21 January 2021

Hakom

Hakom
Remembrances of Red Trauma
Charuphat Petcharavej’s short story Hakom (ห่าก้อม) was first published in an anthology of Isaan literature, มวลดอกไม้ในยุคมืด (‘flowers in a dark age’). It was translated into English last year, and reprinted in Remembrances of Red Trauma: The Tenth Anniversary of the Political Violence of 2010 (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), a collection of articles reflecting on the 2010 massacre and “Thai society’s deep-rooted culture of impunity.” (Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s Ten Year project also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the massacre.)

Hakom is a supernatural tale of a phi pob spirit possessing an Isaan villager, though the story is also a political metaphor. The fictional village of Dong Bong is a microcosm of Thailand, and its former headman, Wan, is a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra. Charuphat writes that Wan became persona non grata: “A group of villagers had driven him out of the village, forcing him to make a new home for himself on a hill, far away from the village.” This mirrors Thaksin’s self-exile following the 2006 coup against his government.

Wan’s sister, Buaphan, thus represents Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, and the story describes her futile efforts to protect the village from its attackers: “Against these poisonous animals and fierce beasts out on the streets in a show of full force, the villagers [had] little at their disposal to fight back. So many of them went to see Nang Buaphan for help. But she had nothing to match the power of the attackers. She could only tell the villagers to endure this crisis until one day, the monsters would run out of energy and leave.”

This vivid description of a village under siege echoes the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010, and the 2014 coup against Yingluck’s administration. Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s short film The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ) also employs a phi pob as a metaphor for political violence. In Ukrit’s film, an elderly woman is beaten by her fellow villagers, who believe her to be possessed by a phi pob. Like Hakom, The Pob’s House was also a response to the 2010 massacre.

05 April 2019

Bangkok Joyride IV

Bangkok Joyride IV
Ing Kanjananvanit's epic documentary Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์) continues with its fourth instalment, Becoming One (เป็นหนึ่งเดียว), playing now at Cinema Oasis in Bangkok. The series, shot on Ing's iPhone, is an exhaustive record of the PDRC campaign against Yingluck Shinawatra. In part four, a protester claims that Yingluck's brother, Thaksin, is "worse than Hitler", echoing an equally hyperbolic quote from Ing's earlier documentary, Citizen Juling (พลเมืองจูหลิง): "We talk of Hitler... But villagers, all citizens nowadays fear PM Thaksin 10 times more."

Bangkok Joyride covered the early stages of the PDRC's campaign in parts one and two, How We Became Superheroes (เมื่อเราเป็นยอดมนุษย์) and Shutdown Bangkok (ชัตดาวน์ประเทศไทย). Part three, Singing at Funerals (เพลงแห่ศพ), covered the buildup to the 2014 election. Part four covers the protests from 26th January to 8th February 2014, including the 2nd February election.

The PDRC sabotaged the election, blockading polling stations to prevent voting. (It was ultimately invalidated, and the military launched a coup before another poll could take place.) Despite this, Bangkok Joyride celebrates the protesters, and in parts three and four Ing herself appears on stage at PDRC rallies. She can also be heard from behind the camera, wishing the protesters luck; in part four, she tells a demonstrator: "We fight the exact same battle."

In part three, Ing accused the mainstream Western media of pro-Thaksin bias, and this conspiracy theory is expanded in part four when she harangues the BBC's Bangkok correspondent, Jonathan Head: "How do you sleep at night, Mr Head?" Bangkok Joyride's fetishisation of national symbols also continues in part four: protesters are filmed while standing for the national anthem, not once but five times.

Part five, Dancing with Death (รำวงพญายม), will be released later this year. Meanwhile, Neti Wichiansaen's documentary Democracy after Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย), which highlights the PDRC's anti-democratic agenda, provides an effective counterpoint to Bangkok Joyride. The short films This Film Has Been Invalid [sic], Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้), Shut Sound, Myth of Modernity, and Here Comes the Democrat Party (ประชาธิปัตย์มาแล้ว) also include footage of PDRC demonstrations.

28 December 2018

Military, Monarchy and Repression

Military, Monarchy and Repression
Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand's Authoritarian Turn is the first book to examine the causes and consequences of Thailand's 2014 coup. The essays were first published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia (volume 46, number 3; August 2016). In their introduction, editors Veerayooth Kanchoochat and Kevin Hewison summarise the country's volatile political climate since the previous coup in 2006: "Thailand's politics has been marked by multiple military interventions, political mudslinging, spates of violence, a "tradition" of street protests, and repeated civilian uprisings, usually followed by efforts to lay the foundations of electoral democracy."

Chris Baker (author of an excellent Thaksin Shinawatra biography) analyses the causes of the coup, from short-term PDRC demonstrations ("almost six months of constant protest which created the context for the coup") to long-term social trends and traditional power structures. He also argues that the current junta is more repressive than many previous coups ("this was clearly a military government of a kind not seen in over 40 years"), though he is optimistic about the country's political future: "The present generation of the Bangkok middle class, who grew up against the backdrop of the Cold War and the ninth reign, will be replaced by another which grew up in Bangkok as a globalised city."

