Updated: Suchart Nakbangsai has been convicted

29 11 2010

On 24 November 2010, Suchart Nakbangsai (Worawut Thanongkorn) was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code. He was accused of defaming the queen during comments made during a UDD rally on Sanam Luang on 14 October 2008.

Initially, Suchart was facing a six year sentence, but he confessed and so his sentence was cut in half.

Brief details can be found here: Prachatai, 29 November 2010, “ตัดสินจำคุก ‘สุชาติ นาคบางไทร’ 3 ปี ข้อหาหมิ่นสถาบัน”.

Update: English-language reporting is available here.

PPT has now moved Suchart’s case from Pending Cases to Convictions.

How many more people will be placed behind bars before Article 112 is nullified?

Close to 470 political prisoners in Thailand

25 08 2010

According to a recent article by Marwaan Macan-Markar, a Thai human rights activist estimates that there are close to 470 political prisoners detained in jails and other sites of detention. These are all detentions which have been made under the Emergency Decree since the violence of April and May 2010. It does not include an unknown number held under lese majeste laws.

Citing information from the recently-formed People’s Information Center/ศูนย์ข้อมูลประชาชนผู้ได้รับผลกระ ทบจากการสลายชุมนุมกรณีเมษายน-พฤษภาคม 2553 , which is keeping track of arbitrary detention, disappearance and other human rights violations, 136 people are being held in the Northeast.  What is concerning, as Marwaan Macan-Markar points out, in conversation with Kwanravee Wangudom, one of the organizers of the People’s Information Center (PIC), is that

The decree, which gives authorities wide arresting powers, still remains in force in Bangkok and six provinces. What worries those like the PIC is that “the arresting has not stopped” for charges ranging from arson, carrying firearms and violating of traffic laws to violating the emergency law. “The government has still not declared the true numbers of those arrested for political activity in all the jails,” Kwanravee told IPS.  “Arrests are still continuing.”

There are a number of other disturbing issues surrounding detention – the PIC’s estimated number of those arrested and detained is much higher than that of the government. If the government is hiding the true number of those arrested, what else may be concealed?

While the Emergency Decree gives authorities wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention, PPT would like to echo a point made by the Asian Human Rights Commission last month: the Emergency Decree is only appropriate while there is an emergency. There is no longer an emergency situation in Thailand, at least not one other than the one being perpetrated by the Thai state’s arbitrary uses of power and repression.

“Nobody receives justice in Thailand”: A CPJ special report on Thailand

30 07 2010

In a special report by Shawn W. Crispin the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) raises important issues and questions. CPJ is concerned because two journalists died and several others were injured during the two government-initiated crackdowns on red shirt protesters in April and May.

At several points the report refers to “black-clad protesters” who were armed but does not raise questions as to who these people were, simply noting on one occasion that they were located with red shirt protesters. The CPJ takes this as evidence that the red shirts were neither always peaceful nor unarmed. PPT has several times raised questions about the identity, number and affiliation of the black clad group, but the chances are that the answers will never be forthcoming from any independent source.

At the same time, PPT has repeatedly stated that – despite rumors that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government has covered-up army deaths on 20 May – the body count of injuries and deaths is overwhelmingly on the side of the red shirts. This tells us that the military and their supporters in the crackdowns had the weight of weaponry on their side.

In fact, the CPJ report, while making the above observations and claiming that the “United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) … leaders took cues from self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra…” saves most of its critical comments for the current Abhisit regime. As the report is long, PPT won’t summarize it here. Rather, we highlight some quotes:

“Journalists said that in several instances troops fired in a random manner into crowds of apparently unarmed demonstrators, frequently in areas where reporters were present. Their news reports and interviews with CPJ also highlighted the presence of heavily armed, black-clad protesters who fired gunshots and launched grenades at troops deployed in areas where journalists were positioned.”

“Preliminary government investigations into the violence have been incomplete and opaque…. Private investigations launched by concerned news organizations, foreign embassies, and family members of the deceased have been obstructed or denied access to key information in the government’s possession. Thus far, no one has been brought to account for the killings and the other critical injuries.”

…[T]here is no precedent to believe that the Thai government will bring any of its security forces to account for abuses.”

“Soldiers were firing at anything or anybody.”

