Friday, August 29, 2008

Three reasons why the PAD protest has backfired

So I've finally found a "spot the difference" caption for Thai and UK politics.
Pictured above are members of the People's Alliance "for" Democracy. Their faces are covered as they smash their way into a TV station to protest against a democratically elected government. Also pictured are the Unite "Against" Fascism group as they force their way into Oxford Union to protest against the private Union's decision to invite certain people to a private debate.
The only difference between these groups is that the PAD were once a force for good.

Why have the PAD gone bad?

1) It has not achieved its stated objective.

The PAD has repeatedly stated its demands for Samak to resign, but the ogre-faced one is not only still there, he is actually increasing in terms of popularity. The other - unstated - goal of the PAD is to create so much fear and chaos that the army sweep in with another coup. But Anupong has kept close to Samak and there have been no signs of it happening.

2) Its fascist behaviour is losing it support.

The moment that some PAD members with covered faces smashed in the doors to NBT TV and stormed the station, people began to condemn the group. The violence and wish for bloodshed was becoming obvious.

On a personal note, the bandanna clad PAD members behaving like animals reminded me of the UAF in England during their protests at Oxford Union. The irony was obvious - a group that calls itself the 'People's Alliance for Democracy' behaving in a most undemocratic manner, and a group that calls itself 'Unite Against Fascism' behaving like fascists. Misnomers that are not lost on the public at large.

3) It is actually increasing the popularity and perceived independence of Samak Suntarajev.

Samak's calmness and patience during this fiasco is exactly what the PAD did not want. They wanted him to react angrily and threaten force, or start talking about Thaksin. His restraint has won him support. Even the Thai police have come through this looking good so far. You know you're doing badly if you make the Thai police look good. (I have permission to say that).

The PAD used this protest as a big 'final push', an all or nothing effort to oust the PPP regime. The plan so far has not worked and the increasing desperation and paranoia of the group is becoming obvious. Journalists being attacked and threats from Chamlong's scheduled replacement Panlop that "non peaceful means" will be used to resolve the situation if he takes over are a sure giveaway that the PAD want bloodshed to occur. It's their last chance.

But it is not over yet. It's a tense and intriguing situation. Sondhi and Chamlong still look genuinely relaxed and retain the support of some middle class Thais, senators and a small minority of officials and military. Rail unions have called a strike in a show of PAD support and the court have cancelled the eviction order. Samak is under huge pressure. But with Samak's decision to turn the protest into a war of attrition, it's hard to see how the PAD can come out on top unless the police lose patience and decide to move in and arrest the leaders. If that happens and the people fight back, there could be deaths and there could be a coup. For the sake of Thailand, let's hope that doesn't happen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The last days of the PAD?

I guess most people have been in a situation where they hear an old friend or colleague has done something terrible/crazy/surprising and asked themselves "What was he thinking?".

I've never met Chamlong, but my wife has. Yet the same "What is he thinking?" moment has been bugging me this week following the actions of Chamlong and the PAD.

In his book "Chamlong Sriamuang and the New Thai Politics" Duncan McCargo argues that a study Chamlong's biography exposes a man who may have high ethical standards, but performs most of his political manoeuvres strictly in self interest.

I can't find any other reason for the fascist actions of the PAD this week. Storming a TV station and taking hostages and invading government house.

I've always argued that Chamlong's anti-corruption ethic makes his own self interests unimportant, he was good for Thai politics. But the actions of the PAD this week are based around a simple logic - if you don't like the democratically elected government, use force and intimidation to make them either resign or spark a coup. That is the undoubted thought process involved.

In the last few hours the courts have issued arrest warrants for he PAD leaders. Sonthi is considered the overall leader, he will need all his cash and business contacts just to avoid the death penalty. But Sonthi and the other leaders do not share the respect and (in some circles) public admiration Chamlong has.

Sriamuang has recently inferred that at his age, he doesn't have to worry about what happens to him. As I type this, the PAD leaders sit in the rain outside government house, daring the police to wade through the crowds and arrest them. It's a scene eerily reminiscent of 1992, but the crucial difference is that last time around, the majority of right thinking people supported Chamlong, this time around, they don't. What is he thinking?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Business as usual

Don't read this article after eating. You might throw up. I nearly did.

The news has many familiar elements to it. Firstly, nepotism. Secondly, the elder politician making an unctuous, gushing and disgusting defence of the nepotism. Finally, an acceptance that things are normal this way. Notice that Mun makes no mention of the fact his colleague did anything wrong, there is no remorse, simply an observation that Vatana's career is over.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The two way mirror - was justice really being served?

"I personally guarantee that these investigations will not turn out to be a farce"

I forget where or when, but those were the words spoken by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin a few months after the last coup in Thailand.

At the time his words seemed plausible and almost convincing. Indeed, they were convincing all the way up until the Supreme Court's verdict against Potjamon Shiniwatra last week.

Because, until the astonishing moment that a person sentenced to three years imprisonment was allowed to leave the country the very next day, I think many people had truly begun to believe - or at least wanted to believe - that the legal system of Thailand was on its way to solving the turmoil that has engulfed the nation.

It all started when HM King Bhumipol told the courts of Thailand to "get us out of this mess". The courts wasted no time in taking up the task. They annulled the election that had been boycotted by all major opposition parties, they found the EC commissioners guilty of dereliction of duty, they dissolved Thai Rak Thai and absolved The Democrat party, they aided the appointment of senators and took appropriate actions against the Shinwatras following the investigations by the Assets Scrutiny Committee.