Other contributors are more pessimistic. Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat (editors of Khaki Capital) believe that the military-dominated status quo will continue: "Perhaps only another 1992 military massacre of civilians will sufficiently taint the image of the armed forces to the extent that civilians cohere against them, monarchical support for the military diminishes, and soldiers return to the barracks. More likely, for the foreseeable future, military officers will continue to play a prominent role in Thailand, guaranteeing the resilience of monarchised military". Similarly, Prajak Kongkirati concludes that the 2014 election (later invalidated) and the ensuing coup "plunged Thailand into a state of uncertainty and (potentially violent) instability, possibly for years to come."

Eugénie Mérieau highlights the Constitutional Court's "effective usurpation of sovereign power". (The Court has disqualified four prime ministers from office: Thaksin Shinawatra, Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat, and Yingluck Shinawatra.) Mérieau's argument is persuasive, though she refers to the politicised judiciary as a "Deep State", a term more often used by conspiracy theorists. Likewise, Chris Baker refers to an "Illuminati" of influential anti-democratic figures: again, the thesis is reasonable, though the terminology implies paranoia. Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat's term "parallel state" is a less problematic description for the pervasive influence of unelected institutions on Thailand's nascent democracy.

07 November 2018

"สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2019"

Police officers and soldiers in Ubon Ratchathani have seized copies of a 2019 wall calendar. The calendar features photographs of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, the message "HAPPY NEW YEAR" in English and Thai ("สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2019"), and new year's greetings from the two former prime ministers.

5,553 of the calendars were confiscated yesterday. The seizure came a day after a woman in Udon Thani, who posted photographs of the calendar online, was visited by police officers and soldiers.

Similar calendars were banned in 2016, along with plastic Songkran bowls, which also featured seasonal messages from Thaksin and Yingluck. All political activity has been prohibited by the military junta for the past four years. Thaksin and Yingluck were both removed from office by military coups (in 2006 and 2014, respectively).

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.

13 September 2018

Someone from Nowhere

Someone from Nowhere
[Spoiler alert: this review reveals the film's ending.] Prabda Yoon's directorial debut, Motel Mist (โรงแรมต่างดาว) was a study of sexual politics and power dynamics, though it also had a political subtext, signalled by a shot of Bangkok's Democracy Monument in the wing mirror as a car drives away. In Prabda's more compelling second film Someone from Nowhere (มา ณ ที่นี้), the entire plot, location, and characters are all political metaphors.

The film takes place in a condo called Liberty Land, which becomes a microcosm for the country (as 'Thai' means 'liberated'). The condo's apparent owner, a young woman, goes about her morning routine: swimming, greeting various neighbours, and taking a shower. But then she discovers an injured man outside her front door, and phones the condominium staff and the police for help. Meanwhile, the man claims to be the condo's rightful owner, demanding: "The only thing I want is to have this place back." She insists that he's lying, and replies: "I won't let you people get away with this atrocity."

To all intents and purposes, the condo is hers, though her deeds of ownership are blank pages, and the assistance she called for never arrives. The analogy to the 2014 coup is clear: like Yingluck Shinawatra, the woman is intimidated by a powerful intruder (the man, representing the military reclaiming its traditional rights); she has no legal defence (her deeds were erased, just as the constitution was abrogated); and she receives no external support (Thailand's judicial system and police force didn't intervene to prevent the coup). The film's political subtext becomes increasingly direct, culminating with the national anthem playing as the man and woman stab each other.

Like Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก), the film's repetitive structure highlights the cyclical nature of the military's interventions. The man places the woman's unconscious body outside, and assumes occupancy of the condo, going through the same morning routine as she did. He then discovers her outside the door, whereupon she claims to be the rightful owner and he insists that she's mistaken. By implication, the two protagonists have relived the same debate, with alternating roles, many times over (symbolising Thailand's transitions between military and civilian rule). Their apparent amnesia echoes the national tendency to gloss over repeated acts of political violence (as the title of Napat Treepalawisetkun's short film We Will Forget It Again also implies).

Someone from Nowhere's title ostensibly refers to the injured man, as the woman occupies the condo when the film begins and the audience's sympathies initially lie with her. But there are also suggestions that the woman is the interloper: the neighbours didn't acknowledge her during her morning routine, for example, while they readily converse with the man. One neighbour tells him that there's been no good news for eighty years, suggesting that the condo's residents harken back to the pre-democratic era before the 1932 revolution, and therefore that they accept him (the symbol of authoritarianism) rather than her (a disruption of the status quo).