Elisabetta Polenghi commenting on her brother Fabio’s death by gunshot stated: “there are conflicting accounts from police and the Justice Ministry about the precise location of her brother’s wounds, which she did not see herself before his body was cremated. She also noted that many of Polenghi’s personal belongings, including his camera and telephone, are now missing.”

“Nelson Rand, a freelance contributor to television news channel France 24, was shot in the wrist, leg, and abdomen while covering a gun battle on May 14 outside of the city’s Lumpini Park…. Despite the international media attention given to his case, Rand said no police or government official ever approached him about the shooting.”

Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto was killed by a gunshot on 10 April: “One Bangkok-based diplomat with knowledge of a … private investigation claimed that the government has in its possession, but has refused to release, closed circuit television footage of the Din Saw Street area where Muramoto is believed to have been around the time of his death.”

“The concerns about official transparency coincide with a mounting government clampdown on the local media and criticism of foreign reporting of recent events. Since declaring a state of emergency on April 7, the government closed an opposition-aligned satellite television station, 26 community radio stations, four print publications, and 32 websites.”

Chandler Vandergrift, a freelance reporter on assignment for the Toronto Star, suffered severe injuries after being hit by shrapnel on 19 May: “… no government officials have formally contacted him about the shooting. ‘I don’t expect to receive justice…. Nobody receives justice in Thailand. Why would I?’.”

The report ends with a list of CPJ recommendations. The report is worth consideration in full.

Latest communique from Giles Ji Ungpakorn

30 07 2010

PPT reproduces in full the latest communique from Giles Ji Ungpakorn.

Total lack of justice for Red Shirt detainees under Abhisit’s junta

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Red Shirt political prisoners, detained by the Abhisit military junta after the bloody crack down against unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Thailand in May, are facing a total lack of justice with internationally recognised legal standards being blatantly ignored. This is more evidence of the total destruction of Democracy, Justice and the Rule of Law in Thailand since the 2006 military coup.

Prachatai the web-based newspaper, which the junta repeatedly tries to close down, reports that Red Shirt detainees in the north-east provinces of Ubon Rajatanee, Kon Kaen, Mahasarakarm, Mukdaharn and Udon Tanee are facing the following problems… and there is no reason to believe that other Red Shirt detainees are any better off elsewhere.

1. Police evidence used for Warrants of arrest is unclear and lacking in legal standards. So people have been arrested and detained under conditions where there is a lack of clear evidence.

2.      Those issued with arrest warrants are sometimes unaware of the warrants. This means that they could be facing further charges of “resisting or avoiding arrest”.

3.      Some of those who have been detained were assaulted by police while being arrested, despite not resisting arrest.

4.      Police use threats and coercion to obtain “confessions”. It is standard practice to tell defendants that their punishment will be less severe if they confess, whether this is true or not and whether they are guilty or not.

5.      Many defendants are denied proper legal representation.

6.      Judges have decided to deny bail to Red Shirts, without using standard legal rules. The judges claim they will all try to escape court proceedings, despite having no evidence to prove this. The judges obviously see them as “political prisoners who are already guilty”.

7.      Prison conditions are brutal and over-crowded.

8.      Defendant’s families are suffering financial consequences. There is no welfare state in Thailand and the fabulously wealthy conservative elites are fiercely opposed to state welfare for citizens.

9. Those defendants who were shot or injured by security officers and those with long-term illnesses, are denied proper medical treatment.

The above situation needs to be considered along with the fact that:

1.      The Department of Special Investigation (D.S.I.) believes that defendants are guilty before being tried in a court of law. Recently the D.S.I. website published the name and pictures of a person whom they accuse of lese majeste. Beside the pictures they wrote that “this person will rot in hell”. Clearly the D.S.I. does not believe that trials are necessary and considers that witch-hunts against government critics are “legal”. They are even flouting the junta’s own Constitution. All this meets with the military backed-government’s approval.

2.      D.S.I. head Tarit Pendit has issued so-called “terrorism” charges against 26 government opponents associated with the peaceful pro-democracy protests, without the slightest evidence that terrorist acts took place or that the 26 people were involved. These “terrorist” charges are similar to “terrorism” charges issued by Hitler’s Nazis against the Free French or similar charges issued by the Israeli government to justify killing unarmed civilians on the relief ships to Palestine.

