Following the Money


Follow the money: well, it is a possible method of approaching the truth. In this case, let us say for the sake of argument that there are three factions within the army (the navy and air force are not considered important players and can be bought off in due course with a submarine or additional unneeded fighter planes).

The factions are: Prem’s people: deeply reactionary yellow shirt types (perhaps 25%), watermelons (pro-red shirt and in some cases pro-Thaksin) (again perhaps 25%) and the neutrals (50% or thereabouts). The fight going on between them is who will take the top position in the army once Anupong retires (which is due to be in October, as I recall).

The prizes of this, not to mention the status and getting to stand in number one positions at official ceremonies and the like, include the Prem plan to establish a new armoured division in Korat (with its multi-billion baht plan to buy tanks) and other high profile procurement opportunities. These procurement opportunities are, of course, according to this argument, primarily opportunities for whoever is in charge of the army to put most of the money in their own pockets and the pockets of their supporters.

Currently, the three factions have not been able to reach an agreement and, apparently, are reinforcing their troops in Bankgok. At some stage, probably this week or next weekend, a coup will be launched on the pretext that the current government cannot keep order and, if no agreement among the factions has been reached by that time, then there will be considerable bloodshed in the city as the rivals fight it out.

Another rumour has it that the truck full of weapons now in the hands of the red shirts was in fact deliberately left behind by watermelons to help them protect themselves. In this case, I usually incline towards the cock-up rather than conspiracy theory of history, especially when the military (of any country) is involved. Military formations are not designed to be learning organizations.

Working Class Culture and the Treason of the Liberals


One of the reasons underlying the formation of the PAD and the willingness of so many supposed liberals, professionals and academics (both Thai and foreign) to applaud the 2006 military coup is the abandonment of the working class and working class culture. This is not unique to Thailand – indeed, it is a common phenomenon in Europe and many parts of the world. From the end of the Second World War until the 1960s and 1970s, the nature of society was much more appreciative of what are now considered left-wing ideas: solidarity with the poor, strong labour union movements, increasing social mobility and decreasing income inequality and so forth. In most countries, these ideas have become deeply unfashionable and unpopular – as typified by the Thatcher/Reagan/Kohl political revolution (although systemic change was much longer in appearance than these totemic figures). Since then, working class interests have been abandoned and working class culture denigrated by those who were once its friends.

Consider the role of NGOs in Thailand: many members, especially in management, of NGOs come from the bourgeois classes, often from urban areas. At first, the NGO people were in tune with the local communities with which they were working in partnership, learning from each other and so forth. Over the course of time, the NGO people began to feel that they were the source of knowledge and wisdom and the local people began to disappoint them because they were more interested in acquiring consumer goods and enjoying their lives rather than abiding by traditional methods of production which were quaint but inefficient. For example, Thai farmers embrace technology such as chemical fertilizers if it increased yield and hence income; the NGOs tended to deplore this for environmental reasons and, crucially, for moral reasons. The poor became blamed for failing to live up to the standards invented for them by the NGOs. The latter, then, started to blame the poor for being greedy, stupid, wicked and so forth and, from there, it is a short journey to joining the fascist organisation that tries to have the poor disenfranchised.

Chaturon on Justice in Thailand


As more court verdicts are due to be announced in due course, it might be helpful to consider how the judicial system in Thailand has been transformed since September 19th, 2006. Here are some observations by Chaturon Chaisang from his book Thai Democracy in Crisis: 2y Truths (p.174) on the issue of banning political party executives:

“As for politicians who held office in previous governments and were accused of various crimes which mostly concerned corruption, the crucial point is that the judicial process has been distorted. The Assets Examination Committee was set up by the junta, and comprised biased individuals who vowed outright to deal with a person or group of persons whom they targeted. And the proceedings of the committee were not in line with the practice of the Criminal Code in many aspects.

Then the cases were forwarded to the National Counter Corruption Committee. The problem of illegitimacy arose again, as the NCCC was also appointed by the junta, and was composed of individuals who harboured hatred towards the accused. All this is a distortion of the judicial process, preventing the accused from receiving justice.”

Of course, Khun Chaturon is one of those affected by these decisions since he is one of the 111 Thai Rak Thai executives banned as a result of the retroactive legislation introduced by the junta. Readers may judge for themselves whether this might have affected his opinions.

The issue of retroactive legislation against a set of people issued by an unaccountable body that seized power by threat of violence and then retroactively pardoned itself for an illegal act* is one which is also worth considering.

* Plotting the 2006 coup took place while the 1997 Constitution was in force and was, therefore, illegal. The junta abolished that Constitution once their tanks were in place and then declared an amnesty for all those involved.

MCOT and Manuel Zelaya


There was an interesting approach to a story about Manuel Zelaya on the official radio news this morning: the story covered Zelaya leaving Honduras, some months after he had been ousted in a military coup, much of which time he spent in the Brazilian Embassy in his own country.