16 April 2018

About Heroes

Bangkok Joyride I
Bangkok Joyride II
Cinema Oasis, the arthouse cinema that opened last month in Bangkok, will begin a season of political documentaries this month, after the Songkran holiday. The About Heroes season features Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์), a documentary directed by Ing K. The film, divided into two chapters, is a record of the PDRC's protests in 2013 and 2014 against former prime ministers Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra.

Chapter one, How We Became Superheroes (เมื่อเราเป็นยอดมนุษย์), covers the first stage of the protest, when Suthep Thaugsuban campaigned against a proposed amnesty bill. The amnesty was a blatant attempt to exonerate Thaksin of his corruption charges, and was unanimously rejected by the Senate. The film also features extended clips of a parliamentary no-confidence debate against Yingluck. Emboldened after defeating the amnesty bill, Suthep called for the dissolution of parliament and the establishment of an appointed government.

Chapter two of the documentary, Shutdown Bangkok (ชัตดาวน์ประเทศไทย), covers the escalation of the PDRC's protests. Following the playbook of the PAD, the PDRC shut down major roads in central Bangkok and occupied government buildings, yet were unopposed by the police. The anti-democratic nature of the protest was revealed when the PDRC sabotaged the 2014 general election, which may be included in the forthcoming third episode, Singing at Funerals (เพลงแห่ศพ).

Ing has also directed the banned films Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) and My Teacher Eats Biscuits (คนกราบหมา). Her documentary Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย) was not banned as, according to section 27(1) of the Film and Video Act, "films of news events" are exempt from classification.

When I interviewed Ing in 2016, she said: "this ruling has set a marvellous legal precedent for all documentary films. I'm going to use this ruling to exempt my next film (another cinéma vérité documentary, called Bangkok Joyride) from the censorship process. Then it's a matter of finding a cinema." She solved that problem by building Cinema Oasis.

Citing the "news events" exemption, she didn't submit Bangkok Joyride to the censors, which explains why she was able to include a protester saying "Long live the King" in chapter one and a snippet of the royal anthem in chapter two. Boundary (ฟ้าตํ่าแผ่นดินสูง) was muted to remove a chant of "Long live the King", which was regarded as politicisation of the monarchy, and the royal anthem was cut from Soi Cowboy (ซอยคาวบอย) for commercialisation of the monarchy.

28 September 2017

"The defendant was found guilty..."

Yesterday, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison, after the Supreme Court found her guilty of dereliction of duty in relation to her government's rice subsidy policy. The Court's verdict had been postponed from 25th August, when Yingluck left the country. In its written judgement, the Court said: "The defendant was found guilty of the offences under Section 157 of the Criminal Code and Section 123/1 of the Organic Act on Counter Corruption 1999 and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment."

The guilty verdict was related specifically to contracts with private Chinese companies, arranged by the Thai Ministry of Commerce, which were falsely designated as non-competitive government-to-government deals. Last month, former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom was jailed for forty-two years for his part in the scandal. In its judgement against Yingluck, the Supreme Court ruled that she was aware that the government-to-government deals were fraudulent, as she had sacked Boonsong on 30th June 2013. Also, the enquiry she established to scrutinise the deals was an internal investigation conducted by Boonsong's subordinates.

Starting in 2011, Yingluck's Pheu Thai government bought rice from farmers at up to 50% above the market rate, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. When other countries in the region increased their rice exports, Pheu Thai was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell, and that it was unable to pay for. (Yingluck was deposed by the Criminal Court in 2014 on an unrelated issue, and subsequently retroactively impeached.)

Yesterday, the Court ruled that Yingluck was not responsible for the financial losses incurred as a result of the rice subsidy policy itself, thus calling into question the $1 billion penalty she was fined last year to compensate for the scheme. The Court also determined that she was not guilty of corruption herself, and was not accountable for any irregularities associated with the operation of the scheme. The Court's guilty verdict rested solely on her failure to expose the fraudulent government-to-government contracts.

The Court's decision is another instance of déjà vu, as Yingluck's political trajectory precisely echoes that of her brother, Thaksin. They were both elected with majorities (Thaksin in 2001, 2005, and 2006; Yingluck in 2011). In both cases, their elections were boycotted by the opposition Democrats (in 2006 and 2014, respectively). Those elections were both nullified by the Constitutional Court (also in 2006 and 2014). They both faced long-running street protests (the PAD and PDRC) that provoked military coups (in 2006 and 2014). They both had their assets seized (Thaksin in 2010; Yingluck in 2016). Finally, they were both jailed in absentia (Thaksin in 2008; Yingluck yesterday).

27 August 2017

"She is a former prime minister and
some officials might have helped her..."

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra left Thailand this week, shortly before the Supreme Court was due to deliver its verdict in her trial for dereliction of duty. Yingluck had been due in court on 25th August, though her lawyer claimed that she was too ill to attend. The Court rejected that claim, as no medical certificate was presented, and the reading of the verdict was delayed until 27th September.