3.      The D.S.I. is not pursuing any terrorism charges against the royalist PAD gangs who took over Bangkok’s international airports in late 2008. This put a stop to international flights for over a week. The PAD also occupied and trashed Government House and caused a riot outside parliament that same year. No one has been punished or detained. The present Abhisit military junta has PAD members and supporters in the cabinet.

4.      The D.S.I. is not pursuing any murder charges against Abhisit and the generals for ordering the shooting down in cold blood of innocent civilians earlier this year.

5.      The Abhisit junta has maintained a “state of emergency” in Bangkok and other provinces and many Red Shirts have been detained for breaking the emergency law. Yet when the royalist PAD came out to protest and whip up ultra-nationalism over a pointless border dispute with Cambodia last week, none of the PAD leaders or their supporters were arrested. In fact Abhisit and his PAD Foreign Minister made a point of meeting the PAD protesters and agreeing with them. The royalists hope to create a diversion by whipping up anti-Cambodian sentiment.

6.      Innocent defendants, awaiting trial are shackled in chains while going to court. This barbaric practice is designed to take away the humanity of detainees, not to prevent them from escaping in any way. Many of the Red Shirt leaders, who are political prisoners, actually gave themselves up to the police voluntarily, yet they are chained when attending court hearings. This is yet another indication that the conservative elites regard Red Shirts and ordinary Thai citizens who want democracy, as being “sub-human”. Thai citizens are referred to as merely “dust beneath the feet of the King”.

The entire criminal justice system in Thailand is compromised and corrupt. Citizens are not respected and regarded as equal. Judges are supporters of the conservative elites and are happy to act in a bias manner. There are no standards of basic justice. There is no freedom and Democracy. Yet Abhisit’s junta claims to be setting up committees for “political reform” under former military junta Prime Minister Anan Panyarachun and conservative doctor Prawes Wasi. What is even more shocking is that academics are flocking to these committees like flies to shit. There can be no serious “political reform” without freedom and Democracy, without scrapping the lese majeste law and without punishing the politicians and generals who gunned down innocent pro-democracy demonstrators. Serious reform would need to look into reducing the size, wealth and power of the military, reducing or scrapping the Monarchy, totally culling the judicial system and the police and ending all censorship. Serious reform can only take place after genuine democratic elections for a new government. But Abhisit’s junta shot dead over 90 people in March, April and May in order to avoid such elections. All his so-called “reform process” can amount to is an expensive public relations exercise to try and white-wash the crimes of the present junta.

Red shirts are back in Bangkok

22 07 2010

Well, they never really left as many Bangkok people are red shirts. What is interesting is that they are donning their shirts and showing up for events in the Rajaprasong area (and risking arrest). PPT recommends viewing two sites. See The Thai Report and also Prachatai. Both have interesting pictures.

Ji Ungpakorn on Abhisit and possible crackdown

24 04 2010

PPT reproduces Ji Ungpakorn’s latest communique in full here:

Abhisit’s military government rejects Red Shirt peace offering, orders military crack down

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Abhisit’s military backed government has rejected negotiations with the Red Shirts and rejected the olive branch offered to the government by the Red Shirts yesterday. After meeting with various foreign ambassadors at the protest site, the Red Shirt leaders offered a compromise demand: dissolve parliament in 1 month and elections 2 months after that. But Abhisit’s military government, which has never been elected, has turned its back on a peaceful solution. They have ordered the army to use lethal force to disperse the peaceful protests within 48 hours. Abhisit and the army already have blood on their hands from the shooting of 21 civilians on 10th April.

The Red Shirts are strengthening their defences, calling in the Red Shirt motorcycle riders to defend the barricades, urging people to join the protests (but not in red shirts so as not to be stopped by the military). Red Shirt supporters in the provinces should try to stop troop movements and if the army start a crack down in Bangkok, they should take any necessary measures in the provinces. Motorcycle riders in Bangkok should also take any necessary measures in such an event.

The NGOs and so-called “peace activists” have failed to condemn the government and continue to provide legitimacy for government violence and the destruction of Democracy.


