Interview – Mr. Prasang Mongkonsiri – Part 1 or How I almost scooped the New York Times.


Well It was a pretty awesome night for Hawkeye. I managed to get a pretty good interview with Khun Prasang Mongkonsiri, one of the UDD’s Committee Members. Now, I’ve only been blogging for a week and it’s my first time, so please take it easy on me. This is the first interview I have ever done. By the way, if I owned a laptop I could have scooped the New York Times by an hour. My salary ain’t that good, plus and addiction to baseball and softball drains my finances a bit. Also, I do not claim to be objective but I don’t lie, so here it goes.

Please note that Mr.Prasang Mongkonsiri was in a four and a half hour marathon meeting and had 45 minutes to talk before he went back into the second half of the meeting. He was full of energy and talked in a rapid fire manner. I have not quoted him verbatim but paraphrased our interview. He watched while I wrote every word and agreed with my understanding of his answers. I have tried to be as accurate as possible. There is one verbatim quote. I don’t know how to write short hand.

Hawkeye: “Will the UDD be leaving on Monday May 10th, 2010?

Mr. Prasang Mongkonsiri: ‘We are in negotiations, two days is not enough time. Last nights killing of two police officers and the bombing has influenced our decisions. The appearance of the PAD and Yellow Shirts has also influenced our decisions. We do not know what the relationship between the PAD and Government is.’

Hawkeye: “If Abhisit cancels the agreed upon election date will the UDD return to Bangkok in force?”

Mr. Prasang Mongkonsiri: “I believe that if Abhisit cancels the elections we will call for another rally in Bangkok.”

Hawkeye: “How will violence be avoided?”

Mr. Prasang Mongkonsiri: ‘That is the problem. We are in talks about how to control the violence because of last night’s shootings and bombing. Some UDD Committee Members have received information about the army and PAD. We have 300 plain clothes police volunteering to come and protect us. They will not be armed. They called Veera (UDD Committee Member) and told him that a high ranking police officer believes the military is responsible for the recent shooting of two police officers. They happened to not be wearing bullet proof vests because of budget restrictions.’

Hawkeye: “Is the subject of the 2007 Constitution a sticking point?

Mr. Prasang Monkonsiri: ‘We have not talked about it, yet. We are talking about the elections. Talking about the elections and talking about the who is responsible for the April 10th violence. Many relatives of the victims have already gone to the police stations and asked for investigations, twenty-five days have past and the police do nothing! If the commanding officer does not want to do anything with the cases, he will give a verbal order but no official paper order will be issued.’

I’m absolutely knackered. I was at the rally last night with my wife and we left at about 2:30am. I finally caught some shut eye at 4:00am and had to be at work at 8:00am. Woke at 7:00am. If you do the math it was a long day. I left the rally at 11:30pm tonight. The wife was worried so I left early. Part 2 will be coming tomorrow. It will be a continuation of the violence issue and the lack of investigations by the police. It will also cover the “terrorist charges leveled at many of the UDD’s Committee Members and the dreaded DSI.  Might be a part 3 if I can get some corrections on my notes form Mr. Prasang Mongkonsiri.  The speakers were blaring and tons of people were milling about in their own deep conversations.

On a lighter note, I had a truly entertaining conversation with Sean Boonpracong (UDD’s International Spokesman). I didn’t take any notes because it was a very informal conversation highlighted by sardonic quips and ironic banter meant to feel each other out. There was a sublime moment in the conversation. I told him that I blog for news.inbangkok.org under the name Hawkeye. He replied “I guess I’ll be BJ.” It was one of the best moments of the night.

Content trumps grammar.

Hawkeye

Mr. Prasang after a marathon meeting.

Difficult to get on here…


I tried all last night to access News in Bangkok but I kept getting the yellow server reset message. Anyway, the wife and I are heading to the rally today. We are thinking of officially joining the UDD. The organizers are very open to foreigners joining them in their struggle.

