Monday, May 28, 2007

Countdown to a big decision

Wednesday 30th May is likely to play pivotal role in the future of Thai politics, and Thailand as a whole. So great is the tension that even HM The King has made a speech voicing concern and requesting calm.

I shall elucidate, but first let me explain that the story I am about to tell - like all the greatest dramas - has many turning points, sub plots and twists. Usually I try and enlighten on all these but for reasons of time, clarity and lack of internet access, I shall eschew this style and keep right to the point.

Also note that for these same reasons, I cannot check on facts and have to rely on my own personal memory for this article. It's likely some names, dates and sequences of events are inaccurate. I apologise for this and will revise the story as soon as possible. In the meantime, the story is still crucial reading for understanding the situation that is currently reaching a climax.

During the anti-Thaksin protests last year, the rat-faced one himself decided to dissolve parliament and call a general election in an audacious effort to clear himself of all wrongdoing. The major opposition parties of Democrat and Chart Thai anticipated Thaksin's tactics and boldly boycotted the election. The thinking behind this was that it would vitiate any victory by Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party.

However, the Bangkokians still wanted an outlet for their discontent at Thaksin and thus sprang a 'Vote: no vote' campaign. Since all Thais were constitutionally bound to vote, the campaign was designed to use that vote to express protest. The 'no vote' campaign gained momentum and indeed 'no vote' matched or came close to the TRT count in many constituencies. During this fiasco, Democrat secretary Suthep came forward and claimed he had solid evidence of TRT personnel bribing politicians of minor parties top run in the polls.

Why would they do this? Well, under Thai law a candidate must have twenty percent of the local vote to claim victory in any district if he is the only candidate. However, if TWO OR MORE candidates are contesting any district, it is simply a case of "the most votes wins" regardless of the overall percentage. Thus, TRT had a great need to find opposition in districts where the turnout was expected to be low.

Suthep came forward and presented a grainy but visible security video of a TRT member meeting a minor politician inside a major government building ( I think it was the Department of Defence but I can't recall) and presenting him with an envelope. The building had only very recently had security cameras installed and most people were unware of their presence.He also claimed to have a witness from another party who claimed to have been offered large cash sums to compete against TRT.

The TRT defence was of the standard one expects in Thai politics. The security video? "It wasn't me, I was wearing a different colour shirt that day" stated the TRT defendent (No this isn't a joke, if you were wondering) and the minor politician stated "The envelope I was handed contained a press release". A press release handed to him in secret by a rival politician? Hmmmmm................

And for the witness who claimed to have been offered bribes? She was kept in Suthep's home until she was taken by the Thai Police "for safety" and mysteriously reversed her statement later. The Thai Police, of course, were well under Thaksin's control.

The Democrats gathered more evidence and submitted it to the relevant bodies. Thus began problem number two. The 'relevant body' in question was the Election Commission, known as the EC. Set up under the 'people's constitution' of 1997, the EC were a supposedly independent body formed to crack down on vote buying and ensure fair elections. But, like almost every other control body, they became compromised by Thaksin's power and became part of the problem. Every complaint against TRT was ignored, rejected or simply delayed forever.

All was not lost though. The head of the EC investigative panel was no other than judge Nam Yimyen. Nam was one of the annoying few who simply insisted on pathetic practices such as integrity,the rule of law and even efficiency. Nam worked quickly and concluded charges should be pressed on TRT. The EC directors were displeased. They ordered Nam to "repeat" his investigations to which Nam replied "The answer is no. They know what's going on and so do I".

By now, all the media had become aware of the case and seen the pictures. The EC were robbed of their usual stalling tactics, they tried one more delay by asking a different authority to press charges on their behalf, but it didn't work. They reluctantly agreed to press charges against their "golden geese" of TRT.

TRT had a response though. The EC had the power to recommend charges but the actual body responsible was the Office Attorney general, known as the OAG. Thaksin had a plan. The day before the OAG was due to announce charges,Thaksin met with the head. Now, both parties denied the issue of pending charges that would destroy Thaksin's empire even arouse during the chat. The conversation was solely about the problems in the south, they said. No conflict of interests in a private meeting between the head of a party and the head of the body responsible for that party's fate the day before judgement then? Of course not.

By curious co-incidence, the next day it transpired that not only would TRT be charged, the Democrats would too. The later facing charges for encouraging an "unconstituional no vote campaign" and bribing minor parties to claim that TRT had bribed them! A book of more than four hundred pages of evidence was submitted to the EC. The same EC that dragged its feet for weeks for weeks over charging TRT, decided to charge the Democrats within six hours of receiving the four hundred pages of detailed evidence.