Yellow shirts opposed to negotiations

30 03 2010

The Nation (30 March 2010) reports on a press conference held Monday by the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance For Democracy (PAD) which “opposed political talks about a parliamentary dissolution. It said the solution proposed by the red-shirt protesters had a hidden agenda to help fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.”

Making the claim that the “red shirts were not qualified to negotiate with the government as they were not representatives of a majority, but just Thaksin’s proxy,” PAD coordinator and secretary-general of the New Politics Party Suriyasai Katasila said must have forgotten the time that PAD demonstrated against three governments or has somehow convinced himself that PAD represents “the majority.”

Suriyasai added that by talking to the red shirts, the government was recognizing the hated “Thaksin regime.”

Speaking for PAD, Suriyasai took the same line as the government, parroting Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s claim that parliamentary dissolutions are “a normal practice in the parliamentary system” but only so long as they are setting the agenda. Suriyasai claimed that the “red-shirt proposal aimed only to help Thaksin get amnesty…”.

Suriyasai engaged in double standards when he said that the red shirts “should not use street protests, violence and innocent people as bargaining chips to achieve their goals…”. Leaving aside allegations of violence, PPT has no doubt that every red shirt supporter who hears this will simply ask why PAD could demonstrate for months on end and occupy Government House and the airports with impunity, but refuse to allow other groups a constitutional right to demonstrate.

PAD actually goes further down the double-standards road in calling for the government to ditch the talks with the red shirts and, instead, throw them in jail: “enforce the laws to punish wrongdoers and end the illegal protest as well as bring peace to the country…”.

As usual, PAD also opposed “any move to rewrite the military-sponsored Constitution” that was not for a “public benefit.”That’s actually the government’s bargaining point with the red shirts, and shows how any process of rewriting would be stalled. PAD promised to “call a meeting of its network to seek a solution to lead the country out of crisis…”.

The Bangkok Post (www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/35256/pad-warns-govt-to-reject-red-demands) has a similar report. There Suriyasai is reported as claiming the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) are “nominees of Thaksin Shinawatra.”

The notion of PAD somehow becoming bellicose yet again will suit the government. PAD adds the political shove that the government finds helpful when dealing with opponents that claim popular mandates. PAD also allows a stage for the more right-wing and extreme elements of the ruling forces to be expressed. Scared by the size of red shirt rallying and by some of the class conflict rhetoric, PAD provide a potentially convenient point of counter-attack by the government’s middle class and elite supporters.

Abhisit ready to talk

28 03 2010

Stepping back from the stronger comments of the early morning,  saying “he would not engage in talks [with red shirts] under an intimidating climate,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has now said he will talk with the red shirt leadership. Earlier, Abhisit is quoted as saying: “If the protesters come to the 11th Infantry Regiment camp, I will not be there to talk…. This is not to deny efforts to find a solution, but the talks should be held in a good climate.” It seems the weather changed.

Abhisit announced that he was ready to hold negotiations with representatives of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and, as he had done previously, assigned his secretary-general Korbsak Sabhavasu to co-ordinate with the UDD to make the necessary arrangements. The last time he did this there was little movement from either side.

As the Bangkok Post reports, the “decision came as a large number of red-shirt protesters were massing outside the 11th Infantry Regiment camp where Mr Abhisit has been staying for the past two weeks since the rally began.” It has been an odd television morning with only the government broadcaster showing anything of the rally and with a long, long “discussion” of the political situation that began aggressively but moderated as the possibility of talks was announced.

Unlike the first caravan to the 11th Infantry headquarters, which was televised by one channel and which had lots of live reporting, there was almost nothing shown until noon. Even then, there seems a reluctance to show crowd scenes. When the crowd and convoy were shown, it appeared very large indeed.

The Post described the prime minister’s agreement to hold talks as “an abrupt about-face from his position two hours earlier, when he went on television to say he would not bow to ultimatums from the red-shirts.” He may have been helped just a little by Thaksin Shinawatra’s earlier statement that he wasn’t a stumbling block to negotiations: “Let the negotiations purely be about true democracy and justice. Don’t negotiate for me. Don’t get me involved and don’t implicate me in any conditions put on the table…”.

In announcing that the government would talk, Democrat Party Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey said the government “wants the situation in the country to return to normal as soon as possible.” He said that this meant that the premier was now willing to negotiate. Abhisit continued to call for talks in “a friendly climate without any threats being made.”