The story first reported that ‘left-wing’ Zelaya had been ousted and, after a deal in which he received ‘political amnesty’ but would still be subject to (unspecified) ‘criminal charges’ would now be leaving the country on a full-time basis. It was quite clear, according to the story, that this was ‘the end of the problem’ and the end of any political upset – now that another (contested) election has taken place and a political opponent of Zelaya’s has been sworn in to office.

What is interesting is the clear exposition of establishment thinking (of course I need not point out the coup parallel):

 i) according to the establishment, the system works well and does not need to change

ii) the people are happy with the current system and do not want change

iii) anyone who wants to bring about change is a rogue, an ill-intentioned person acting individually

iv) since only ill-intentioned people want change, then they must be removed and any act that might elsewhere be considered illegal and immoral is justified as accepted malfeasance (and hence forgiven or just ignored) because it helps remove an ill-intentioned person and prevents unwanted change.

Naturally, this method is made a great deal easier with the enforcement of the politics of silence – that is, serious disincentives to prevent people discussing the issue openly together with co-optation of the mass media to put out the official line regularly and, preferably, unopposed.

October 14th, 1973 Remembered


October 14th is the anniversary of the 1973 massacre of students and demonstrators by the Thai military. The official death toll resulting from the vicious assault by the military was 77 deaths but it is widely believed to be much bigger. Hundreds of thousands of Thais had taken to the streets to protest against the military rule that had oppressed the country for decades. As ever, the state responded with massive violence, including all manners of atrocity ordered by members of the highest ranks.

Yet the violence was not enough to stand in the way of the people. The despot Marshal Thanom was forced to step down and a civilian government was created under Dr Sanya Dhammasak. Civilian rule lasted until 1976 when the military again seized control to protect the interests of the elite amid more bloodshed.

Ji Giles Ungpakorn wrote of the October 14th uprising:

“The successful 14th October 1973 mass uprising against the military dictatorship in Bangkok, shook the Thai ruling class to its foundations. It was the first time that the pu-noi (little people) had actually started a revolution from below. It was not planned and those that took part had only vague notions about the need for democracy, but the Thai ruling class could not shoot enough demonstrators to protect their regime. In fact the shooting just made people even more angry. It was not just a student uprising to demand a democratic constitution. It involved thousands of ordinary working class people and occurred on the crest of a rising wave of workers’ strikes. Success in over-throwing the military dictatorship bred increased confidence. Workers, peasants and students began to fight for more than just parliamentary democracy. They wanted social justice and an end to long-held privileges. Some wanted an end to exploitation and capitalism itself.”

Ji Giles Ungpakorn, Thailand: Class Struggle in an Era of Economic Crisis (1999), p.113.

The struggle, of course, continues.

Update on Possible Coup or Police Action


Action seems set for tonight. There are numerous rumours of a coup and people claim to have seen tanks on the streets – an army source replies that they were Scorpions (a different kind of vehicle) and were just returning to barracks after a particularly badly timed exercise. In any case, many people were sent home early for work and people are bracing themselves.

PM Somchai has said there will not be a coup and he does not intend to remove army supremo General Anupong Paojinda and others – however, it seems most likely that a state of emergency will be (possibly already has) declared at the two airports and some authorities will be sent in to reclaim them. Police, presumably. 30 emergency crews have been prepared to deal with injuries.

IT seems the ASEAN Summit has already been cancelled or at least postponed – a conference I was due to speak at next January has just been cancelled (or, at least, etc). Suvarnabhumi will be closed until Saturday 6pm at least.

Why Do You Tell Me That It’s Good To Be A Stranger?


Looks like it might be a good weekend to be away from  Bangkok – central Bangkok at any rate – if any of the various ‘doomsday’ scenarios pitching the anti-democracy PAD mob against the pro-democracy DAAD supporters and a police presence led by former Police Chief General Salang Bunnag come to pass. Disgraced PAD ringleader Chamlong Srimuang, a man with a great deal of blood on his hands already, seems quite prepared for more of his pawns to lose their lives and to continue murdering opposing protestors. The police seem to be preparing for the worst. Curious how quickly one’s sympathies can change – who’d be a copper with the heavily-armed and powerfully-supported PAD are out to get you? Not to mention being held to blame for anything else that happens.

Will the military take this opportunity to stage yet another coup? It seems to be quite well established that leader of the army Anupong Paojinda is holding out against the rest of the top brass who are in all favour of rolling the tanks out onto the streets again. Anupong, surely, calculates that he is now at the height of the power he can expect – the military receives huge amounts of money from the budget, enough to smooth over many things, shall we say, as well as buying a load more gear (and of course purchasing provides its own opportunities). At the same time, Anupong can lord it over the government because PM Somchai is in no position to act against him, even if he wanted – it was reported earlier this week that Anupong had further bolstered his position by appointing protégés to key Bangkok-based posts. All of this power and prestige is likely to be lost if there is a coup – it is more than likely that there would be an armed response to the tanks and jackboots this time and one which might, just might conceivably spiral into an entirely more serious series of changes in Thai society. Anupong would also face international condemnation and would have to make more constitutional changes to protect himself and his cronies from the criminal prosecutions which he and the previous junta so richly deserve. It is a lot to throw away.