I spent last Saturday at the rally and had a really interesting discussion with a Red Shirt supporter. His name was “Tun”. He explained to me that the government propaganda was having no effect outside of Bangkok and that the UDD is signing people up left, right, and center. I did see a constant line of people paying for their ID cards. Tun also told me that the Army and the “Ronin” warriors have had pitched battles outside of Bangkok that have not been reported in the press. Apparently, the military is divided, confused, and terrified of these “Ronin” warriors appearing out of nowhere, inflicting heavy casualties and then slipping back into the general population. It is quite obvious that they are well trained and motivated. What motivates them is the question? Are they a combination of Thai and foreign mercenaries paid to protect the Red Shirts or idealistic Thai warriors motivated to do what they believe is right?

My previous comment about the military being confused and scared is backed up by a sad even in Khorat. From the Prachathai website:

On 1 May, Private Thiwanont Thienthes, 23, was reported dead at his house in Phimai District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province. Dressed in full military uniform, he was found to have hung himself from a tamarind tree in the backyard.

His mother, Wassana, 52, said that he was a recruit attached to the 1st Special Warfare Training Company, Thanarat Camp, in Kaeng Krachan district, Phetchaburi province, and was due to be demobilized on 1 Nov 2010.

Given a week’s leave on 24 April, he returned home, looking normal, and regularly followed news of the red shirts, she said.

However, when he was due to go back to camp, he complained to his mother about his fear of being sent to disperse the demonstration in Bangkok. In the late afternoon of 30 April, he put on his uniform and asked for 400 baht for the bus fare back to camp.

While his mother thought that her son was on his way back to camp, her neighbors found the body hanging from the tree.

The situation does not bode well for the boys in green.
Hawkeye

Who’s really to blame for ‘inaction’: Thai military is growingly frustrated


In a recent article in Bangkok Post, Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon defended himself against accusations of inaction. According to the article, when one of the generals complained about the military’s inaction against the protesters, Prawit shot back:

“What can we do in a situation like this?…We do what the government orders, but it is not always easy, especially when it comes to  [dispersing] the Ratchaprasong [red shirt rally]”

It seems that the top brass in the military feel that the current problem can only be solved politically. Their view parallels that of several foreign countries. A harsh military crackdown could very well push the country into a civil war in which all sides stand to lose a lot. So the question is, why has Abhisit done nothing in the political front? In an interview with BBC on April 28, Abhisit stated that he intends to bring all sides to negotiations to help  find a political solution to the problem. However  his actions speak differently from his words. There have been no further attempts by the government to open any dialogue with the Red Shirt protesters since turning down their last offer to extend the deadline for house dissolution to 30 days. Instead, the government has been putting enormous pressure on the police and military to crack down on the protesters. In the art of war, it states that a war cannot be won without the support of the people. Right now, Abhisit doesn’t seem to have many places to turn to for genuine support. If people had to choose between elections or civil war, most would choose elections.

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.

Steamed Chinese Cream Buns


I was busy all day last Friday and could not post but on my way to the office I saw a procession of maybe a dozen vehicles along Ladprao Road carrying the steamed Chinese cream custard buns – you may have seen them, they are white on the outside but yellow on the inside. Frankly, most of them sat in the back of the pickup trucks looked like people who had never been to Bangkok (or any big city) ever before and were wondering whether taking money to pretend to be part of a ‘peacekeeping’ movement was such a good idea, after all. Of course, this is nothing new for the PAD, since it violent demonstrations are known to have included many hired women and children (they would not risk their own when poor people could be put in the front line instead).

Now the cream buns are supposed to be acting as the conscience and economic monitor of the country. Curious how the pro-democracy demonstration is routinely written off as ‘declining,’ ‘dragging on’ and the numbers falling and yet still there is an urgent need to mobilise more and more soldiers to keep order – it’s almost as if the army is staging the faked grenade attacks itself to justify paying itself more money. Eh? Oh.

