surprise if mayhem recurs.”

This kind of outburst reflects a perception that recent setbacks for the establishment – think Wikileaks – require a strong response. The response Sopon wants is another round of repression or maybe more.

Government anti-red shirt propaganda intensifies

20 04 2010

The military-backed Abhisit Vejjajiva government has been intensifying its propaganda against the red shirts. In addition to claims of terrorism and republicanism, the government has accused the red shirts of using the elderly, women and children as shields and of stockpiling weapons (here referring to home made weapons such as sticks, rocks and so on.

In recent days, reminiscent of the old days when ISOC was responsible for stirring hatred against communists and other opponents (some of them now on the yellow shirt-government side), fake red shirt posters and stickers have appeared to proclaim the red shirts as anti-monarchy and seeking to establish a republic.

At the same time, as well as establishing its own “facts” website, the government’s media war rooms have been working overtime getting fake posts on blogs locally and internationally. One of the standard lines is: “I am not red or yellow, but…” and then a diatribe against the red shirts – paid, duped, Thaksin supporters and so on. They also appear to be trying to block/classify YouTube videos of 10 April that they think are damaging to the government. Not terribly sophisticated, but as Sopon Onkgara put it yesterday, the “military spokesman at the operations headquarters has talked tough over the past few days. Terms such as ‘acceptable collateral damage’ have been heard, to test public reaction.” This is a softening-up process, getting support from frightened Bangkokians. Real Cold War stuff.

Further updated: Abhisit will not yield amid calls for blood-letting

19 04 2010

The Bangkok Post (19 April 2010) reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has appeared in a special television program to reiterate that he will not yield to what he calls “the intimidation of the red shirts who break the emergency law to advance their agenda.” As PPT has written several times previously, Abhisit works with a concept of rule of law that is actually rule by law, even if the law used is illegitimate.

Again, Abhisit apparently “implied that the red shirts’ ultimate purpose is not simply to hold a general election but beyond that.” This is an apparent code for overthrowing the monarchy. As PPT posted a week ago, Pravit Rojanaphruk claimed that in an earlier appearance, Abhisit appeared to be aligning his language with that of the extreme yellow shirts, “by blaming red shirts for seeking to establish a ‘new Thai state’ as the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and a number of conservative ultra-royalist media have long been accusing then much blood will be spilled…”. Abhisit appears to be drawing considerable strength from this extremist support.

As he has long maintained, “the problems of inequalities have existed for a long time and several governments have tried to solve the problems.” In fact, in an Al Jazeera interview, deputy Democrat Party leader Kraisak Choonhavan claimed that the current government had spent three times what the Thaksin Shinawatra government had spent on rural programs. While PPT considers this little more than huff and puff (how can the two be compared given, for example, their different longevities?), but when Abhisit brushes off inequality it is easy to see why his party makes little gain in the red shirt heartland.

Abhisit remained firm on no dissolution. He wanted to “lay down conditions that would make general election peaceful.” There is no chance of that now. Perhaps there will not be an election in Thailand for several years now. That is a possibility PPT pointed to some time ago.

The premier apparently concluded by saying that “he could not yield to is the use of force to coerce the government to yield, otherwise the political process is meaningless. Anyone wants something, they can simply ignore the rule of law by resorting to force. The country will be in anarchy if he allows this to become a norm.”Abhisit clearly has double standards on his rule of law.

PPT kn0ws Abhisit didn’t make such claims when he was in opposition, supporting PAD, and calling for several governments to yield and fall. Some argue that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that the red shirts should not engage in the yellow shirts tactics. However, the yellow shirt tactics changed the way politics is conceived in Thailand. Killing and injuring people to maintain a government is also be illegitimate and illegal. The problem for Thailand is that the army and security forces have long shown a proclivity for state murder. It is almost always in support of right-wing and extreme positions. That hasn’t changed.

Update 1: Grant Peck at AP comments on Abhisit’s television appearance: “Let’s not draw a deadline (to remove the Red Shirts)…. I do realize Thais are troubled, that everyone wants it to be quick … But there are many factors they have to take into account.” That is an interesting claim. Abhisit seems almost embalmed in his military encampment and by extreme yellow shirt opinion.

Update 2: The op-ed pages of The Nation are becoming increasingly outrageous. PPT understands that many readers will wonder how they could get even more outrageous, but read Sopon Onkgara’s piece today and be “treated” to the most blood-thirsty piece of “journalis” since the 1970s.