Earlier, Korbsak said that the “mass gathering of red shirts in front of the 11th Infantry Division camp was considered by the prime minister as a threat and intimidation. He said the withdrawal of the red shirts would improve the climate.” In response, the UDD gave the prime minister until 10.15am to arrange negotiations.  It was soon after this, that Sathit “appeared on television to tell the public of the latest developments.”

Abhisit’s agreement was welcomed by red shirts. The leadership called on supporters to “remain peaceful pending the arrangements for the talks being finalised.” The ball seems back in the government’s court, but the rallying is fast-paced.

Red shirt rallying on Saturday

28 03 2010

PPT briefly visited the red shirt main rally site at Pan Fa Bridge on Saturday evening.

This visit followed a day that saw continuous red shirt caravanning around the city. These caravans, usually led by a motorcyclist with Thai and United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) flags and usually including a few pickups and sometimes a larger truck with speakers, seemed to be all over town. They appeared to do little to change basic traffic patterns as they obeyed traffic signals and seemed to grow and then split at various intersections. This pattern saw many people waiting for them to arrive, and when they did, greeting them by waving red paraphernalia. It is probably impossible to know how many people would have been involved and certainly there were no huge crowds waiting on the sides of the road as for the huge caravan last week.

By the afternoon, as the red shirt leadership took protesters to the 8 selected spots to challenge military deployments, the caravans became smaller, thinner and less frequent.

PPT arrived at the Democracy Monument somewhere around 7 p.m. One taxi driver refused to go there saying he feared the traffic would be terrible in the area. In fact, though, as it was for PPT’s other visits, the traffic in the area was thin and getting to the area was easy and quick. Leaving the area later in the evening produced exactly the same traffic experience. It was easy to get a taxi and the journey to Hualampong Station was quick.

PPT actually arrived at the wrong spot for Saturday’s rally. Most of the crowd seemed to be concentrated in the area of the stage at Pan Fa and down the roads leading to Government House, where there was a brief stand-off with troops posted there. Getting down to Government House proved impossible – well, let’s say PPT gave up – as the crowd on the bridge was all but impenetrable.

The Bangkok Post (27 March 2010) reports that leading the crowd were “Suporn Attawong, Payap Panket and Waipot Arpornrat [who] earlier gathered in front of Government House and issued an ultimatum, demanding troops inside the compound to return to their barracks. The troops refused, causing the red-shirts to threaten to break into the compound.” Actually television news reported that they refused pending an order from superiors.

The Post states that a “negotiation between Mr Suporn and Metropolitan Police Division 1 commander Wichai Sangprapai was successful after [which] Mr Suporn told the demonstrators to stop pressuring the soldiers at Government House and return to their main rally site near Phan Fa bridge.” The soldiers agreed to move back toward Government House with police overseeing security at the perimeter. At the same time, protesters were told that the “main action” would be “on Sunday at the 11th Infantry Regiment where the red-shirts plan to meet Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva…”. Later, televisions news reported that Abhisit would be in the provinces.

As this was apparently going on, PPT was walking around the area between Pan Fa and Sanam Luang. Much of that area has become a very large parking lot and market place as well as a kind of dormitory area for red shirts, with bathing and toilet facilities appearing to be overloaded and a considerable amount of basic trash piling up by the evening. There continue to be considerable numbers of people there, but they seem to be taking a break, catching some sleep and eating. They remain interested in the speeches, which are broadcast by large screens set up at various intervals and on televisions where individuals have set them up with portable satellite dishes and show People TV. PPT also noticed that some of the local restaurants in the side streets had red shirt TV playing and were catering for a red shirt clientele.

Thaksin Shinawatra the entrepreneur would be delighted to see the remarkable upsurge of red shirt consumer items and marketing. Who knows if all of the vendors are red shirts at heart, but the amount of red shirt paraphernalia on sale was unbelievable. PPT’s favorite were the “Dissolve Parliament” flip-flops, which seemed a steal at 39 baht. There were all kinds of other things for sale – DVDs (why there was a music video of The Who for sale is not quite clear), clothes (red shirt branded and otherwise), toys, deck chairs, hats, sunglasses and reading glasses, books, magazines, wall posters, and so on. Business seemed pretty brisk as well.