Announcing the delay, the Court released a written statement saying: "the defendant may attempt to abscond and therefore the Court duly issued an arrest warrant". It soon became clear that Yingluck had indeed absconded, crossing the border into Cambodia and then flying to Singapore. How or when she left Thailand has not yet been established, though it seems that she left at the last minute, only a day or two before the verdict was to be delivered.

The case stems from a rice subsidy scheme she spearheaded in 2011. Her government bought rice from farmers at up to 50% above the market rate, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. The result, however, was that other countries in the region increased their rice exports. Pheu Thai was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell, and that it was unable to pay for. Yingluck was charged with implementing the loss-making scheme and failing to prevent the corruption associated with it.

Throughout the trial, Yingluck had defended the policy in court, and had pledged to accept the verdict. On 11th July, she told the Bangkok Post: "I'll be there in court to the end." (The Bangkok Post previously interviewed her in 2014, though that interview was later retracted.) Her self-exile is all the more surprising as she seemingly avoided detection when she crossed the border. On this point, deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan initially told the media: "She is a former prime minister and some officials might have helped her if she is running away." Later, the government denied this, with one source implausibly suggesting that she had fled in a speedboat.

Her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, also left the country suspiciously easily during a Supreme Court trial. (He was given permission to visit Beijing for the Olympics, and didn't come back.) He was convicted in absentia in 2008, and his assets were seized in 2010. The coups of 2006 and 2014 were attempts by Thailand's traditional power brokers, the military, to terminate the Shinawatra family's political influence.

The eventual verdict in Yingluck's case is a foregone conclusion, given that she has already been removed from office, retroactively impeached, and fined $1 billion. Yingluck was either facing a jail sentence after a politicised trial, or a life in exile as a fugitive from justice. Her decision to leave is arguably the ideal scenario for the military, as she would have been regarded as a martyr by her red-shirt supporters if she had been convicted and jailed.

15 June 2017

ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา

ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา
ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา, a defence of Pheu Thai's rice subsidy policy, was published on 1st May, though there have been several attempts to prevent its distribution. Police and military officers suspended a press conference announcing the book on 25th March, and a book launch scheduled for 29th April was cancelled. 190 copies of the book were seized from the home of one of its writers, Suchart Lainamngern, on 27th May. (The other authors are Yuttapong Charasathien, Niyom Changpinij, Surasarn Phasuk, and Somkid Chuakong.)

The rice subsidy scheme was implemented by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2011. Her government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. As a result, countries such as India and Vietnam increased their rice exports, and the government was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell.

In 2014, the national Anti-Corruption Commission brought charges against Yingluck for her role in the policy, and she was retroactively impeached by the National Legislative Assembly in 2015. After an investigation into the scheme, she was fined $1 billion last year.

22 October 2016

Yingluck: "I will use every
channel available to fight this..."

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been fined $1 billion after an investigation into her government's rice subsidy scheme, and her assets are liable for seizure by the Legal Execution Department. Yingluck announced that she will appeal against the verdict, saying: "it is not right and it is not just. I will use every channel available to fight this."

In 2011, Yingluck's Pheu Thai government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. The result, however, was that other countries in the region increased their rice exports, leaving the government with vast stockpiles that it could not sell.

Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, whose assets were frozen in 2007 and finally confiscated in 2010. She was elected in 2011, though the PDRC organised protests against her government. She called an election in 2014, though it was boycotted by the opposition and sabotaged by the PDRC. She was removed from office shortly before a military coup, and was retroactively impeached last year.

03 April 2016

"แม้สถานการณ์จะร้อน
ขอให้พี่น้องได้รับความเย็นผ่านขันใบนี้"

In a joint police and military operation yesterday, more than 10,000 red water bowls were seized from former Pheu Thai politicians in Nan, a province in northern Thailand. 8,862 bowls were taken from one former MP, and 1,500 from another.

The bowls include a message from former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra: "แม้สถานการณ์จะร้อน ขอให้พี่น้องได้รับความเย็นผ่านขันใบนี้" ('although the situation is hot, everyone can keep cool with water'). They were due to be distributed to Pheu Thai supporters before the Songkran water festival later this month.

In a similar case earlier this year, officials in Roi Et province banned distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck calendars. Yingluck herself is currently on trial at the Supreme Court following her impeachment in January.

21 February 2016

สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2559

สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2559
สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2559
สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2559
Calendars featuring photographs of Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck were banned last month by the governor of Roi Et, a province in northern Thailand. There have been similar reports in other areas of the country, and police prevented Yingluck herself from distributing ten of the calendars in Khon Kean, another northern province.

The calendars, available in two different versions, both feature the message "สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2559" ("happy new year"; 2559 is the Buddhist equivalent of 2016), above short handwritten notes from Thaksin and Yingluck. Former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck were both removed from power by military coups (in 2006 and 2014 respectively).

23 January 2015

Yingluck: "Thai democracy is dead..."