Sopon is deeply disappointed that what he calls “operation payback” didn’t come about yesterday. He wanted to see “teams of troops … disperse the red shirts…”. He says: “But there had been no action as of press time. The forces were still awaiting the final green light from Army chief General Anupong Paochinda.” It is as if Sopon is desirous of the crack of skull and the whiff of blood.

Anupong, he says, has a clear choice: “national survival, together with that of the monarchy, or a regime that sees Thaksin Shinawatra’s triumphant return via the help of the red shirts.”

He adds that the “red shirts are no longer regarded as genuine campaigners for democracy as they have claimed. In the eyes of fair-minded observers, the ringleaders have committed high treason. Armed terrorists are their fearsome supporters, who carried out indiscriminate shootings at soldiers and civilians on April 10.” The term “fair-minded” seems devoid of meaning for Sopon. But he has plenty of supporters amongst the frightened Sino-Thai middle class and the ruling class.

Sopon considers the red shirts already defeated: “They can never walk around like free men again.” Sopon expects a high “body count.” He explains that the “military spokesman at the operations headquarters has talked tough over the past few days. Terms such as ‘acceptable collateral damage’ have been heard, to test public reaction.” He gloats over this: “A crackdown is certain. The only question left is when. Some troops are eager to take revenge for their fallen comrades and those suffering long-term medical treatment and recuperation.”

He claims the “red shirts are also aware that they are pariahs, increasingly feared and despised by Bangkok residents who have been tormented by the lawlessness of these hired goons now enjoying extra income out of Thaksin’s pockets.” What will happen. Sopon’s dream and hope is for “[a]nother confrontation between the red shirts and troops, possibly involving Silom residents fighting to protect their interests. That means more bloodletting and a high number of casualties on both sides. The innocent people mobilised by Thaksin’s money will fall victim in the firefight, just like the mayhem 10 days ago.”

Sopon has reached the bottom. He is apparently calling  for the red shirts to be massacred. This is truly horrible stuff, but PPT can’t help wondering if this isn’t the broader view held amongst the ruling class.

With 3 updates: Yellow-shirted responses

12 04 2010

Many of the yellow-shirt related blogs have been full of conspiracies, fantastic concoctions, third hands and calls for tougher government action against the hated red shirts. As a summary of this sometimes bloodthirsty, sometime bizarre expressions of hate and fear, nothing seems to top Sopon Onkgara’s latest op-ed in The Nation.

The propaganda battle continues, with the government offering a particular conspiracy theory of “terrorists” bent on bringing down the monarchy, and this is beginning to be repeated in the media and diplomatic circles, giving it credence it ill deserves. At the same time, diatribes like Sopon’s assume that his readers already accept these versions of events and peddle a hatred that mirrors the most extreme right-wing attacks on students and other protesters back in 1975 and 1976.

Under the headline “Thaksin’s red shirts upgrade campaign to terrorism,” Sopon has immediately supported Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s position. He then states: “Among the crazed red shirts were men armed with weapons such as M16 and AK47 assault rifles, M79 grenade launchers and hand grenades. Their targets were the soldiers.” PPT has to say that the evidence for these claims is still very thin. We do not doubt that there were armed people amongst the red shirts, but looking at the images shows that some pictures are being heavily recycled and that the overwhelming majority of fighting between the red shirts and the soldiers clearly shows the latter armed to the teeth facing people using sticks and rocks.

The authorities were heavily armed but Sopon makes it sound like they weren’t: “It was a lop-sided battle from the start.” His own story is illogical: he says the “soldiers were instructed by their commanding officers not to use firearms except to defend themselves.” But when they are attacked with weapons that appear to be war weapons, he says they don’t fight back, because there are no “secure positions.” He ignores the facts: the majority of casualties were sustained by the red shirts.

But Sopon wants a frenzy of hatred. He says that the “red-shirt leaders have lived up to their vow. They intend to upgrade their fight into a free-for-all against government forces. Terrorism has become their means to achieve victory. No more attempts to hide the hidden agenda under false claims of peace and ahimsa.” For Sopon, there are “urban terrorists” at work within the red shirts, and he had “expected” these terrorists “to show their menace once confrontation with government troops occurred. They chose the time well, right after dusk, when they covered their heads with hoods and selected their targets with minimal discrimination.” Yes there are a few pictures of hooded people with weapons and some pictures of muzzle flashes from roof tops and one of a shot from ground level. But, this proves little. All of the autopsies done so far are suggesting that the red shirts killed were shot with high-powered weapons that the military uses.