Wassana on Anupong


Wassana on Anupong In her column in the Bangkok Post this week, Khun Wassana Nanuam looks at the career of General Anupong Paojinda, who has held the post of head of the army under two democratically-elected prime ministers and two military-installed ‘prime ministers.’ She attributes his comparative longevity to the continued power of the military in the Thai political system and the need in the post September 19th 2006 world to placate the military, particularly its top brass which displays an inordinate sense of entitlement, status and desire to wield power presumably (she does not make this point but I do) so as to be able to distribute resources to reinforce power networks. Anupong of course was initially appointed by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the first politician to be democratically elected and to serve a full term, then the first to be re-elected, then the first to establish a single party government. Anupong turned against Thaksin as part of the coup even though he had been appointed as a former classmate and the hope that he would be loyal to the state. In fact, Anupong then exposed his own character fully when, with the democratically-elected government imperiled by the heavily-armed PAD mob (and its celebrity sponsors) which had occupied Government House and the airports, he declared that the army would not obey the government but would be ‘neutral.’ Fortunately, Anupong is due to retire this year and one of his four hand-picked cronies is likely to succeed him (since interfering with this process by democratically-elected politicians will almost certainly bring another coup). Interestingly, Khun Wassana observes in concluding: “While nobody knows for sure who the next army commander will be, one thing that is certain is that the new top soldier will have to be braver and more committed than Gen Anupong, not in clinging to the seat of power but in bringing more professionalism to the army, as he will be in for a really tough time.” It is true that the red-shirt pro-democracy movement appears to have resolved to shine a light on the military’s activities by rallying outside some of their very numerous bases. The inquiry into the GT200 ‘bomb detection’ devices is also likely to open a can of worms concerning the methods adopted in military purchasing, which the apparent desire to buy yet more Gripen jet fighters will, it is to be hoped, exacerbate.

Army Declares War on Hell


More evidence of the clear, rational and forward-thinking of our beloved military: exorcisms of evil spirits are to be held at two locations to rid the Kingdom of bad luck:

“[Fortune teller] Mr Niphon [Rohitsathian] said when the prison was removed to make way for a 20-storey apartment block for senior officials, it would destroy a gate between hell and the real world. That would allow the spirits to cause more turmoil for the country, including more coups. Mr Niphon said he disagreed with tomorrow’s ceremony and suggested the army preserve the perspective and architecture of the old prison and turn it into a museum.”

Repressive state apparatus and ideological apparatus combine in a perfect example of how the deliberate weakening of the education system enables the rich and powerful to hang on to their perks.

When Treason Prospers


” … the professional soldiers, members of that curious esoteric world which has so little contact with the civilian world, and works in such different ways. The non-professional soldier, the conscript or temporary officer, or in most cases the policeman, however heavily armed, tends to react much more like the civilians to whom he will return or among whom he operates. Separated from the rest of society by a life consisting (in peacetime) of fancy dress, instruction and practice, games and boredom, organized on the assumption that their members at all levels are generally rather stupid and always expendable, held together by the increasingly anomalous values of bravery, honour, contempt for and suspicion of civilians, professional armies tend almost by definition to ideological eccentricity (Eric Hobsbawm, Coup D’Etat in Revolutionaries, pp.258-64).”

Wassana Nanuam’s ‘From the Barracks’ column this week makes, once again, for fairly depressing reading: firstly, because it is clear that there are factions within the military (including Prem Tinsulanonda) who still see a role for yet another military coup and who have learned nothing from history or ethics; secondly, what is perhaps even worse, is that the motivation for the coup, among most of those who believe it should go ahead, is primarily greed and the desire for personal power and its prerequisites. Despite Prem’s viper-tongued claims that the country will fall into civil war and that there is a need for more troops in Isan (Prem’s vision for the future of Thailand: a boot stamping in the face of the poor forever), it is naked greed that motivates these individuals. Consider, for example, the 2006 junta: their first act (after cancelling the constitution etc) was to award themselves large salaries and start to pad the military budget again. Some, including Surayud Chulanont, the junta’s ‘prime minister,’ appears to have taken the opportunity to steal public land – he may have done so before, the dates in reports I have seen are a little ambiguous.

Let’s Dissolve the Air Force


It is fairly well-established that one of the major factors inhibiting the social and economic development of Thailand is the huge proportion of the budget devoted to the military. The most recent example of this is the attempt to buy yet more advanced jet fighter planes by the air force, for no obvious reason other than status and access to opaquely awarded budgets.