Of course there are also food stalls everywhere. The lines of people waiting for free food were often quite long, so cheap food (pad thai for 10 baht) seemed a popular alternative. Lots of food variety was available. On the downside, PPT felt kind of sorry for the Sorndaeng restaurant band and singer. The usually popular restaurant had few people there for dinner. Massage also seemed to be in demand at about 150 baht an hour. Saw one women getting a leg and foot massage in a massage chair while using her notebook.

One of the largest groups PPT saw was at a stall that was making UDD photo IDs for people. Quite a large number of people congregated around this booth waiting their turn to become card-carrying members of the movement. The red shirt medical unit seemed to have almost nothing to do. Quite a few people were sitting and waiting about, but few patients arrived.

On the stage, there seemed to be a rapid turnover of speakers and quite a line-up waiting for their turn. Veera Musipakong was speaking when PPT arrived. As PPT got closer to the stage and listened for a while, Veera made some comments about the monarchy. He was concerned that red shirt opponents were painting the movement as anti-monarchy, and he claimed that this was a tactic to scare Bangkok people. He claimed that the movement recognized the significance of the monarchy and mentioned an upcoming birthday. Veera referred in positive terms to the king, prince and Sirindhorn in the part of the remarks that PPT heard. His comments received what might be called a lukewarm rattle of foot-clappers.

There was a louder reception for the many speakers who claimed that Saturday’s confrontation with the army had been a considerable victory. The rally stage saw a pretty rapid turnover of speakers, many of them leading red shirts from various provincial areas, and not a few of them sounded pretty hoarse in their speeches. Some stated that Abhisit was going to have to dissolve parliament on Sunday and this got a big round of cheers.

PPT doubts that this is going to happen, but both Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban appeared tired when seen on television yesterday. Then again, so did the UDD leadership. This has been a fast and rapidly-changing campaign for both sides.

It is next to impossible to estimate the size of the crowd, not least because PPT couldn’t even get close to the body of people beyond Pan Fa Bridge. As before, there are also many people spread out around the rally area, relaxing and sleeping, and estimating how many there are is really difficult. At the rally stage area, PPT saw a much larger crowd than the last time we visited 9-10 days ago. Maybe double the size and more densely packed. PPT feels that the media reports of 80,000 to 100,000 during the daylight hours are probably accurate enough. The evening sees bigger crowds as people get off work and as the temperature moderates. As the evening extended, more people were arriving than leaving, at least by the streets that PPT used. Many of those arriving were in family groups. Overall, the mood remains upbeat and good-natured amongst the protesters, although many do seem tired.

The evening was punctuated by new reports of bombings. Indeed, the attacks on two television stations seemed the first that were aimed at causing a serious impact. Many the other small bombs and grenades were fired into quiet areas and with little apparent impact. The perpetrators remain unknown in almost all cases. Where the police have paraded a couple of suspects, the motive has seemed to be other than political.

On Saturday, The Nation (28 March 2010) reported that Suthep stated that while troops were withdrawn at red shirt rallying points, “the government would not withdraw troops from the capital but would cut back on the numbers in some units following an outcry from the opposition over heavy security around Parliament.”

Suthep “insisted the government had not overdeployed military forces, but said it had been necessary to send them to certain streets across Bangkok due to concern over the firing of grenades. A number of grenades fired from M79 launchers have consistently rocked the capital over the past two weeks.” The term “rocked” is probably inaccurate for, until Saturday, these have been small explosions, sometimes confused with fireworks.

Suthep’s comments came as grenades were lobbed at the Army-run Channel 5 and the state-run NBT. Nine were said to be injured, 6 of them were said to be soldiers. Red shirts have been critical of media coverage of their rally and demands and the one-sided “commentaries” of current politics.

More soon on Abhisit’s and Suthep’s appearance on all televisions stations regarding Sunday’s red shirt rally.

What a royalist says about politics

24 03 2010

It is always useful when royalists go into print and share their views on politics and the monarchy. Asia Times Online (24 March 2010) has just posted a long story and interview with never-elected prime minister and ardent royalist Anand Panyarachun. The article refers to Anand as a “palace insider [who] epitomizes the ammataya, or aristocratic elite, that Thailand’s red shirt-wearing United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protest group claims to be up against in a ‘class war’ for democracy.”

