07 June 2019

“Everything stays the same...”

Gen Prayut wins PM vote
Coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha was confirmed as Thai Prime Minister again last night, after he received a total of 500 votes from MPs and senators. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the progressive Future Forward party, gained 244 votes. Prayut’s second term was never in any real doubt, as he could count on the votes of the 250 senators he had appointed. (The democratic 1997 constitution introduced a fully elected Senate, though it was only 50% elected following the military’s 2007 constitution. After Prayut’s 2014 coup, the latest charter allowed the junta to appoint every senator.)

Prayut was nominated as Prime Minister by the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), though they lost the 24th March election, with 97 constituency MPs. Pheu Thai won the highest number of parliamentary seats, 136, though they lacked an overall majority. The new constitution supplemented the ‘first past the post’ system with an element of proportional representation, though incredibly the Election Commission only confirmed its seat-allocation formula after the election had taken place. Following an unprecedented delay, the official results were announced six weeks after the election.

As expected, the Commission’s calculations favoured minor parties at the expense of Pheu Thai, to prevent another landslide by Thaksin Shinawatra’s party. (The PPRP gained a further nineteen MPs, taking their total to 116.) Other attempts to bend the rules in favour of Prayut include the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart party and various trumped-up charges against Thanathorn. (He is currently suspended from parliament pending an investigation into his shares in V-Luck Media, though he has already provided evidence that he sold them before becoming an MP.)

Immediately after the election, Pheu Thai, Future Forward, and five smaller parties signed up for an anti-Prayut alliance of 246 MPs, just shy of a parliamentary majority. Meanwhile, the PPRP joined with ten single-seat micro-parties and others to form a pro-military group of 150 MPs. Pressure to join the PPRP coalition was intense: one Future Forward politician, for example, revealed that he had been offered 120 million baht to switch sides.

Two medium-sized parties, the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, played hard to get, declaring their support for the PPRP only one day before the prime ministerial vote. This gave the PPRP a last-minute total of 254 seats, a slim majority. Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister and Democrat leader, resigned as an MP in protest at his party supporting Prayut. (During the election campaign, he had pledged to oppose Prayut’s candidacy, though after the election his party voted to break that commitment.)

Speaking to reporters today, Prayut said: “Everything stays the same.” After overthrowing a democratic government and being appointed Prime Minister by his hand-picked National Legislative Assembly, he has now been reappointed thanks to a rubber-stamp Senate and an acquiescent Election Commission. Prayut has ensured that, as so often in Thailand’s past, the military will dominate national politics for the foreseeable future.

02 October 2018

Thai Politics III

Thai Politics III
Thai Politics III
Miti Ruangkritya's Thai Politics III is part of his Thai Politics series inspired by Thai political polarisation. The exhibition catalogue, in an edition of 500 numbered copies (of which mine is number 176), features reproductions of defaced posters from the 2011 election, in which Yingluck Shinawatra defeated Abhisit Vejjajiva. The cover has been die-cut to simulate a slashed poster of Abhisit. Manit Sriwanichpoom's series The Election of Hatred (การเลือกตั้งแห่งความเกลียดชัง) also featured photographs of defaced 2011 election posters.

23 September 2018

Democracy after Death

Democracy after Death
Democracy after Death
Neti Wichiansaen's documentary Democracy after Death: The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย เรื่องเศร้าของลุงนวมทอง) is an account of Thailand's recent political history, bookended by the coups of 2006 and 2014. These events are narrated in a voiceover addressed to Nuamthong Praiwan, a pro-democracy protester who committed suicide in 2006. Nuamthong was also the subject of Prap Boonpan's short film Letter from the Silence (จดหมายจากความเงียบ).

The film covers Thailand's polarisation between the PAD and UDD protesters, culminating in the military crackdown of 2010, "the most brutal political massacre in Thai history." As in Thunska Pansittivorakul's The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), former prime minister Abhisit is blamed for the massacre: "Directly responsible, Abhisit Vejjajiva holds Thailand's new record of the number of people shot by the military."