The National Legislative Assembly voted today to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. She has therefore been banned from political activity for the next five years. (Her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin, also received a five-year ban, in 2007.) The verdict was largely a foregone conclusion, as the NLA members were all appointed by the NCPO.

Yingluck will also face a criminal investigation, the Attorney General announced today, though the impeachment process itself is legally questionable, as the NLA was established after last year's military coup. Yingluck had planned to give a press conference following the impeachment vote, though the military prevented her from doing so. Instead, she issued a statement online: "Even as Thai democracy is dead and the rule of law destroyed, anti-democratic forces still remain prevalent as a destructive force, as evident from what I am experiencing."

Yingluck's impeachment had been recommended by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, following its investigation into her controversial rice subsidy scheme. (In 2011, the Pheu Thai government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. The result, however, was that other countries increased their rice exports, leaving the government with vast stockpiles that it could not sell.)

Given that Yingluck was removed from office by the Constitutional Court on 7th May last year, her impeachment eight months later seems designed purely to prevent her from returning to power in future elections. It also, therefore, reinforces the impression that last year's coup (as in 2006) was intended primarily to remove all traces of Thaksin's political influence. (Thaksin led the most popular political movement in Thai history, though he was viewed as a threat by the military and the Privy Council, thus his nominees Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat were both removed by the Constitutional Court.)

The NACC had also recommended the impeachment of Somsak Kiatsuranon and Nikhom Wairatpanich - former speakers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively - though their impeachments were rejected by the NLA. Somsak and Nikhom had organised parliamentary votes to amend article 117 of the constitution, in an attempt to restore a fully-elected Senate.

(The 1997 constitution established an elected Senate for the first time, though after the military's 2007 constitution the Senate was only 50% elected; the proposed amendment was rejected by the Constitutional Court.) Ironically, the military violated the constitution by declaring martial law, and then tore up the entire charter when they launched the coup, yet Somsak and Nikhom faced the threat of impeachment for attempting to amend individual articles in parliament.

Yingluck was elected in 2011. Just as Thaksin was deposed following PAD protests, Yingluck was dismissed after protests by the PDRC. In both cases, the protesters caused maximum disruption as a pretext for a coup - the PAD occupied Suvarnabhumi airport in 2008, and the PDRC sabotaged the election in 2014 - though no protest leaders have been prosecuted. In Yingluck's case, the protests began after her attempt to secure an amnesty for Thaksin, a policy that was condemned by both sides of the political divide.

25 November 2014

Yingluck: "Someone points
a gun at my head..."

Bangkok Post
Bangkok Post
The Bangkok Post has performed a remarkable act of self-censorship, by printing and subsequently retracting an interview with former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The interview appeared in yesterday's print edition, headlined "Yingluck saw the coup coming" and written by Wassana Nanuam; it was a major scoop, billed as Yingluck's "first public interview since she was ousted", yet it appeared on page three rather than page one.

A Yingluck interview is remarkable in itself, as she is prohibited by the NCPO from commenting on politics. (Contrary to claims by an army spokesman, Yingluck and other political leaders were detained by the military after the coup, and released after agreeing to refrain from political activity.) Her comments in the interview are particularly unexpected, given the ban on criticism of the coup imposed under martial law.

In the interview, Yingluck spoke surprisingly frankly about the military's role in Thai politics, accusing the Constitutional Court and the army of political interference: "I knew from the first day I was prime minister that if it wasn't cut short by the independent agencies or the judiciary, it would be a coup". (Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed by the 2006 coup, and prime ministers appointed by him were removed by the Constitutional Court in September 2008 and December 2008.)

Most provocatively, Yingluck said that she felt as if she were being metaphorically held at gunpoint by the military: "I did my best to fulfil my duty as a prime minister installed via an election and who preserved democracy... It's the same as if the people had handed me the car keys and said I must drive and lead the country. Then suddenly, someone points a gun at my head and tells me to get out of the car while I'm at the wheel driving the people forward."

The article focused entirely on politics, and prominently stated several times that Yingluck may seek re-election in the future: "Ex-premier mulls returning to politics... she has designs on a parliamentary run in 2016... Yingluck said that if in 2016 there is a general election and she is still qualified to stand, she intends to run for parliament." There were only three non-political sentences, giving a rather twee account of Yingluck's daily routine: "Whiling away the time, she now cultivates mushrooms in her garden..."

It was an explosive interview, though yesterday evening the Bangkok Post deleted it from its website and replaced it with a completely rewritten version, headlined "Yingluck focuses on family, not politics". The revised version's emphasis is entirely on Yingluck's private life, with no political content, making it the exact opposite of the original.

The new, much shorter version removes all of the quotes from the original, replacing them with a single new quote: "I've put all my energy in [sic] taking care of my son... growing mushroom [sic], reading books and writing. That's all". It was clearly hastily rewritten, as it was not copy-edited before publication. It's also intentionally bland and without any news value. (Surely it's almost unheard-of to write something so deliberately uninteresting?)