Sopon blames the government for not giving the military commanders full reign: “It was wrong from the beginning when Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, in charge of security affairs, took command of operations instead of delegating the task to a commanding general.” Sopon hates Suthep because he hasn’t been tough enough and because he doesn’t understand that the red shirts are all gullible fools: “After peace was restored [last April], instead of taking tough legal action against the ringleaders and preventive measures such as an active media campaign to educate the gullible victims of propaganda (and money distributed by the cronies of Thaksin Shinawatra) the government did virtually nothing until the revival of the red shirts.” He wants the red shirts leaders imprisoned and the keys thrown away; for him they are traitors.

But back to the terror angle: “The red shirts have become a real force of terror in the city this year. They roam the streets on motorcycles, in pickup trucks and other vehicles including taxis and tuk-tuks. They are menacing, spoiling for blood, and will react with senseless brutality if provoked.” We are not sure that Sopon and PPT have been in the same city. This has certainly not been our experience and indeed, as we reported earlier, the red shirt rallies have been, until the past few days, wholly good-natured.

Sopon hates the red shirts, who he says “remind many people” – we assume Sopon at least – “of thugs in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Somalia. They are a brute force…. They are bloodthirsty political thugs, paid well to serve masters who are crooks seeking political power.” Sopon has always considered that every red shirt, all the millions of them, are in the pay of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Seemingly hysterical, Sopon charges the “chiefs of the armed forces and the defence minister” as suffering “total indifference, if not ignorance, towards a crisis which is threatening to lead the country into anarchy. None offered to take responsibility for the failure and fatalities.” Expecting more attacks on “government premises,” Sopon says this amounts to “full-blown treason with terrorism.”

Sopon essentially calls for blood: “Prime Minister Abhisit has a few choices left. If he wants to survive this snowballing terror, he must delegate authority to the military to take action and deal with the red shirts by whatever means to restore law and order, with martial law as the last resort.” Whatever means necessary because the whole establishment is threatened: “The national institutions, especially the monarchy, face real peril.” This is a call for the yellow shirts, the right-wing, the military and the establishment to unite and defeat the evil red shirts and their gullible, paid supporters. It is a call for war, for class war.

The sad thing is that Sopon is not some crazed fool, but is reflective of a minority opinion that may have considerable traction in the Democrat Party-led government and that party’s strong yellow-shirted wing. The last time such calls went out, many died.

Update 1: And then there is People’s Alliance for Democracy-cum-Democrat Party Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. In the Washington Post he blames all the deaths on Thaksin: “Thailand’s foreign minister says former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is personally instigating the country’s deadliest political clashes in nearly two decades. Kasit Piromya on Monday compared Thaksin to 20th century dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and to the terror group al-Qaida. Kasit said on the sidelines of a global nuclear summit that Thaksin is ‘a bloody terrorist’.”

Kasit is calling on the “United States to pressure Thaksin’s supporters to turn away from violence and enter into negotiations with the government.” We wonder if he has convinced his own Democrat Party’s yellow wing to accept negotiations? Will they negotiate with those who Sopon says are like “thugs in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Somalia. …[B]loodthirsty political thugs, paid well to serve masters who are crooks seeking political power.” Probably not, and PPT thinks Kasit is simply posturing on the international stage.

For PPT, Kasit’s statements are an accurate reflection, along with Sopon’s rant, of yellow-shirted opinion post-Saturday. It remains a dangerous time.

Update 2: A longer AFP report on Kasit’s comments make his position clearer still. He has attacked Thaksin and the “international community.” He is said to have “lashed out at the international community … for failing to take action against fugitive ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whom he blamed for the country’s political unrest.” Kasit lambasted Russia, Nicaragua, Montenegro, Germany and Dubai for “washing their hands but he [Thaksin] is a bloody terrorist.” He stated that this amounted to an “act of interference by third countries…”. Kasit “likened Thaksin to an Al-Qaeda terrorist and past ‘elected’ leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.” Kasit seems to have a jaundiced view of elections (and a poor knowledge of history) claiming:  “Hitler was elected, Mussolini was elected, even Stalin could say that he was elected also but what did they do to their very society?”

Kasit lamented that the “world demanded for more democracy in Thailand” however it “allows Thaksin to run loose as if nothing happens…”.

The report adds some comments made by deputy premier Trairong Suwannakiri, who stated that the military has a “duty” to “take care of the country and restore order…”.