Democracy after Death is significant for its inclusion of sensitive political events excluded from Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). It's also a refreshing counterpoint to Ing Kanjanavanit's Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์), as it highlights the underhand tactics of the PDRC movement (extorting money and sabotaging the 2014 election). Whereas Bangkok Joyride is pro-PDRC, Democracy after Death is biased in favour of Thaksin Shinawatra, noting sympathetically that he "was forced to leave and has had to remain outside Thailand" though ignoring his corruption conviction.

The film's director is also living in exile, due to a previous lèse-majesté prosecution, and Democracy after Death has been self-censored to avoid further charges. A photograph of the junta and Rama IX on the night of the 2006 coup has been pixelated, and a soldier's pledge of loyalty to the king has been bleeped out. Like the short film Narayana's Arrow Spaceship: Between the Orbits of Mars and Jupiter (ยานศรนารายณ์ ระหว่างวงโคจรดาวอังคารและดาวพฤหัสฯ), the credits are also self-censored.

27 July 2016

"I cannot accept this draft..."

Abhisit Vejajjiva, leader of the Democrat Party and former prime minister, has announced his opposition to the military junta's proposed new constitution. At a press conference today, he said: "I cannot accept this draft." He made clear that he was speaking in a personal capacity, as party politics has been outlawed since the 2014 coup.

Specifically, Abhisit criticised article 102 of the charter, which calls for a fully appointed Senate. (Thailand's 1997 constitution introduced an elected Senate for the first time in the country's history, though under the military's 2007 constitution the Senate became 50% appointed.) Earlier this year, Abhisit said: "The draft charter is retrogressive compared to the 2007 charter".

A referendum on the issue will be held on 7th August. As in the 2007 constitution referendum, a 'yes' vote is being equated with a faster return to democracy, though coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has already delayed his 'election roadmap' multiple times. At today's press conference, Abhisit rejected the idea that a 'no' vote would exacerbate Thailand's political crisis: "if the draft is rejected, the country will have a better opportunity."

The proposed constitution has also been rejected by Pheu Thai. The Party issued a statement in April calling for a 'no' vote: "Pheu Thai Party requests that the people come out and vote to "reject" the draft charter that does not recognize the people's power and lacks democratic principles." (That press release was written before the Referendum Act came into effect, since when campaigns against the charter have been effectively banned.)

21 October 2014

Same Sky

Same Sky
Same Sky
Military and police officers have prevented the sale of three t-shirt designs at the National Book Fair in Bangkok. The t-shirts were being sold at the Same Sky journal's booth at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, though Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul was told to withdraw them from sale.

One of the shirts depicts a tree whose branches form the Thai words 'absolute monarchy' and whose extensive roots form the Thai words 'constitutional monarchy'. This design was previously used as the cover illustration for an issue of Same Sky (volume 9, number 1; 2011), and that issue was also notable as it included Thai translations of some WikiLeaks cables relating to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Another shirt depicts the logo of the Steven Spielberg film The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which has been modified with the Thai words 'The Lost World of absolute monarchy'. The third shirt features an emoticon known in Thailand as Mr Grateful, with his mouth zipped shut. (This emoticon is sometimes used to parody the emotional responses of Thai royalists.)

Same Sky has faced several previous legal problems. Thanapol was detained by the military, following the coup earlier this year. Same Sky was banned in 2006 due to its interview with Sulak Sivaraksa, though the interview was later reprinted. The journal distributed VCDs of the 'Tak Bai incident' in 2004, although Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared that the VCDs were illegal.

The three Same Sky t-shirts are not the only clothing designs banned by the military. In June this year, soldiers in Chiang Mai prevented market traders from selling t-shirts featuring an illustration of a red buffalo standing on a cockroach. (UDD supporters are sometimes dismissed as buffalos, and the Democrat Party has been nicknamed 'the cockroach party'.)

On 19th November 2010, following continued unrest after the 2010 military massacre, Prayut Chan-o-cha (the current Prime Minister) issued an order banning any merchandise that might cause political conflict. As a result, several vendors were arrested for selling flip-flops bearing images of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Abhisit himself had not been not consulted on the order, and he publicly criticised it; Prayut rescinded it a week later.