As the article notes, the UDD sees Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government as being “propped up by conservative interests and criticized top royalists, including Privy Council members selected by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as impediments to democracy.” Anand has long been a spruiker for the monarchy, especially to foreigners, and regularly recycles his Thai monarchy speech. He’s sometimes seen as a royalist who is also “liberal” in terms of politics and is an insider, being at the top of the board at the royal bank, the Siam Commercial Bank.

In this post, PPT simply provides a commentary on Anand’s comments to the ATO.

Anand might well be seen to be again displaying his alleged political liberalism when the ATO says that he believes “holding new elections would help to resolve the country’s escalating political crisis, but not be a cure-all.” He adds: “Elections cannot resolve everything, but they may be helpful in accelerating the resolution of the problem.”

PPT prefers to view Anand as a political conservative, and this article displays his political position quite well. In addition, it provides some useful insights into how the people at the top and around the palace think.

Take the election comment as a starting point. In an earlier speech, Anand had expressed dismay about “Western” complaints about the overthrow of Thaksin Shinawatra by the coup in 2006: “I never thought that some Westerners would equate elections with democracy.” And in this interview, when he speaks of elections, he’s not giving any ground to his opponents, predicting an election “next year.” Well, yes, that’s what’s supposed to happen as the government’s term expires at the end of next year. Only the UDD could derail this. Anand is firmly committed to the current order.

Like all good royalists, Anand believes that democracy is not really what Thailand is about. “Thailand will continue to muddle through with its particular brand of democracy, which he describes loosely as an ‘ad-hocracy’ where politicians improvise and ‘roll with the punches’.” Thailand is different from the West, because “In Asian culture, particularly in Thailand, everything is personal. And that’s not good for democracy.” While Lee Kuan Yew might have pointed out that Asian-style democracy was not real democracy because of Confucian group orientation, Anand is essentially on the same conservative line – Asians are different.

What does Anand think of the UDD? He says “They must be bankrupt of ideas. And there’s no leadership. These three or four guys … use rhetoric all the time. They have no credibility. Some of the more credible figures in Thaksin’s camp never came out. [Former prime minister and Thaksin ally] Chavalit [Yongchaiyudh] disappeared. [Former Internal Security Operations Command deputy director] General Panlop [Pinmanee] is where? Nobody came out. I think in Chavalit’s mind he knew it was a lost cause, these demonstrations. And they must have spent a fortune.”

This is the view of a royalist insider. PPT wants to unpack it. The UDD is “bankrupt of ideas.” That’s a bit rich from the royalist camp that has been peddling the same monarchist ideas for decades. Aside from that, those who are “bankrupt of ideas” have succeeded in changing the political debate in Thailand. While much of the current media discussion of “class war” is a mulch of ideas from the Cold War and from the uninformed – here we mean from opponents of the red shirts – there’s no doubt that the political discourse is now of phrai, amat, double standards and inequality. Opponents and supporters alike have adopted this lexicon.

Even Anand is required to engage. He says: “When they try to incite demonstrations into a movement of class warfare, that will not work in Thailand. The communists tried 25 years ago. It will not work because there’s no such thing.” Not only does Anand forget how extensive the communist movement was in Thailand, but he uses the “communist” label to damn the current red shirt movement and scare the Bangkok middle class and elite.

None of the opponents of the red shirts consider that the rich and powerful in Thailand have been waging their own class war for decades. Worker and peasant movements have been repeatedly smashed and disorganized. Those from the lower classes who stick their heads up and refuse to be co-opted find life difficult, if they are permitted to keep breathing. Opponents of the monarchy are regularly threatened, charged and jailed with laws that provide and protect privilege.

On Chavalit, Anand is wrong, although not entirely so. At the beginning, Chavalit seemed reluctant to get involved and was in hospital. Now, however, he has provided his support and appeared on the red shirt rally stage with the leaders of the movement. With respect to Panlop, this is an odd comment. Anand says that Panlop is a “credible figure and yet the red shirt leadership wanted him sidelined because of his penchant for violent actions. The royalists and the government seem to want the red shirts to be constructed to fit their own propaganda and beliefs about the movement.