The revised article actually contradicts the original interview, claiming that Yingluck has not decided whether to seek re-election: "Yingluck reiterated that her political future was uncertain, including a plan to run in future elections". Indeed, after the original interview appeared yesterday, Yingluck issued a statement denying that she plans a comeback. The Bangkok Post reported her denial today, headlined "Yingluck denies plan to seek re-election", though it made no mention of yesterday's interview which repeatedly stated precisely the opposite.

It's highly unusual for a newspaper to publish such a newsworthy interview and then remove every quote from it, make it six times shorter (only 104 words, compared to 673 words in the original), and rewrite it with an anodyne and contradictory spin. The original publication also raises questions about the writer's motivations, as Wassana sometimes acts as a military mouthpiece and she is certainly experienced enough to know the difference between on- and off-the-record conversations.

(Thaksin has had his own troubles with newspapers, as his unguarded comments have led to controversial headlines. In a 9th November 2009 interview with The Times, he agreed with the interviewer that the Crown Prince's reign "will be a "shining" age". In a 20th April 2009 interview with the Financial Times, he claimed that three privy councillors "told his majesty that they will do a favour for him by getting me".)

06 November 2014

Love Letters To Dictators

Love Letters To Dictators
Love Letters To Dictators
In his ironically-titled Love Letters To Dictators, Sulak Sivaraksa gives his views on the aftermath of the 2014 coup, the NCPO's administration, and Prayut's "bring back happiness" propaganda campaign. He praises the UDD: "Many Red Shirts are not pawns of Thaksin Shinawatra. They have bravely struggled for freedom", and he condemns the "corrupt policies of Thaksin and Yingluck". The limited edition book is published in both Thai and English.

Sulak quotes former Prime Minister Praya Pahon's letter of resignation: "I realized that I am army chief as well as prime minister, it appears improper and... will disgrace Your Majesty", and suggests that Prayut should take heed. (However, Prayut has since become Prime Minister.) He notes that there was a change in protocol following the coup, such as the ex post facto royal endorsement, "to show that there wasn't any connection between the monarchy and the coup". But then he adds provocatively: "Whether or not this is plausible is entirely a different matter."

Sulak, publisher of Seeds Of Peace, is one of the few Thai intellectuals to speak openly and frankly in favour of democracy and freedom of speech, and against the lèse-majesté law. Sulak himself has faced several lèse-majesté charges over the years, and his book ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย was banned after the previous coup. When he was interviewed by Same Sky, the journal was banned, though the interview later appeared in his English-language book Rediscovering Spiritual Value. Another Sulak interview, in the documentary Paradoxocracy, was censored before the film's release.

08 May 2014

"The PM's status has ended..."

Yesterday, the Constitutional Court announced that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must resign from her post, along with nine members of her cabinet. Chalermpol Ekuru, President of the Court, declared: "The Prime Minister's status has ended. Yingluck can no longer stay in her position". (Yingluck, Thaksin Shinawatra's sister, won the 2011 election; a new election has been scheduled for 20th July.)

Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan, a former Shin Corp. executive, has been appointed caretaker Prime Minister to replace Yingluck. Niwatthumrong was also the head of the government's controversial rice subsidy scheme, and today the National Anti-Corruption Commission recommended that Yingluck should be impeached by the Senate for her role in the policy. Impeachment would result in a five-year ban on political activity, though as she has already been forced to resign, it's not clear how she can be dismissed again.

The Constitutional Court's case against Yingluck relates to her demotion of Thawil Pliensri in 2011. Thawil was head of CRES (the Council for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation which launched the miltary massacre in 2010); Yingluck replaced him with the chief of police, then appointed Thaksin's brother-in-law Priewpan Damapong as the new police chief. The Court ruled that this was an act of nepotism that violated article 266 of the constitution, which prohibits "the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer... of a Government official" if such action is performed "for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party".

Yingluck's dismissal is the third occasion on which the Constitutional Court has ordered the resignations of prime ministers associated with Thaksin. The Court dismissed Samak Sundaravej in 2008 for hosting a TV cookery show. The Court ruled against Somchai Wongsawat, Samak's successor, later that year, in an attempt to placate PAD protesters.

Today's verdict seems to echo the Somchai case, another 'judicial coup' to appease anti-Thaksin protesters. Just as the PAD blockaded Government House and Suvarnabhumi airport, PDRC protesters have blocked intersections in Bangkok and disrupted the election. The courts have sided with the protesters against the government, nullifying the 2nd February election and preventing the dispersal of the PDRC.

Neither the Constitutional Court nor the NACC accused Yingluck of actually breaking the law. The Court ruled that Yingluck was legally authorised to transfer Thawil, though the transfer was not "in accordance with moral principles". Likewise, NACC spokesman Vicha Mahakun confirmed that corruption had not been proven: "the evidence is not clear that the accused took part in corruption, or whether she allowed corruption or not".