Update 3: The audio from one of Kasit’s statements is here. PPT somehow ended up on the end of a series of emails that was mainly being sent around within the yellow wing of the Democrats, including Abhisit, Panitan Wattanayagorn and General Pathompong Kesornsuk, and to several army email addresses. Citing army chief Anupong Paojinda’s call for a political solution,  it attacked this idea and dismissed it in very short terms. PPT wonders what kind of solution they want? General Pathompong, who famously appeared on the People’s Alliance for Democracy stage, stated immediately before the crackdown what his thinking was: “I used to think that people like General Anupong Paochinda or General Prayuth were fine officers. Now I wonder why they’re not doing anything [about the crisis].” He added: “Soldiers may drink or become womanisers but that’s okay as long as they are first and foremost loyal to the throne and the nation. They should not leak government secrets.” His view was that soldiers “must protect the country from being exploited for private interests. They must roar sometimes and not allow politicians to ruin the country.”

Updated: King a political tool?

15 12 2009

In Cambodia. That’s the hook for this long account of the current Cambodia-Thailand spy dealings.

Radio Australia has a report (15 December 2009: “Cambodian opposition angered at Thai spy’s pardon”) where a member of Sam Rainsy Party accuses the Cambodian king of being under the thumb of Hun Sen. Son Chhay, “a member of parliament for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, called it ‘strange’ that while previous requests for royal pardons have taken months or years, this politically sensitive one was granted within a week.” He added: “I think the King has no say. He only did what the Prime Minister want him to do.”

Such a statement would land the speaker in jail in Thailand.

Wikipedia describes the Sam Rainsy Party as “a personalist and more or less liberal party in Cambodia. The party is a member of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.” Thailand is represented at CALD by the Democrat Party.

This statement is in a report regarding the pardon and release of Sivarak Chutipong, accused and then convicted of spying for Thailand in Cambodia. His “spying” involved providing details on Thaksin Shinawatra’s flights in Cambodia to a representative of the Thai embassy.

Radio Australia asks Sivarak about Hun Sen and his release and he states: “Yes, I really appreciate his [Hun Sen’s] kindness and help me and let me go out. And I very very appreciate for the kindness of your highness, his majesty of the kingdom of Cambodia that have given me a chance to go back home.”

A spokesperson for Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry stated that the “former Thai spy is the victim of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, because he was ordered by the Thai embassy to do the espionage. And normally embassy receives the order from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the government.” Clearly the Cambodian government is keen to “repay” Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya for his earlier personal attacks on Hun Sen.

The Thai government is bumbling along on this case. The Bangkok Post (15 December 2009: “Govt sets conditions for resumption of full relations”). Welcoming the release of Sivarak, the government’s acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the “government may send a first secretary back to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh back if Cambodia wishes to improve bilateral ties, but I cannot confirm that it would be the same person…”. The “same person” would be Kamrob Palawatwichai who was expelled by Cambodia for obtaining Thaksin’s flight plan from Sivarak.

Sivarak has demanded that Kamrob  “tell the truth” about the affair.” Panitan said that Kamrob had tried to contact “Sivarak on his arrival back in Thailand.” Kamrob has not spoken to the media but Panithan said “Kamrob would clarify the matter in the next day or two.” PPT is bemused by the next reported statement: “The reason why he does not clarify the issue now is because his superiors are concerned that he is not a good public speaker…”.

Meanwhile, Sivarak’s mother denounced Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks “for saying the release of her son was staged and in the interests of a certain group of people.” She accuses Buranaj of concocting stories about her son and politics. The pro-government media has even sunk to referring to Sivarak’s deceased father as a Thaksin supporter (as might be expected, the quite reprehensible Sopon Ongara takes this up in The Nation (15 December 2009: “Thaksin revels in shameless Cambodian sham”).

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who earlier claimed that “the incident was a conspiracy by Puea Thai and Thaksin to discredit the government and boost the popularity of the convicted former prime minister” has now said he wants the matter to be closed.

Most news outlets now accept that Sivarak was asked to report to the Thai Embassy on Thaksin. For example, the Bangkok Post (14 December 2009) editorialized: “Sivarak was a classic version of a bystander caught up in a whirlwind of events…. He worked for Cambodia Air Transport Services, a Thai-owned firm despite the name. He knew the arrival details of the flight into Cambodia by Thaksin. Apparently, when asked, he gave those flight details to a senior Thai diplomat, embassy first secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai. Hun Sen or one of his supporters blew that harmless exchange of information into a diplomatic incident – Mr Kamrob was expelled – and Sivarak’s show trial.”