More fallout was to follow. The five head members of the EC faced court themselves for abuse of power that ultimately resulted in the election being annulled. The sheer arrogance, childishness and utter lack of remorse shown by the remaining four members of this time would take a blog in itself. Suffice to say some of their comments were sickening. (Still, the annulment must have disappointed the sole non - TRT politician who made parliament, the small time guy from a small time party was set to be named as the official opposition all by himself!)

The two cases went to court, with many predicting that the real reason for the sudden charge of the Democrats was to appease Democrat supporters when TRT were let off. To let two parties "off" seemed fair, never mind the fact that the solid evidence was against TRT.

Then the coup happened and the whole picture changed. Suddenly TRT didn't have control over all the independent bodies. The bungling old junta needed a way to neutralise their younger and smarter foes who were looking for their power and money back. For all the martial law and media censorship, the remaining TRT factions still had communication and manipulation over the North Easter masses. The Democrats - being the oldest active party in Thailand - had their methods too. As the "Dad's Army" junta reached an astounding level of incompetence and ignorance, the tensions grew. It became more and more obvious that a hammer blow was needed from one side. The constitutional judges repeatedly denied that they were being lobbied, but more and more warnings of tension and troubles to come eminted from various sectors of the press and the military.

The verdict is set for Wednesday. This week, HM The King gave a speech to judges appealing for them to rely on the rule of law. His speech should help to ease some tensions. To their credit - though I suspect they may have received a few 'friendly warnings' from the junta - both TRT and Democrat heads have appealed for calm, though both have also lobbied in the press.

Make no mistake, this is huge. We are talking dissolution of the longest running political party and the party that swept to power just a few years ago and still has huge support from easily manipulated members of Thai society of whom some are prone to use violence and have done so before. The army admitted this week that some "sections had reached Bangkok although we tried to block them".

The best case scenario is that the strong police presence and the appeals for calm pay off. Supporters of any dissolved parties accept what happened and the politicians will jump ship to the next cash cow.

The worst case? I don't like to dwell on it. The class tensions were exposed in Bangkok during the Thaksin protests when the mainly middle class protested and the mainly "lower" class accepted donations to travel to Bangkok and in some cases physically assaulted the opposition. Given the existing tensions and the army's long documented incompetence and willingness to use violence to control the crowds, well, let's just hope it doesn't happen.

Either way, we'll know on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The junta have taken the next logical step towards freedom meltdown by blocking some blogger domains.

Watch this space, if it doesn't get blocked.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Political football

No sooner had my own footballing heart been ripped out by Southampton beating Derby on the night only to lose on penalties in the CCC play offs, then The Nation Thailand reports that Thaksin Shiniwat is closing in on a take over of Manchester City football club. Reports state Thaksin enjoyed a VIP tour of the club and 'due diligence' is close to being completed.

On the face of it, this is just another rich man taking over a football club for fun. Certainly that's what most City fans will see anyway. However, dig a little deeper and a few questions present themselves.

1) Thaksin knows nothing about football and has never shown much interest. Why does he want to do this?

Whilst other tycoons have shown willingness to lose millions, they have been keen supporters of the sport. A few years ago when Thaksin displayed a strong interest in Liverpool FC, he was asked to name his favourite players. Thaksin responded "Owen and Gerrard, but I admire many others". In other words, he could only name two England players, he had no idea of the names of any other players of a team he professed to support and was interested in buying. He couldn't name the goalkeepers (Reyna and Dudek) the other strikers (I think it was Cisse at the time?) or any defenders (Hypia for one).

Likewise, when rumours of a purchase of Fulham were widespread, Thaksin told the press: "I don't want to buy them anymore, they lost again last week" This is the sort of flippant remark one expects from someone who knows nothing about football. The fact that his supposed friend and fellow dubious tycoon Muhammed Al Fayed resisted the bid was not mentioned.

So the purchase of an -admittedly big - club in debt that is facing internal problems by a business man with no interest in football seems a little strange to say the least. It's worth noting that Thaksin's two previous attempts to buy football clubs happened to coincide with negative issues in his government. His blatant lies concerning bird flu were quickly forgotten when the issue of Liverpool purchase came up.

2) Why was Thaksin consulted on team affairs?

It is a pet hate of virtually any football fan when the chairman or owner of the club interferes in first team affairs. Credible reports from England have stated that Thaksin was consulted on the sacking of manager Stuart Pearce from Manchester City, and that Thaksin has stated he "wants a foreign manager". Now, given the facts we have already established regarding Thaksin's utter lack of footballing knowledge - how will the City fans react to his obstreperous comments on first team matters?