Why Do You Tell Me That It’s Good To Be A Stranger?


Looks like it might be a good weekend to be away from  Bangkok – central Bangkok at any rate – if any of the various ‘doomsday’ scenarios pitching the anti-democracy PAD mob against the pro-democracy DAAD supporters and a police presence led by former Police Chief General Salang Bunnag come to pass. Disgraced PAD ringleader Chamlong Srimuang, a man with a great deal of blood on his hands already, seems quite prepared for more of his pawns to lose their lives and to continue murdering opposing protestors. The police seem to be preparing for the worst. Curious how quickly one’s sympathies can change – who’d be a copper with the heavily-armed and powerfully-supported PAD are out to get you? Not to mention being held to blame for anything else that happens.

Will the military take this opportunity to stage yet another coup? It seems to be quite well established that leader of the army Anupong Paojinda is holding out against the rest of the top brass who are in all favour of rolling the tanks out onto the streets again. Anupong, surely, calculates that he is now at the height of the power he can expect – the military receives huge amounts of money from the budget, enough to smooth over many things, shall we say, as well as buying a load more gear (and of course purchasing provides its own opportunities). At the same time, Anupong can lord it over the government because PM Somchai is in no position to act against him, even if he wanted – it was reported earlier this week that Anupong had further bolstered his position by appointing protégés to key Bangkok-based posts. All of this power and prestige is likely to be lost if there is a coup – it is more than likely that there would be an armed response to the tanks and jackboots this time and one which might, just might conceivably spiral into an entirely more serious series of changes in Thai society. Anupong would also face international condemnation and would have to make more constitutional changes to protect himself and his cronies from the criminal prosecutions which he and the previous junta so richly deserve. It is a lot to throw away.

Gambling Prisoners Leads to Inactive Post; Crimes and Coups


Prison officer Withoon Promdee has been re-assigned to one of the notorious ‘inactive posts’ following the broadcasting of mobile phone camera footage of prisoners in the high security zone for which he was responsible playing cards. Gambling is suspected. Debate continues as to who took the footage and how it came to be broadcast in the way it was. An inactive post is exactly what it sounds like: the affected individual is given a desk and expected to obey office hours but must not actually do anything – no work, yes but also no reading the newspaper, chatting with friends. Just sit there being ‘inactive,’ at least so it has been explained to me. No doubt conditions vary.

Avoid, my friends, at the risk of sounding like repulsive hypocrite John McCain, avoid being sent to a Thai prison. No doubt, conditions vary.

Speaking of which, a raft of court activity is expected today and over the next few days. The Ratchadapisek land case verdict is expected for 2 o’clock today, while the Department of Special Investigations has recommended reopening the case against TPI PLC founder Prachai Leophairatana and relatives for embezzlement and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s lawyers will bring proceedings against convicted criminal and ringleader of the violent PAD mob Sondhi Limthongkul for repeated violations of a court order not to slander Khun Thaksin. Demonstrations are expected today by both pro- and anti-democracy protestors and probably will intensify after the ceremonies for the royal funeral are completed. It is more likely than not that violence will break out sooner or later, although the PAD mob did not attack the police again yesterday.

Army chief General Anupong Paojinda has moved to consolidate his power by having chosen protégés take over key military positions in Bangkok. Presumably this means that he has much more ability to control whether or not a military coup takes place in the capital and, hence, the whole country. It is generally believed that the other leading military officials have been trying to persuade General Anupong to launch a coup which he has so far declined to do.

Thailand and Cambodia


There appears to have been no more fighting on the Thai-Cambodian border overnight – both sides have taken some small steps towards achieving confidence-building measures, through joint patrols and some continued negotiations. On the other hand, reinforcements still appear to be entering the area and it is far from clear that there will not be more and more intense fighting. It is unfortunate indeed that Thai Army Chief General Anupong Paojinda has chosen this moment to start politicking by undermining the democratically-elected government and, so it is becoming widely thought, planning yet another military coup (which, in a financial crisis, would be a disaster beyond imagining).

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia have never been very warm: this article by Charnvit Kasetsiri, a leading historian, entitled Thailand-Cambodia: A Love Hate Relationship is helpful in understanding the background.

Cambodians remember the Thai attitude during the Khmer Rouge period, when asylum seekers were forced back across the border, many shot and killed and many other acts of barbarity conducted – the Thai view of events is of course different.

Relationships are not helped by hare-brained ideas in Thailand to promote even more ignorant nationalism among schoolchildren by using textbooks which, among other monstrosities, portray Cambodian people as inherently untrustworthy. I know that if I ask my students to name a Cambodian person or celebrity or even one or two words of the Cambodian language they will be unable to do so.

Let’s see if the situation remains stable throughout the day.