When Thailand enjoys democracy (e.g. 1992-2006), the proportion of the budget spent in this way is gradually reduced. When the military rules the country (e.g. 2006 onwards), then the budgets leap up. Irrespective of the ongoing financial crisis, which should surely be the cause of reduction of needless expenditure, the military seems to be entering a new golden age of money sloshing about (not to mention the deeply sinister plan of a certain old person to create a new division to suppress free speech and freedom of association in Isaan).

There is, of course, a need for a military force – any country sharing a border with Burma is going to require infantry, helicopters and the like to deal with fighting and with refugees. Also, discoveries of oil and gas in the waters around the Kingdom, as well as the issue of refugees escaping prosecution (such as the Rohingyas) will also need some naval patrol boats. A rational review of the military would presumably demonstrate the need for a land force and for a naval force. In the modern world, armies and navies have their own aerial assets – helicopters, planes, even airships. The need for these vehicles is fairly clear.

So, let us dissolve the air force. What good is it? What does it offer that the army and navy do not already offer? What enemies can be envisaged that needs a flight of highly expensive (perhaps, according to some rumours, overly expensive) jet fighters to counter them? In any large-scale combat, after all, the Americans would take over and the Thai air force would be grounded to keep it out of the way.

“First Thing, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers”


A few months ago, my mother-in-law received official documents from a legal firm outlining charges against her for illegally keeping some unspecified property on state land (needless to say, she was wholly innocent of this and we never found out what property or what land was supposed to be involved exactly). Apparently, a case would be brought before the courts and the punishment could be severe – cue, therefore, a great deal of stress, anxiety, tears before bedtime and so forth. It took a fair amount of going from one police station to another and submitting various documents before the lawyers concerned accepted that they had somehow lit upon the wrong person (was it a case of identity theft or simply incompetence?). Finally, a letter arrived saying that the case never went before any court, that no proceedings were begun and that, in effect, it never existed. While this brought about some relief, as can be imagined, it does raise certain questions about the quality of legal proceedings here. Which brings me to the saplings case – various offices are now blaming each other for bringing forward obviously unsubstantiated charges (it always appeared that there was no meaningful evidence but it might have been that the state had some kind of secret evidence it was going to produce at some stage). It is of course the Thai way to try to blame one or a few individuals when things like this happen rather than acknowledging the systemic issues that are really involved. The purpose of the case (like the other ‘corrupt policy’ cases such as the lottery issue) was obviously a pretext for justifying the disgraceful 2006 military coup by pretending that it was about corruption rather than its real cause. Will this pretext now be quietly dropped and consigned to the ‘it never existed’ category of court cases? I think it was Plato who said that the physical and spiritual character of a state can be judged by its doctors and lawyers.

I Don’t Know Nothing


I was reading the Wassana Nanuam column ‘From the Barracks’ in the Bangkok Post last night – I try to read her regularly since she seems to know what is going on in the military, much more than I do anyway, even if I do not agree with everything (or even very much) of what she writes.

One thing struck me forcibly. I rarely have time to watch television and get my news mostly online – as a result, I do not know what most people in the news look like. In addition, Thai coverage usually or at least often focuses on the first name of individuals, which is used more commonly than the surname. Consequently, it was not until she pointed it out that I realized that the current Defence Minister (Prawit Wongsuwon) and the current Police Chief (Patcharawat Wongsuwon) are brothers.

Well, I could have dope slapped myself like Click and Clack the Tappit Brothers. Doh! Of course – this is the context of Thai politics and public service that I so often forget about – it is the same set of people, from the same families and sharing the same networks – that get appointed again and again to the important offices of the state (thereby making it much more difficult for outsiders ever to gain admittance or to be treated as anything other than an unnatural outsider if they do gain admittance).

So, this helps explain why there are ructions within the cabinet now – PM Abhisit has been trying to force out the Police Chief and replace him with someone to the taste of the PAD mob, it is political interference of the most obvious kind. There have also been rumours that Khun Prawit was in some way involved in the supposed assassination attempt on repulsive PAD demagogue Sondhi Limthongkul. So this is all getting more personal than I had appreciated.