From the vantage point of an English fan who is also experienced in Thai politics , I can see an issue here already. Thaksin's remarks are designed to make him look a hero. He is probably aware of the City board looking for a big name foreign manager and he feels that few comments made on "wanting a foreign manager" will ensure that when the big name does arrive, he will be perceived as the hero who bought him in. It's the same tactic the won him so much support in Thailand's impoverished north east.

However, theres a potential culture clash on the horizon. Thaksin is used to making a big show of face and being seen as the man who pulls all the strings. English football fans however, are only too weary of businessmen trying to act like they know more than the manager. If Thaksin opens his mouth too much he will not be seen as the hero or the big boss, he will be seen as meddling in first team affairs, and he will draw strong rebuttals and antagonism from the fans. What's more, he won't be able to manipulate the press like he is used to.

3) How will the CNS react?

However much they try and play it off as "It's not our business " or "we don't care" , make no mistake , the CNS will not be happy about this. When the CNS staged its illegal coup, it justified itself by citing Thaksin's corruption and abuse of power and it very quickly gained the backing of HM The King. So strained have the ancient soldiers been that they were almost too busy to elect themselves as executives at various lucrative companies, award themselves a pay rise of double the permitted rate and censor any website or broadcast that was critical of them.

The junta have attempted to copy Thaksin's every step, such as hiring lobbying groups, launching populist schemes to win favour from the poor and running press campaigns all to no avail. Public approval is dropping daily and Thaksin Shiniwat being welcomes by locals in one of the world's trendiest cities (and in a nation with good relations with Thailand) will have them furrowing at the brow, however petty it may seem. And on that thought.........

4) What happens if Thaksin is sent to jail?

From this side of the world it's been hard for me to gauge just how aware and concerned the city fans are with Thaksin's dubious business dealings and forthcoming charges. The former is unlikely to bother them, Roman Abromvich was so popular with his money at Chelsea that few bothered to ask how the Russian businessmen with several close associates in jail or under charges came by his wealth.

However, it's probably no coincidence that the Assets Scrutiny Committee (see my previous blogs on these guys) confirmed they will press for charges against Thaksin for abuse of power concerning a land purchase while he was PM just a couple of days after the City purchase was disclosed. It's now distinctly possible that Thaksin could be sentenced to jail. What would happen then? Would he be allowed to remain owner of City under English or Thai law? What would the City fans make of it? How much would it cost him to buy his way out?

City fans - the real football fans of Manchester - if you're reading this, these are questions you need to be asking your board. What seems to be another tycoon looking to take a team to the top just for fun is probably too good to be true. Thaksin Shiniwat is not a football fan, he's a politician in exile, and he's currently using City in the mid game of political chess against his own country's military. What's more, the military have the backing of HM The King, they are unlikely to lose.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Thai government have rushed through a "cyber crime" act. The "crimes" in question though don't concern fraud, predators or discrimination, they concern people using 'tricks' to get around the MICT censorship. So for looking at a web forum critical of the junta via a proxy server, you could to jail.

The act was rushed through with votes of 119 to 1. Nobody has raised objections to the dubious speed of the act, the total lack of opposition or the idea of the junta enacting a law forbidding criticism of the junta's self appointed censorship duty that was voted through by errrr, the junta.


A Buddhist woman was shot and burned alive in the south of Thailand, shortly before the idea of amnesty for terrorists was propagated.
My heart goes out to the deceased and her family.

On a more positive note, the student newspaper that printed a story about the police extorting money from students has been cleared of police complaints. The police suggested the student paper was not registered under the 1941 publications act, surprisingly this warning came after the aforementioned article concerning police extortion. The National Press Council cleared the newspaper yet the fear of further police action remains.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The battle of wills between Thai government and Google Youtube stepped up a level this week when the MICT (Ministry for Information Communications Technology) announced it will/want/might/shall sue Youtube.

Rather than repeat an entire story, I will - as a one off - copy the style of other bloggers by copying over the entire Bangkok Post article and offering my own comments on the way.

Thailand's Information and Communications Technology Ministry will sue for running a video clip offending the monarchy, and accused the Internet operator of lying when it claimed it could not remove the clip.

This is the same Sittichi who admits the Internet for him is "not exciting" and confesses he is not "tech savvy" telling the fastest growing internet firm about their own technology.

ICT Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom told a meeting of Webmasters yesterday that he would proceed with court action as suggested by the forum.

He said Google, which owns YouTube, had agreed to China's request that some clips be censored. He said he could not see why YouTube could not do the same for Thailand.
"This YouTube issue is about a private firm in the U.S. trying to bully a small country like Thailand," Mr Sitthichai said.

Yes you got that right. Make no mistake, the MICT are part of the junta. The military coup faction - who took power through tanks, guns and soldiers and then displayed utter incompetence at their job have accused Google You Tube - who have recently spent substantial sums to setting up a charity arm of the company to help impoverished countries - of being "bullies" for not obeying Thailand's lese majeste laws over in America.