“Harmless” is an interesting description. The current Thai government has plenty of similar “national security” concerns that seem equally “harmless.” But this harmlessness is in the eye of the protagonists.

One thing is sure, the matter is not “harmless” for the protagonists in Thailand’s politics. The Post notes:

Abhisit never has been clear why he chose Mr Kasit as foreign minister early this year. Mr Kasit was a key supporter, a fervent speaker and an unrepentant apologist for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). At his worst moments, the minister personally attacked Hun Sen, and even attempted to defend the indefensible seizure of the two Bangkok airports late last year. He has been called ”the minister from the PAD”, and there have been frequent calls for his dismissal by the opposition.

Mr Kasit should consider his personal options against the national interest. He might conclude that a more politically neutral foreign minister could help the country at this juncture. Foreign governments, most especially Hun Sen’s Cambodia, cannot have a say in the make-up of the Thai government. At the same time, Mr Kasit is an unelected minister, and the needs of the country are far more important than any cabinet member.”

It may be that Kasit is eventually implicated in the demand for information on Thaksin, and that will do him out of his job. As the Post notes, he’s been pretty much a lame duck since he was mysteriously appointed. Sivarak claims that his calls with the Thai Embassy were recorded by the Cambodians. Kasit’s role is certain to be a major point of the opposition’s attack when parliament debates a censure motion against the Abhisit government.

As PPT posted a few days ago, as the “spy saga” has turned sour for the Democrat Party-led government, the tone of discussions about Sivarak’s case has quickly deteriorated.

The Bangkok Post’s Veera  Prateepchaikul (14 december 2009: “Out of the frying pan into the fire?”), who has recently been claiming the whole affair as a red-shirt plot now seems disappointed when he observes: “Surprisingly, only a handful of Puea Thai members were on hand to attend a brief ceremony for the release of the convicted spy at Mr Hun Sen’s residence this morning. These included party spokesman Prompong Theparit and members of Mr Sivarak’s family. Gen Chavalit was conspicuously absent and thus missed the media limelight.  Even Thaksin, who flew into Phnom Penh on Sunday and met Mr Sivarak at the prison, was not seen at the ceremony. He was reported to have given a lecture to Cambodian businessmen and officials.”

He sounds rather lame claiming that the Peua Thai Party people begged off the event because polls “showed that more than half of the respondents believe the spy drama was just a political game.” Chavalit announced the he wasn’t attending some time ago. Lamer still is Sopon Onkgara’s farce-like “journalism” mentioned above.

Sopon, with no evidence, says (yet again) that Thaksin is heading for the poor house (how many times can he claim this?): “… Thaksin should … tell the Cambodians how to avoid being conned into bum deals like the one that’s led to his inability to seek repayments from his partners in Dubai, who made him part with substantial wealth. The collapse of the real-estate market there, and the dwindling clout of the ruling sheikh, has made Thaksin feel less secure in terms of refuge.”

This leads Sopon to speculate  that Thaksin, “his sisters and political cronies [are] to plot their next move in regaining power and the assets now under risk of being confiscated by the government. Of course, the war plan will entail heavy expenses to keep up the morale of his war dogs for the fight.” Sopon, however, seems to feel Abhisit is safe: “Thaksin should know that it will be far more difficult than he earlier believed to dislodge the Abhisit government from power – more so if his cronies still want to topple the monarchy.” Why? “Hundreds of thousands of people thronged Rajdamneon Avenue during His Majesty’s birthday celebration, showing total loyalty and dedication to the King. This serves as strong testimony that the monarchy remains invincible, beyond the ability of Thaksin and his cronies to succeed in their plan.”

If that’s the case, maybe Sopon could write less about the dire threat that Thaksin poses. We suspect, though, that as the censure motion kicks off, Sopon will be off the chain again.

If reader’s have stayed with us on this long post, it will be noticed that we are back to the monarchy, the Thai one this time. It is going to be a long cool season.

Update: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has come to this conclusion (Bangkok Post, 16 December 2009: “Kasit defends ministry, Kamrob in Sivarak case”): “I believe no one would want to experience what Mr Sivarak has been through, and I don’t believe anyone was involved…”. Interestingly, the government seems to now think that this is the best political response in circumstances where the government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Democrat Party were looking increasingly foolish as a censure debate approaches.