It seems, disappointingly, that the repressive rightist regime of Abhisit is perfectly happy to see ideology drain out of the political scene and to return to money politics and patronage as a means of supporting the status quo.

Tectonic Shifts


Splits among the elite are generally to be applauded as they demonstrate a weakness in the powered classes and opportunities for gains for por-democracy forces. Occasionally, like an earthquake manifesting itself as the result of long-term struggle between tectonic plates, some glimpse of how these splits take place can be discerned. This is what appears to be happening with the scuffle over chairmanship (there is little prospect of a woman being given this post) of the National Security Committee (NSC).  It has been precipitated by the rapid outwards transfer of previous chair Surapol Puen-Aiyaka, perhaps because of poor performance, perhaps because of a perceived connection with the democratically-elected PM Thaksin Shinawatra and perhaps, most likely this, of some manoeuvring between the elites that will never by made public.

Now there is set to be a struggle between the military faction of General Anupong ‘neutral’ Paojinda and the faction currently headed by the leaders of the Democrat Party and their sponsors in the Secret Hand. The position itself is a plum one and offers numerous opportunities to distribute promotions, booty and privilege – most of it behind the scenes (which is how power generally likes to behave).

Of course, while the important offices of state are carved up by the rich-military elites, there is very little hope for real democracy in Thailand (it is notable that the 2006 military coup was triggered at least in part by the attempt to move some of those leading military personnel who were particularly obstructive to the will of the people).

One potentially positive note is the apparent demotion of the violent PAD mob: police have announced that after seven or eight months of studying a series of cases which o not seem to be too difficult to analyse, some charges may or may not be laid against people for the illegal seizure of the two international airports last year. The extent to which the PAD leadership is charged will reveal a certain amount about how much support they have lost from their celebrity sponsors, who have (it is widely thought) hitherto protected them from their rightful punishment.  

What Is the Purpose of the Military?


News that the military are going to have to postpone some of the most recent round of extravagant purchases of unneeded equipment, the question arises again as to what is the point of the military? What is it they are supposed to be for?
There is clearly a social role in providing employment to the lower classes, some of whom are happy to take the draft and have the chance to earn a trade (the draft is supposed to affect every male, rich or poor but the cost of having your positive result turned into a negative one is 30,000 baht, last time I heard. Or you can do the Abhisit/George W Bush thing and get your rich friends to give you a non-assignment which you can just ignore).
There is also the need to buttress the status and prestige of the huge number of generals and other senior officers and this is often achieved by the size of the budget concerned and the opacity with which it is possible to spend it.
What is the purpose of yet more jet fighter planes (apart from status and machismo)? Who else nearby has fighter planes – Vietnam? China? Singapore? If it comes to a war with any of these countries, then Thailand is already lost.
What is the point of another 89 armoured personnel carriers? For use on the Burmese border or to assist another coup?
What about the special budget request of 809 million baht for more anti-riot gear? This includes body armour, shields, electric batons and other weapons. Why is the army taking this role? Why not give the money to the police instead? Well, the Invisible Hand faction could answer that.
On the other hand, there are some genuine military roles which do not seem to be addressed: Thai troops can act as peacekeepers for the UN, which earns various diplomatic benefits – presumably such troops need supplies and equipment. There is a need to patrol the Gulf of Thailand to prevent (rather than commit) acts of violence against refugees and also to guard against pirates and smugglers – not sure whether jet fighter planes would help much there – as well as maintain order along the Burmese border. Helicopters would be helpful there, as well as spotting equipment, communications and control centres and the like.
Perhaps if Thailand ever gets a genuine, elected democratic government, then a proper review into military purpose and spending can be held in a full and transparent manner. Still, we saw in 2006 what happened when a democratically elected PM tried to weed out some of the bad elements in the military leadership and replace them with officers who might obey the government.

‘Cargo Containers Stuffed with Human Remains’


News reports (apparently, I had not seen any) say that three to five cargo containers ‘stuffed with human remains’ have been found in the Gulf of Thailand. Activists and relatives of those who were killed or are still missing after the Black May of 1992, when pro-democracy protestors were gunned down by the military, again called upon the government for a thorough investigation of the events and prosecution of those who ordered them. Yesterday was the 17th Anniversary of the state-ordered murders.