Yingluck's predecessor, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was also convicted of inappropriate staff transfers: he demoted Piraphon Tritasawit in 2009, and ignored the Administrative Court's verdict requiring reinstatement; and the Court ruled in March that his 2009 dismissal of Patcharawat Wongsuwan was also unlawful. However, neither case reached the Constitutional Court, unlike Yingluck's transfer of Thawil.

04 May 2014

"Yingluck should make the sacrifice
of withdrawing from power..."

Last week, the Election Commission announced that a new election will take place on 20th July. An election was held on 2nd February, though it was subsequently nullified by the Constitutional Court. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament last December as a concession to the PDRC protesters who have blocked intersections in Bangkok and disrupted the election. Suthep has also threatened to disrupt the next election, which would probably result in another annulment by the Court.

For the past week, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has pledged to reveal his plan to end the country's political limbo. Yesterday, he finally unveiled his proposals, calling for Yingluck to resign: "Yingluck should make the sacrifice of withdrawing from power". Curiously, he specified that she should quit before the Constitutional Court announces its verdict in the Thawil Pliensri case. A guilty verdict is widely expected, though it's unclear why Abhisit wants to pre-empt it.

Abhisit also proposed that the Senate should appoint an interim government, which would draft a series of political reforms. Those reforms would then be put to a referendum, and a general election would be held so that the government could implement the reforms. This plan is hardly surprising, as Democrat lawyer Wirat Kalayasiri made the same suggestion in the Bangkok Post last month: "the Senate Speaker would have to nominate the next prime minister... whose interim government should make plans for national reform ahead of the next general election."

Abhisit's proposals are similar to those of the PDRC: Suthep Thaugsuban has also called for an appointed group to draft plans for political reform before an election. However, Suthep has rejected Abhisit's plan, as it gives the Senate the authority to appoint the interim government; Suthep's stated aim is that he will seize sovereign power and select a prime minister by himself. Pheu Thai also rejected the proposal, as an appointed government would be unconstitutional.

Abhisit has stated that he will resign from politics if his proposals are accepted by both sides of the political dispute. (This is a safe pledge for Abhisit to make, as his proposals have not been accepted by either side.) The Democrats have announced that they will boycott the forthcoming election if Abhisit's plan is rejected, which seems highly likely. (They also boycotted elections in 2006 and earlier this year.) Instead of their petulant boycotts, they should refresh their leadership, introduce policies that appeal beyond their core voters, and disassociate themselves from the undemocratic PDRC.

03 April 2014

"Acts of the prime minister
that are unconstitutional..."

It seems increasingly likely that Yingluck Shinawatra will become the third prime minister affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra to be disqualified by the Constitutional Court. (Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat were both dismissed in 2008. The Court disqualified Thaksin himself in 2007, though he had already been removed by a military coup.)

Twenty-seven senators signed a petition asking the Constitutional Court to rule on Yingluck's removal of Thawil Pliensri as head of the National Security Council. The Court accepted the petition yesterday, and Yingluck now has fifteen days to defend herself against a charge of violating the constitution. Thawil claims that his transfer "involves acts of the prime minister that are unconstitutional".

Yingluck demoted Thawil in 2011, replacing him with the chief of police, then appointed Priewpan Damapong as the new police chief. Thawil was secretary of CRES (the Council for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation which launched the military massacre in 2010), and Priewpan is Thaksin's brother-in-law, thus the Court petition argues that Thawil's replacement was politically motivated. The constitution prohibits "the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer... of a Government official" if such action is performed "for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party" (article 266).

If the Constitutional Court found Yingluck guilty, she would automatically face dismissal as Prime Minister. This scenario is highly likely, as the Central Administrative Court has already ruled that Thawil's replacement was unconstitutional. That verdict was upheld last month by the Supreme Administrative Court, and Thawil has now been reinstated to comply with the forty-five day deadline imposed by the Court.

The constitution states that, if a prime minister leaves office, the new PM must be a member of parliament: "The Prime Minister shall be a member of the House of Representatives" (article 171). Furthermore, the prime minister must be selected by a majority parliamentary vote: "the appointment of a person as Prime Minister shall be passed by the votes of more than one-half of the total number of the existing members of the House of Representatives" (article 172). If a majority vote is not reached within thirty days, "the person who has received the highest votes" must be selected (article 173). However, the Constitutional Court's nullification of the election means that a prime minister cannot be proposed or voted for, as there are no sitting MPs.

The PAD and PDRC have both called for a royally-appointed prime minister, citing article seven of the constitution, though article seven merely affirms "the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State". In fact, the King unequivocally ruled out an appointed prime minister in 2006: "Article seven does not empower the King to make a unilateral decision... If the King made a decision, he would overstep his duty and it would be undemocratic".