According to the Post, Foreign Minister Kasit has issued a statement saying that the “Foreign Ministry congratulated Mr Sivarak and his family on his being granted a royal pardon after being convicted of espionage for supplying information on former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s flight schedule to the Thai government.” He added that “the ministry had never accused Mr Sivarak or his family of staging the case. The ministry and its officials knew well that Mr Sivarak was in trouble and entitled to assistance and had done what they could to help him.”

Kasit also “denied he had ordered Mr Kamrob to use Mr Sivarak as a tool for spying, or to do anything else beyond the duty of a diplomat.” The minister admits that Kamrob “… performed his duty by trying to get information on Thaksin’s whereabouts and report it to the Foreign Ministry, so that it could coordinate with the Office of the Attorney-General to seek the extradition of the fugitive former prime minister…”. The minister is not keen for Kamrob to speak on the affair.

The media and support for the government

9 12 2009

PPT has pointed out several times that op-ed writers have been effectively peddling stories that appear to originate with government or, in some cases, with PAD. These stories are politically-motivated. Perhaps that is not unusual. However, in several cases, they are making serious claims with no evidence at all.

More recently we have posted on journalists actively campaigning for the government and using the king’s speech politically. At the Bangkok Post, Veera Prateepchaikul is a former editor of the Post, has long been anti-Thaksin Shinawatra. There’s nothing odd there as almost all journalists in the English-language press have taken this position.  In his most recent piece (8 December 2009: “UDD rally will spoil the mood”), however, he joins the clamor against red shirts by marking them as disloyal.

Of course, PPT thinks people in Thailand should be able to dissent from the standard political position and should be able to criticize the monarchy. But Veera and lots of others want to use the monarchy to stifle freedom of expression. He states: “As the country is still celebrating the 82nd birthday of His Majesty the King, the UDD’s planned political rally this Thursday, Constitution Day, is improper and will certainly spoil the festive atmosphere.” This is a blatant attack on opponents through the monarchy.

Veera is also clear that he accepts the government’s political line: “The government has said it is willing to extend the activities for the royal celebration until this Sunday. The only obstruction is the rally planned on Thursday at the Democracy Monument by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship to mark Constitution Day.”

Veera says nothing about the significance of Constitution Day. This is a celebration that royalists have long tried to downplay precisely because the day celebrates the first “permanent” constitution in 1932. Then, the People’s Party had finally managed to get a reluctant King Prajadhipok to accept the idea of a basic law for all.  He claims he knows its significance but says nothing apart from disputing the right of red shirts to celebrate constitutions, as if it wasn’t the military and royalists who threw out the 1997 Constitution.

If Veera is a measure, his claim that “most people in Bangkok don’t need to be reminded of democracy or the significance of Constitution Day” is simply false.

His argument for getting the red shirts to cancel their celebration of constitutionalism is almost exactly the same as that of The Nation’s Sopon Ongkara. Are the colluding or are they presenting the government’s view? Both journalists talk of impropriety and the possibility of disgruntled royalists attacking red shirts.

On cue, Veera also states: “Instead of holding a rally to mark Constitution Day, they should be reminded of HM the King’s birthday message to the Thai people — to perform their duty to their utmost ability, with conscience, wisdom and honesty, and putting the public interest above individual interests.”

Another royalist using the king’s speech for political purposes.

Government, monarchy and politics

7 12 2009

In an earlier post, PPT pointed to clear attempts to use the royal birthday speech for political purposes. PPT doesn’t accept statements that the monarchy is “above politics.” However, in that earlier story we wanted to point to instances where those who regularly make such a claim were using the king’s speech as a political tool.

Now the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government has shown that it is leading the way on this political use of the monarchy. Doing so undermines their propaganda but also brings the spotlight on the continuing and deepening politicization of the monarchy as an institution. The evidence for this is seen in the Bangkok Post (7 December 2009: “King’s celebrations extended to Wednesday”).

Democrat Party Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij has announced that the government has decided to extend the king’s birthday celebrations to 9 December, moving it from 7 December. The stated reason is to allow “people would have more time to participate in the celebration activities at Sanam Luang, the surrounding area of Dusit Palace and Ratchadamnoen road.” Other activities were being added.

It might seem reasonable for a government led by a royalist political party to further promote the monarchy. However, the real reason for this extension is to put political pressure on the red shirt movement that planned a rally on Constitution Day. Korn says: “If the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) decides to postponed its planned rally on Thursday at the Democracy Monument, the celebrations could continue to Dec 13…”. In other words, if the red shirts rally, they will be painted as “traitors” and republicans.