Local trawlers are reported as having brought up human skulls. Of course, the remains need not belong to the Black May missing people as there have been so many uninvestigated murders and massacres in modern Thai history – we still have no proper evidence as to how many were killed or wounded by gunfire during the military’s use of force this Songkran and that was during events that were quite well-covered by modern media techniques.

Even so, activists called for a proper investigation to take place. They also railed against the continuing use of double standards in Thai society:

“The person who ordered the mass killing has not been punished, nor have the others involved … who still are living a happy life, playing golf, sipping wine and making comments to the media.” The official number of Black May dead was 38, but the figure reported to the United Nations by a committee representing victims was 357, said Adul Khiewboriboon, who heads the committee.

There is very little chance the current government, given how it owes its power to the military and given the shameful way PM Abhisit behaved when news about the Rohingya refugees emerged, ever investigating these issues properly.

Justice becomes even less likely when the state uses bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission as opportunities to protect the dirty secrets of the elite.

Reforming the Military


One of the more important steps towards achieving a more democratic state is reducing the influence of the powerful, unelected, opaque interests who are willing and able to act against the wishes of the people (i.e. against a democratically-elected government). One of the most important of these institutions is the military service.

Few independent observers would disagree that the military occupies an unusually high proportion of the budget for a country that fights so few wars, that there is an inordinate proportion of high-ranking officers and that the equipment purchased by the military seems to have little relevance for either its day-to-day activities or its strategic role (e.g. was there ever really a need for an aircraft carrier, especially one that has never been used?). Further, if the military forces are to be used against the people of the country (whether in the southern border region, on the streets of Bangkok or quietly in Isaan or Chiang Mai), then it should be a professional, accountable force which has promised to serve the state and its government. In other words, this means ending the draft.

Concerting the forces to a professional standing would be conducted in conjunction with a thorough, properly independent review of the purpose and scope of the military and restructuring of existing units into formations that can meet the needs of the country and is equipped appropriately. It is clear, for example, that the military needs to be available for a variety of responses on the Burmese border, so there is a need for helicopters and rapidly-deployed and highly-skilled troops. There is a need for the navy to act to protect refugees and treat them according to the law, while being able to act against pirates, illegal fishing boats and the like. Again, helicopters will be required, along with rapid craft and modern navigational and radar and sonar equipment. Other duties might be more sensibly devised in conjunction with ASEAN allies and some key external allies (e.g. the USA and perhaps China).

Simultaneously, an amnesty might be issued for all those military officials who might be found accidentally to be occupying state resources in one form or another. If any money is recovered this way it might be used  to pay for a modern new military service and the need to replace the draft with civilian training and job creation services for those poorer youngsters who are happy to take the draft in order to learn a craft.

However, this is all wishful thinking under the current political settlement.

New Parties and Ideology


In an article in yesterday’s Bangkok Post about the future of Thai politics, there is an enormous hole where the discussion of ideology should be. Parties (and future parties), according to the writer, appear to be devolving into regional groupings who offer to present a number of MPs (who will be elected on the basis of patronage and vote-buying of one form or another) who might then join whatever coalition offers them the best terms, according to whatever criteria they might have put into place. This would, of course, be a very backwards step in terms of progressive politics.

Ironically, the two likely new political parties (not properly considered in this article) are the two most likely to express some kind of coherent ideology, wrong-headed though that ideology is likely to be.

The two parties are, according to rumour and anecdote rather than hard fact, as is the way of Thailand, to represent the yellow shirt PAD and the green shirt military. Presumably they will come up with some anodyne-uplifting-luck inducing names with which to label themselves.