The government's decision to block access to the clips was not politically motivated as it was done to prevent public anger from watching them.

Paiboon Amornpinyokiat, consultant of the Thai Webmasters Association, recommended the government secure a court order in the United States to coax YouTube into cooperation. He said the government's approach to the issue may be construed ("construed" as in "clearly was") as an order, to which the Web site may be reluctant to respond.

No mention so far as to what act or law will be used to enforce this. I'm no legal expert, but I fail to see how a law broken in Thailand can be used to sue an American business.

Lese majeste is illegal (in Thailand not in the US!!!!!!) and so it was reasonable for the government to seek a court order (in the US?) to ban the Web site, he said.

The minister and representatives of the association joined a discussion on freedom of expression in the digital age at the Thai Journalists Association on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day yesterday.

Mr Sitthichai, meanwhile, denied the government had violated media freedom, saying it blocked only 16 Web sites as opposed to 9,000 Web sites banned by the previous government.

This is a either an out and out lie, a mistranslation or spin. There are just as many sites blocked now and in fact, I think what Sitthichai means is that they have only blocked sixteen more since he came in. I also view this statistic with great scepticism.

Though non-elected, the government was more democratic, he said. (I'm lost for words here)
Paiboon proposed the government promote self-censorship among Webmasters. founder Wanchat Padungrat said that instead of blocking Web sites, the government should encourage constructive ways of expression, for the sake of reconciliation. He said a clear and specific law was needed to combat cybercrimes.
Also Thursday, YouTube's owner Google opened an office in Singapore, in a move thought to be unrelated to the Thailand dispute.
The search juggernaut said it wanted to be closer to its customers and advertisers in Southeast Asia, a market of half a billion people.

In addition to the above, the Radio Thailand news bulletin yesterday quoted the MICT as saying( and I quote this carefully) :

"The MICT said the government should look into enforcing its Lese Majeste laws throughout the world"

If you didn't know they mean it, you'd laugh your head off.

HM The King has already said in his birthday speech that he welcomes criticism. However, Lese Majeste laws deter this.

Imagine, you are sitting in a bar in Australia, your home in the States or a library in England. You see a documentary or read a book and you make a comment concerning sufficiency economy or voice concern over certain other issues I dare not mention. If these Junta had their way, you'd be whisked off to a court house. It's bad enough they restrict freedom to their own nation.

To believe they should do it "throughout the world" shows not only how outmoded they are, but just how insecure and out of touch with reality they are to think they have the means, right, respect, or ability to do so.

The good people of Thailand are more than capable of making up their own minds without thought control from the antiqauted junta.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

More potshots

Thank goodness April is over. The hottest month of the year is oppressive. It's not just the heat but the accompanying humidity that can be very difficult to live with. Bizarrely, we have since been bestowed with four days of almost endless rain, something unknown to many locals.

The junta continue to establish their legacy as a real life version of Dad's Army. Sections of the US media have attacked Thailand on intellectual property violations and compulsory licensing. The hidden agenda here related to the fact that Abbott Pharmaceuticals have been antagonised by compulsory licensing to their AIDS drug in Thailand. The fact that CL has lowered the price for HIV afflicted consumers is not of their concern. Abbot, along with a US lobbying firm that includes ousted PM Thaksin amongst their clientele, have launched media tirades from across the pond at the Thai government.

The junta have not responded well. As ever, they project their bungling , nepotism gifted and outmoded image by threatening to take the action Thaksin took moths ago - hiring a PR firm. Other PR tactics include loans to the poor and censoring all marches , rallies and websites that oppose them. Surprise , surprise, these were also Thaksin maneuvers. Every time the junta seem to make fools of themselves, they compound it by taking retaliatory measures identical to those of the man they ousted because he was "bad".

Given Thaksin's recent bid to purchase Manchester City we can only wonder - will the junta respond by sending him to jail for corruption of making a desperate bid for a football club themselves? It may sound pathetic but don't rule it out.

In a related move, PM Surayud - one of the few in charge who still has the respect of most people, has taken the incredibly dangerous move of suggesting amnesty for terrorists and rebels in the south. His exact quote was "amnesty provided they have not broken a criminal law of Thailand" which begs the question: what self respecting terrorist does not break the law? It seems that we have not yet learnt that offering peace to the bloodthirsty is perceived as a sign of weakness. Offering amnesty to killers as far as I am concerned is a sign of surrender.

One reader Abdel sent some very interesting comments on one of my recent blogs concerning Islam. I contacted him and he very kindly agreed to let me blog his comments and respond to them. I also promised Abdel a chance to reply to my own comments. Stay tuned.