The status of the caretaker cabinet would also be in question following the Prime Minister's dismissal. According to the constitution, the cabinet must remain until the next parliament is in place: "The outgoing Council of Ministers shall remain in office for performing duties until the newly appointed Council of Ministers takes office" (article 181). However, the constitution also states that the cabinet must resign following the prime minister's dismissal: "Ministers vacate office en masse upon... the termination of ministership of the Prime Minister" (section 180).

The Constitutional Court is likely to be one of the primary arbiters in these cases, and in the absence of legal precedents, much will depend on the Court's own interpretation of the constitution. Ominously, the Court's recent judgements have been questionable and arguably biased. It declared the election illegal on 21st March despite having declared it legal on 12th February; and it ruled that the election could be postponed, citing the 2006 election as a precedent, though the 2006 election was not postponed.

Yingluck is not the only prime minister to be found guilty of inappropriately transferring government officials. Abhisit Vejjajiva has been convicted of two such cases: he demoted Piraphon Tritasawit in 2009, and ignored the Administrative Court's verdict requiring reinstatement; and the Court ruled last month that Abhisit's 2009 dismissal of Patcharawat Wongsuwan was also unlawful. However, neither case reached the Constitutional Court, unlike Yingluck's transfer of Thawil.

19 February 2014

"This case is over..."

Kitti Eaksangkul
A general election was held as scheduled on 2nd February, though the government continues to face street protests and judicial interventions. Prime Minister Yingluck met the Election Commission on 28th January, after the Constitutional Court decreed that the election could be legally postponed. While the EC called for a delay, Yingluck argued that there was no legal precedent for an extension beyond the sixty-day period stipulated by the constitution.

Suthep's PDRC protesters attempted to prevent voting on election day, just as they did when advanced voting took place on 26th January. 89% of polling stations opened successfully, though voting was cancelled in nine provinces due to PDRC disruption and lack of Election Commission officials. Kitti Eaksangkul was attacked by a PDRC protester as he attempted to enter a polling station, and a photograph of the assault was reproduced in newspapers around the world.

There is still confusion surrounding twenty-eight constituencies in which no candidates could register for the election, marking another disagreement between the government and the Election Commission. The government maintains that the existing royal decree can be applied to the new round of registrations and by-elections, though the EC insists that a new decree is required. This is uncharted legal territory, a further sign of the stalemate created by the cycle of protests in Bangkok. As with the election postponement, the EC will ask the Constitutional Court to adjudicate on the need for a royal decree.

Following a petition from the Democrat Party (which boycotted the election) seeking an annulment of the election, the Constitutional Court ruled last week that the election was legal. This was an unexpected victory for the government, as the Court had annulled the 2006 election (which the Democrats also boycotted).

The Democrats have previously accused the government of disrespecting Constitutional Court judgements (after the Court rejected Yingluck's bill to restore a fully-elected Senate), thus the Democrat lawyer was careful not to challenge the Court's validation of the election. The lawyer, Wiratana Kalayasiri, said, "This case is over. But if the government does anything wrong again, we will make another complaint."

The PDRC protesters are still occupying several intersections in Bangkok, though they closed two of their camps at the start of this month. The protest sites are almost totally deserted during the daytime, though more protesters arrive in the evenings. Some sites resemble street markets rather than political demonstrations. (Also, Suthep has failed four times to appear at the Criminal Court to answer murder charges relating to the 2010 military massacre.)

More than a month after Suthep's 'Shutdown Bangkok' protest escalation, the police have begun an attempt at reclaiming some of the blockaded buildings and roads. Yesterday, four protesters and a police officer were killed at Phan Fah near Democracy Monument. Protesters attacked the police with grenades and gunfire, and the police responded with live ammunition.

Today, the Civil Court ruled that, while the government is within its rights to declare a state of emergency, it has no authority to disperse the protesters. This judgement is a contradiction, as political demonstrations are forbidden during a state of emergency. It also legitimises the illegal protest movement and represents another judicial undermining of the government's authority. Furthermore, the ruling is in contrast to the Civil Court's decision of 5th April 2010, when it decreed that the government did have the authority to disperse the UDD protesters.

Yesterday, the National Anti-Corruption Commission unanimously decided to bring formal charges against Yingluck for her role in the government's rice subsidy scheme. This could potentially lead to Yingluck's impeachment, if she were found guilty. Impeachment would require a three-fifths majority vote in the Senate, though Yingluck would be suspended from duty pending the Senate's vote.

In 2011, the government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. The result, however, was that other countries such as India and Vietnam increased their rice exports, the government was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell, and therefore it could not pay the farmers for the rice they had supplied.

Despite initially dismissing the rice farmers as uneducated peasants, the PDRC have now embraced the farmers as victims of the government, and are raising money to pay them. (Suthep accused the government of buying votes with this and other policies, though he is now employing the same strategy by paying the rice farmers himself.)