What would a PAD party stand for? It is difficult to be sure because of the contradictory nature of their leadership. They oppose the vote for poor people and wish to have portions (or all) of both houses nominated rather than elected in some fashion. They oppose globalisation and privatization so would perhaps introduce some protectionist measures (which would be disastrous – well, all of their policies are likely to be disastrous). Core leader Chamlong Srimuang seems to have some desire to turn Thailand into a gigantic monastery so we might expect a lot of social conservatism, more taxes on evils such as instant coffee, alcohol and sex, promotion of ‘traditional’ values and so forth. The movement has also been relentlessly told that politicians are corrupt and should not be in power – they will have either to retract this charge or make use of the Thai double think technique which says that the same act may have good or ill consequences depending on whether the person committing the act has a ‘pure’ mind or not.

The green shirt party have a clear ideology: they want to retain all the power they can, they will devote ever more resources to the military and will share the spoils among themselves. They are likely to try to justify this by talking up threats from other countries (Cambodia, China etc) and linking nationalism with patriotism. This kind of thing remains popular with certain sets of people. They are reputed to have a great deal of money to promote this view.

How will they deal with the fact that no political party now represents the interests of the majority poor, rural people? Well, apart from refusing them the vote, which would probably inspire rebellion, they will have to use Culture Wars and rely on ‘populism’ in terms of economic policies. It remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient to attract the votes of the rural poor.

Abhisit Puts Tanks on Bangkok Streets


Events are happening so quickly that it is difficult to keep up – and it is likely that many things will be forgotten or swept under the carpet in the clamour for urgency.

The situation now is that the ASEAN Summit was cancelled after the government was proved unable to keep order and the various Asian leaders had to be rapidly evacuated by helicopter. Pro-democracy red-shirted demonstrators were moving their protests from Bangkok to Pattaya when it seems there were attacked and shot at by a group of PAD goons and undercover security forces apparently organized by turncoat ‘godfather’ politician Newin Chidchob – it is possible that red shirts also used violence (poor Bangkok Pundit, to whom I generally turn for up to date information, sounded in despair yesterday when he was describing both sides as being no better than each other), although I remember previous clashes during which pro- and anti-democracy factions clashed and the telling phrase from the red shirts was ‘we brought sticks to a gun fight.’ The same seems to have happened here – I do not of course condone violence from anyone.

There are now reports of tanks on the streets and incidents across Bangkok and beyond. PM Abhisit has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and some surrounding provinces which means, inter alia, “Under the order, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited, the press is not allowed to present news reports which could incite worry among to the public. The order also allows the public to be evacuated from areas considered to be risky.” This should be borne in mind in considering, in the future, what is being reported now and in the next period of hours or days.

Some questions:

Will this lead to yet another military coup?

Why is Suthep still in a job?

At what point will the Invisible Hand decide that Abhisit should be let go?

Tomorrow, depending on what happens between now and then, I hope to touch upon the hypocriticial nonsense now being spouted about tourism losses.

Violence?


The strike at Suvarnabhumi Airport is apparently over – good news for me, since I due to be there in a couple of hours. Apparently some 300 workers who were responsible for providing baggage and x-ray machine services were striking to receive the 3,000 baht per person bonus they were promised for working without time off throughout December and January. The bonus has not been paid but executives have promised to take their requests into consideration – so that perhaps means that further industrial action is possible.

Industrial action is of course an important right for workers and it is likely to be a significant feature of the rest of the year, since there will surely be many more job losses and company closures (Olarn Chaiparavart, once of this parish of course, is talking about a contraction of the economy by as much as 4%) and not every company is likely to pay strict attention to its obligations re compensation payments and the ethical shedding of jobs. Given the power that the military now holds in society, together with the expansion of the sinister Internal Security measures, it is likely that any physical confrontation featuring striking workers runs the risk of meeting deadly force – this would be the expression of obvious, explicit violence by the state. Slavoj Zizek, in his new book Violence, draws distinctions between this explicit expression of violence and the implicit, non-expressed forms of violence used by state agencies to control an unwilling (section of the) population – some readers might recall Arthur Scargill justifying the actions of striking miners using the same terms.

Here, the ICT is continuing with policies which use the implicit violence approach: it is claimed that more than 50,000 websites are now being blocked in Thailand – supposedly for containing pornography, pro-terrorist articles or political dissidence in certain particular ways. The fact that I am wary of even mentioning the reasons why this website ban exists and will not try to find out for myself whether certain sites are being blocked or not indicates the efficacy of this policy.