Korn says that the “government decided not to extend the celebrations to Sunday despite the calls from many people because it needed to respect the rights of the red-shirt group on Dec 10.” But at the same time, Korn’s party has “urged the UDD to heed His Majesty’s speech by calling off their planned anti-government rally on Constitution Day…”. This means that Korn, the government and the Democrat Party are challenging the red shirts, no matter what spin Korn puts on it.

Even though the government’s security officials see no violence on 10 December, Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks claims “there could be unrest during the demonstration despite the group’s claim that it would be peaceful.” Buranaj, who has portrayed himself as a loyal royalist, then freely uses the king’s speech: “The red-shirt group should heed the King’s speech and postpone its mass gathering in order to bring about national reconciliation…”.

As might be expected, government boosters like Sopon Ongkara in The Nation (8 December 2009: “Red shirts plan to upset the atmosphere of celebration”) are not constrained by the need to play lip-service to constitutional rights. Sopon accuses the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra of disloyalty: “The rally is improper, especially with the entire nation overjoyed at the improving health of His Majesty. Fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra has given his blessing to the rally, saying he would lead the red shirts in singing a song of praise for the King.  So we know that Thaksin wants the rally. He can well imagine that such a move will hurt the feelings of those loyal to the King. Time and again, Thaksin has shown that his claims of loyalty are the opposite of his deeds and his negative comments about the revered institution.”

Sopon goes even further, charging: “The red shirts can be suspected of wanting some sort of confrontation at the rally…”. And if a reader was still unsure, the rancid Sopon adds: “Long neglect on the part of the authorities concerned, including those in charge of national security, over verbal attacks against the monarchy, has led to more concerted action, seriously putting the institution in jeopardy. There has been open talk about an ambitious scheme by elements loyal to Thaksin to end the monarchy.” That’s the so-called Dubai Plan, promoted by PAD, with no evidence,  through the pro-yellow shirt media.

While UDD leaders are saying they will rally, they clearly face a difficult decision as the government and Democrat Party, along with the more rabid sections of the media, are questioning loyalty in ways that could well incite hatred and violence.

Thaksin, Cambodia, PAD and more

10 11 2009

[PPT has updated and moved the sections on new lese majeste charges to a new post]

With continuing debate over Thaksin Shinawatra’s Times interview, Thaksin in Cambodia and more, it is a big news day, so PPT can summarize.

Bangkok Pundit has links to Thaksin’s Cambodia trip. The Bangkok Post (10 November 2009: “Thaksin arrives in Cambodia”) reports on Thaksin’s arrival. Thaksin states: “I am not helping Cambodia to compete with Thailand. I will never do things to hurt my country no matter how badly I disagree with the government…”.

Responding to Thaksin’s appearance, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the “government has already given instructions to begin seeking the extradition of Thaksin from Cambodia” and called on the Cambodian government to cooperate, threatening to “review the two countries’ extradition treaty if Cambodia fails to comply.” Again Abhisit blames the Cambodian government for the current crisis and complains of the criticism of the “Thai judicial system” (but see this on that same system).

As expected, the Thai cabinet had “agreed to cancel an oil and gas exploration deal with Cambodia that was signed during Thaksin’s time in power.” Are they infringing the 2007 Constitution by not consulting parliament? Given that it is the Democrat Party doing this, PPT would guess that they won’t be challenged except by the opposition. Cambodia disagrees.

The Bangkok Post (10 November 2009: “PAD to rally against Thaksin”) also reports that PAD are mobilizing again. They “will stage a major rally this Sunday to show its dissatisfaction with Thaksin Shinawatra’s interview with the online edition of The Times of London about the monarchy and Cambodia’s appointment of him as economic adviser…”.

PAD stated that their rally – presumably, without the ISA in place, for these are government supporters – “would send a message to the world community that Thai people were loyal to the monarchy and denounce Puea Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, Thaksin and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for having trodden on the dignity and integrity of Thailand.”

Chamlong Srimuang “called for retired military officers to turn up at the rally to protect the monarchy.”

New Mandala has several posts regarding the Times interview with Thaksin (although we suspect a hoax on this one for the Not the Nation tone) but see here as well, Kasit Piromya on the same interview, and the prince.

Update 1: The Democrat Party-led Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has suspended its sister city relationship with Phnom Penh. Meanwhile, The Nation’s strident Sopon Onkgara has an unusal opinion piece claiming a Thai advantage in this dispute, saying Hun Sen is damaged and stating that Hun Sen is the one escalating confrontation.