For Anand, as for Abhisit, all this trouble is Thaksin-related. Thaksin is surrounded by acolytes “of many kinds. Real converts. Some people genuinely fawn and worship Thaksin, but there are so many converts who do it for their own personal agenda, their own interests, their own financial interests. So he’s been hearing only one side of the story and I’m sure he was misled by these leaders who say they can embark on a very, very important, a very, very decisive sort of battle.” Thaksin has been misled by those who seek wealth. The refrain of being misled and paid usually refers to rural voters, so this is a neat twist. That said, isn’t the palace surrounded by acolytes of exactly the kind Anand says make up red shirts? Anand could fall into this category, and he hasn’t done all that badly by his own fawning.

At least the red shirts, with “all these antics and stunts” haven’t engaged in “violent actions.” Anand is thankful for that. And, despite being “bankrupt of ideas,” Anand does a mental backflip with a degree of difficulty of 4.5 and comes up with this: “Some of the issues raised by the red shirts are, in my view, valid…”. What might these ideas that are not bankrupt be? Anand says: “the widening gap between the rich and poor, unequal opportunities.” And making exactly the same comment as Abhisit – who’s coaching who? – Anand then says: “but they have existed for a long time in our history of democratic rule [huh?] and these issues have existed in all other societies, in other countries…. These issues are not newly invented and they did not happen in Thailand only in the last few years. Every government has tried to address these issues but nobody has a quick fix.” Maybe there’s no coaching and its just that position and privilege breeds a similar outlook.

Anand and Abhisit would love to think that they are right about these big and important issues. Are there really no changes in these patterns over time? Bangkok Pundit has an excellent post on exactly this issue related to wealth and income inequality, so there’s no need for PPT to repeat that. We’d just point out that governments regularly make decisions that change these patterns, in both the short and medium terms. The fact is that if you are in the bottom half of Thai society, most governments have changed these patterns for the worse. If you are up the top, you’ve generally done very nicely. Class war at work perhaps?

Getting truly, deeply royalist, Anand warns that the red shirts can’t be trusted: “I think there’s deep suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that the reds have some other issues under a hidden agenda. I think there is this confusion about the legitimate issues and, shall we say, illegitimate questions.” Of course, he means to imply that the “reds” as he calls them are really republicans.

PPT really appreciated Anand’s comment when asked under what circumstances Thaksin might return to Thailand. We had said some time ago that this palace has a long memory for its opponents and is remarkably resolute in dealing with them. So Anand’s comment is confirmation: “I don’t see much prospect of his return. I’m not quite sure his strategy is a correct one…. in the past two years he has been perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have gone beyond the point of return in terms of his rhetoric, in terms of his actions.”

After blathering on about the usual propaganda position on the monarch’s constitutional duties and rights, a la Bagehot, Anand sounds almost apologetic for the lack of reform – “evolutionizing itself” – in the monarchy. He complains that the Thai monarchy hasn’t had much time to reform and, he complains, “you have to be fair to us, sometimes we cannot go faster than what the people want.” Blame “the people,” for it is they who don’t want the monarchy to change. That’s the language of despots.

Anand continues to make another weird statement: “there is a deep affection and deep loyalty towards our King and our constitution by an overwhelming majority of the people.” Perhaps a slip of the tongue? For we know that there’s not nearly an overwhelming majority for the 2007 Constitution. For the king perhaps? Maybe, but who knows. Would anyone in their right mind ask the question in a survey, and would any sane person answer that they dislike the king?

Still, Anand knows that succession will inevitably see the supposed popularity decline. Even now, he estimates that 10-20% of the population does not want the monarchy. He adds that a further 20-40% don’t care all that much.

Bangkok Pundit also comments on this aspect of the story and is worth a read.

Anand seems to still support Abhisit and the Democrat Party and he is convinced that the “army is not that stupid. They know they bungled the last one and the coups in the past have never been able to resolve the nation’s problems.” PPT is sure that he is wrong. The army’s silent coup of 2008 showed that they learned that running a government was tough. So they sit behind the scenes and pull whatever levers or strings that are necessary. Brokering a government and standing behind it while that government doles out money and military hardware and allows the military to do pretty much as it pleases is a very neat strategy.

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