Refugees, Migrants and Human Rights in Thailand


Of Vietnamese refugees in 1979:

“As dusk fell, a band of Thai fishermen bearing rifles, hammers and knives came to us with torches. They gave us a thorough search, took some clothing and then went away. Just after they were gone, another band came to take their place, searching us everywhere and this continued until beyond midnight. All in all there were three bands that did this. The last one, completing their search, drove all the men and youths into a cave and stood guard over it while they took the women away to rape them. In the dark mist and the cold wind, we could only listen to the cries of the children being torn from their mothers’ arms, the prayers and beseeching of the feeble women … Women were pulled out of some spots and beaten, and then gang raped cruelly by as many as ten fishermen at a time. Some pirates engaged in sadistic sex, striking the victims as they raped them until the girls fainted.”

Source: Stefan Eklof, Pirates in Paradise: A Modern History of Southeast Asia’s Maritime Marauders (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2006), p.22.

Of refugees:

“The reports of harsh treatment come in the context of a huge flow of refugees from neighboring countries in the past three decades that has imposed a social and economic burden on Thailand. Since the mid-1970s, Thailand has been a refuge for millions fleeing conflict and repression in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

“Thailand is surrounded by dangerous neighbors who have generated huge refugee flows, and it has sometimes felt overwhelmed by these flows,” said Kenneth Bacon, president of the human rights group Refugees International. “Its record in handling them is mixed.”

In the most notorious episode, in 1979, 42,000 Cambodian refugees fleeing the murderous Khmer Rouge were forced back down a cliff into a minefield by the Thai military. Survivors said many of them died.

During the same period, Vietnamese boat people were victimized by Thai pirates operating without official restraint.

Although tens of thousands of refugees now live in semipermanent camps along the Thai border with Myanmar, some of them are periodically forced back against their will. Last summer Human Rights Watch protested [against] the forcible repatriation of a group of ethnic Karen refugees who had fled military brutality in Myanmar, formerly Burma.”

Source: Seth Mydans, “Thailand Is Accused of Rejecting Migrants,” New York Times (January 17th, 2009), available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/world/asia/18thailand.html?_r=1.

 

Of Burmese migrant workers:

“A sea prisoner refers to a Burmese who was sold by a broker (Burmese or Thai) to a Thai owned fishing trawler. The owner of the trawler would keep the Burmese at sea, not allowing them to disembark at any ports at any time. If their boat had to dock for unloading fish, the victim was put on another fishing boat that was sailing out to sea. The people who come alone to Thailand without relatives or friends from their native village suffered this problem. A sea prisoner does not get a salary either. Sometimes they would receive money to spend on cigarettes or other amenities. Most sea prisoners are children in their early teens.

Although other Burmese fishermen know about the sea prisoners, they have no opportunity to rescue them. They are away at sea for a very long time, and most of the owners of the fishing boats are very rich and have the power to kill a person any time while at sea.”

Myint Wai, A Memoir of Burmese Workers: from Slave Labour to Illegal Migrant Workers (Bangkok: Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, 2004), p.57.

There is a great deal more material of this sort.

Plan A: Deny All Knowledge about Anything, Ever.


We have all seen the coverage of the Thai military’s treatment of the Rohingya refugees and we have all seen the photographs. Even the denials by at least some of the military people involved seem little more than perfunctory. So when the, as some people believe, PM who was appointed by the influence of the army chief decides to claim that the reports were ‘exaggerated,’ many people will think he is merely starting to repay the numerous favours paid to him.

What a huge difference today between the USA and Thailand. In the first, a rejection of human rights abuses and a desire to repair the country’s image in the eyes of the world; in the second, back sliding and weaseling by the son of enormous privilege aiming to restore the class system and the inequalities of the past. The Quisling Thai PM Abhisit has already made a name for himself by denying the Amnesty International report about systematic torture and abuse in the South of Thailand.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has meanwhile requested access to Rohingya refugees to see their situation for themselves. Let us see what international opinion has to say about Abhisit after this – if required to turn on the army for the sake of principle, I think we all know what the outcome will be.