Update 2: The Nation has an embedded video of Thaksin meeting Hun Sen, from Khmer television. Al Jazeera has a useful story on the Thaksin visit and interview.

Update 3: The war word is used in this story. Is the ruling elite prepared to go this far in their battle with the one they see as “evil”?

Traitors and enemies

26 10 2009

Following on from The Nation’s racist nationalist editorial yesterday, Sopon Onkgara shows these traits and argues the need to get at traitors and internal enemies (27 October 2009: “A big bully next door and traitors in the house”). As well as declaring Hun Sen a “big bully” (little Cambodia bullying big Thailand?) he claims that the Cambodian premier might find it difficult “to rub shoulders with people from the civilised world after spending half his life in jungles and around the Khmer Rouge killing fields.” Cambodia is also accused of being a “not-so-civilised society.” It becomes clear that Sopon worked on the aforementioned editorial.

Sopon claims that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is too weak and he demands strong action against Cambodia. Exactly what he leaves unsaid.

He then gets serious about the real problem: traitors within. Recalling Privy Councilor General Prem Tinsulanonda’s “warning” to General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh about the traitors betraying the country in the Puea Thai Party, Sopon shouts that the episode confirms that “some old soldiers [those who joined Peua Thai] and politicians in Thailand,” jabbing a finger at the  “most dangerous enemies” who “are the ones who also live in this land.”

Sopon and the Nation are edging ever closer to a position analogous to those right-wing newspapers that called for violent action against internal “enemies” in 1975 and 1976. They should be ashamed.

The problem is they won’t be as they see Thaksin as a devil threatening all that is good and great in Thailand and this justifies racism, nationalism, and presumably violence and bloodshed to ensure that maintenance of the status quo.

Bought traitors

20 10 2009

PPT realizes that The Nation’s Sopon Onkgara is not taken too seriously by many readers these days. His ranting and his ability to concoct stories for political reasons have left him as little more than a measure in the English-language press for what ASTV/Manager is saying in Thai. For that reason, we refer readers to his latest piece (The Nation, 20 October 2009: “Old soldiers band together for a rescue mission”).

Sopon begins by telling his readers that “accusations of betrayal among politicians, activists and vested interest groups” are a dime a dozen; in fact, “just like a normal greeting.” But some accusations of betrayal have to take seriously. Case in point: when privy councilors and aged generals like Prem Tinsulanonda make them.

Of course, in politics, accusations are frequently traded among self-serving groups. At times, such allegations are unfounded, while others can be proven through sheer acts of betrayal against the public trust.

Prem claiming thaqt another aged general –  Chavalit Yongchaiyudh – was a traitor must be right because Chavalit is a tainted poitician and Prem isn’t. In any case, by joining Puea Thai Party, Chavalit is supporting the traitor-fugative Thaksin Shinawatra and the party has an ” unpalatable image.”

Apart from obvious  ” treachery,” Sopon sees this legaland legitimate party as a problem because its predecessor parties were “dissolved under order of the Constitution Court for malpractice that was detrimental to democracy under the monarchy.” The military-royalist courts got them, so they must be undemocratic and disloyal.

According to Sopon, by joining Puea Thai, Chavalit  is in Thaksin’s pay and those other generals joining the party are “political mercenaries.” He seems to believe that Thaksin has done a deal to share his frozen 76 billion baht with the old men if they can bring Thaksin back and adds, “They too could not resist the smell of the fugitive’s money.”

What really angers Sopon is that Thaksin is “against the monarchy, through word and deed” and now these traitors have “joined hands to help Thaksin.” He pleads: ” How can these generals, with their earlier oath of allegiance to the country’s revered institutions, side with a fugitive criminal…?”

And those others “from various government agencies such as the police and the Interior Ministry”? Sopon sees them  as a “rogues’ gallery with the potential to cause national mayhem.” Sopon is worried that these “experienced, retired generals and civil servants banding together … can only [cause people to] shudder at the thought of the damage these political soldiers of fortune can wreak. They are living up to their true colours and the expectations of the paymaster in exile.”

Sopon has no evidence for his wild claims. While PPT can agree that the sight of aging generals and bureaucrats coming together in Peua Thai is like watching cryogenic dinosaurs thawing, these machinations are in line with the way the political rules have been redrawn by those who demanded and managed the 2006 coup. These rules make political dinosaurs relevant rather than extinct.

More worrying is the realization that Sopon’s indignation is reflective of the views now held by the more extreme royalists and these views  could easily descend to far more dangerous levels as was seen in the 1970s.

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