18 September 2013

The Simple Truth

The Simple Truth
The Simple Truth (an English translation of the Thai ความจริงไม่มีสี) is Abhisit Vejjajiva's account of the 2009 and 2010 political protests in Thailand. Abhisit was Thai Prime Minister from the end of 2008 (when the Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling People Power Party) until 2011 (when he was defeated by Yingluck Shinawatra in a general election). His term of office was dominated by a series of protests by the UDD. These culminated in the massacre of May 2010, during which Abhisit authorised the use of lethal force by the army, and more than ninety people were killed.

The book begins with a foreword by Korn Chatikavanij, justifying the use of military force against the protesters though regretting that "over 90 soldiers, civilians and protesters died". (Note that he lists soldiers before protesters, implying that the army suffered the most casualties, when in fact less than 10% of the victims were soldiers.) Korn even claims that the army's use of live bullets was part of the UDD's strategy: "The rationale used by the protest organisers was that, for the government to lose, protesters must die. For that to happen, the army must be armed with real bullets. And for that to happen, the army must first be attacked with real weapons".

Abhisit constantly links the UDD protesters with violence and weapons. For instance: "People could have been injured or died. I could have been the first Thai Prime Minister to die on the road", "I came face-to-face with hysteria and blind hatred that could kill", "The Red Shirts were mobilising across the entire country, effectively calling for bloodshed", "I shudder to think what might have happened had they opened fire on the troops", and "men were entering the temple, perhaps even with arms and other weapons" [my italics]. Notice his subtle linguistic device: each reference to violence is speculative or hypothetical, a rhetorical association of the red-shirts with violence.

Abhisit attributes some of the casualties to 'black-shirt' snipers who allegedly infiltrated the protest sites: "On the evening of 10 April 2010, a black-clad militia with military assault weapons launched a brutal attack on peacekeeping forces, leaving both soldiers and protesters injured and killed". As for Black May itself, he is adamant that there was no military massacre: "one thing is clear: there was never a mass killing of 90 people as the Red Shirts keep claiming". He offers no alternative explanation for the extensive bloodshed, except for another hypothetical: "could it be that the armed militia... were continuing with their strategy to destabilise the government?"

He insists that he worked tirelessly for a peaceful outcome: "I can assure you that all of us - the government and the security forces - tried our best to prevent casualties". This, of course, is at odds with his decision to order soldiers to open fire on citizens of their own country. (In contrast, he accuses Somchai Wongsawat of a "brutal suppression of PAD protesters on 7th October 2008.") One wonders who Abhisit is trying to convince. His core supporters (middle-class Bangkokians) supported the military's actions all along, and he has no need to justify his actions to them. On the other hand, anyone sympathetic to the protesters would be alienated by Abhisit's constant demonisation of the UDD.

There are some appendices, including a bizarre analysis by Philip J Cunningham of a 2012 Abhisit interview. Abhisit was interviewed by the BBC's Mishal Husain, who questioned him about the Black May military massacre. (Dismissively, he told her: "unfortunately, some people died".) Cunningham uses most of his article to suggest others whom the BBC should also interrogate, such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, and even Mark Thompson. When he does finally turn to the Abhisit interview directly, he claims that "Husain went after Mr Abhisit - battering him with rote questions, shouting down his soft-spoken voice, playing up the lurid aspects of the case". He paints Abhisit as a helpless victim, though Husain was asking pertinent questions about civilian casualties.

29 August 2009

"Using all forms of violence..."

An audio clip in which Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva appears to call for the suppression of the red-shirt demonstrators "using all forms of violence" has been blocked by the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Technology. Thai sites that previously streamed it (including Matichon and Thai Insider) have now deleted it.

The tape was edited to misrepresent Abhisit, using extracts from his 19th and 26th April Confidence In Thailand TV programmes. According to the Democrats, it was originally distributed via email by an employee of SC Asset (a company owned by Thaksin's younger sister). It was apparently sent to Pheu Thai (the political party Thaksin controls) on 26th August. It has since been broadcast by ASTV and D-Station.


15 December 2008

Newin: "It's over, boss..."

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has won this morning's parliamentary vote, and has thus become Thailand's new Prime Minister. Abhisit's coalition partners resisted lucrative offers from Puea Thai, perhaps after behind-the-scenes pressure from the army and Democrat deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban. Following the PPP's dissolution, a key PPP faction led by Newin Chidchob shifted its allegiance to the Democrats, after Newin telephoned Thaksin Shinawatra to say: "It's over, boss".