Each and every decision appeared to be the right and just one, however it was hard not to notice that the court's actions could - hypothetically - be seen in a different light. They appeared to fit perfectly in line with the strategy of an elite person - say, a senior statesman - engaged in a power struggle with Thaksin and his relatively young breed of politicos.

And while the people watched the stage show of the junta desperately trying to eliminate the memory of TRT only to see them re-emerge under the PPP banner, there occasionally emerged news from behind the curtain. Rumours of phone calls between Sonthi and Thaksin, a meeting between Potjamon and Prem or public suggestions by Jakrapob Penkair that he had "tape recordings" that implicated a senior statesmen reached the public just enough to let us know that, as always with politics, there was more than meets the eye.

Still though, the judiciary soldiered on (no pun intended) and handled various cases involving politicians and the "pastry gate" scandal amicably. In fact, the later case seemed to be handled with incredible quickness, almost as though someone wanted it to be forgotten. And as Thaksin made good his promise to return to Thailand after the elections, it seemed things would finally be resolved.

The court's decision not to allow Thaksin to leave before his first hearing was impressive, but after Potjamon was found guilty of tax evasion, she was sentenced to three years in jail - yet, amazingly, allowed to leave the country the next day.

The papers, public and media immediately speculated that exile was an option, but with Thaksin's numerous promises to face justice and his faith in the system, people were not sure. That is, they were not sure until yesterday, when the Shinwatras failed to return from Beijing.

Now I don't pretend to be a legal expert, so I would be most grateful if anyone can tell me - how many cases have there been in Thailand when a person sentenced to three years is released on bail and allowed to leave the nation?

I think this actions is wrong for many reasons. It's wrong because Thaksin Shinwat told his supporters ad nauseam that he would return and clear his name after elections in Thailand, now he has changed his tune. It's wrong because a person was allowed to leave the country under bail even when the general public knew what would happen. It's will be wrong if the UK allows Thaksin to stay in the country when and if he is found guilty of an offence that is also indictable in the UK.

It's wrong because Thaksin has used"threats against my life and my family" as an excuse, despite the fact he and his family posed for photographs outside Chulalongkorn University just weeks ago.

Most of all, it is wrong that a very, very convenient conclusion seems to have been reached despite the endless promises from General Sonthi and the legal system of Thailand that true justice would run its course, regardless of the cost.

The opening for the Shinwatras to take exile may be good for Thailand in the long run. It may be the greater good that was being served, but the rule of law has not been followed as far as I can tell.

This outcome fits far more comfortably with our hypothetical situation that the entire saga was not being followed under the rule of law, but rather by our imaginary elite statesman. Justice has not been served, but enemies have been exiled, money has been left untaken and stability has a chance to return.

Thaksin Shiniwatra has a great number of charges against him, I wonder if he will ever decide that he "has faith in the justice system" again.

We can only wonder what will happen now that Thaksin may be set to fail the "fit and proper person" test. The again, Abramovich passed it already.

But perhaps the biggest mystery to be solved is the one that perhaps has been asked in secret many times - what will happen to those frozen assets?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I told you so

Thaksin fails to return.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What's next in the Shin Trial saga?

So imagine you are Thaksin Shiniwat right now.

Your wife has been sentenced to jail, and you are facing a series of corruption charges, yet amazingly you have been allowed to leave the country and so has your wife!!!

Hmmm.....things seem very convenient all round.

The way I see it, these are the possible outcomes of the ongoing Shin trials:

1) Thaksin is cleared of all charges.

Remarkably unlikely. This would be a massive loss of face for Sondhi - and therefore the military by association - and the junta designed AEC. There is also an extremely strong chance that some of the "unseen hands" as Thais call them would be most unhappy. The PAD would take to the streets and would see a likely increase in support. Tensions would rise.

2) Thaksin is found guilty but just given a fine.

A distinct possibility but would not seem to help any matters. The PAD and those against Thaksin would see it is a trade off and would feel Thaksin and his cronies would scheme for a comeback. Thaksin would be angry over his loss of cash and face and his supporters would still be wary of the PAD demonstrations. This outcome would be the political equivalent of a goalless draw.

3) Thaksin is sentenced to jail.

Probably the most just decision but a risky one. It would require nerves of steel on behalf of the courts, the military and the unseen hands. The anger of the many Thaksin's supporters in the villages as well as in parliament would be raised further by the inevitable celebrations and gloating in Bangkok. The PPP and its associates would set themselves on a comeback for Thaksin and clashes would be inevitable It would be a victory for transparency but at what cost?

4) Thaksin jumps bail and flees.

How convenient for everyone. The elite get shot of the man they hate. The PAD are shot of the one they dislike, the military save face, the judges can breathe again and nobody has to worry about mass security threats? What will happen to the seized cash? Perhaps it's best not to ask?

So it seems that perhaps Potjaman Shiniwatra being allowed to leave Thailand whilst on bail from a three year jail sentence might not have been such a poorly considered move by the courts after all. Potjaman left Thailand today - ostensibly to go see the opening of the Beijing Olympics - with six large bags.

What odds on her return?

Monday, August 04, 2008

The truth about Chamlong

I feel the need to reply to Fearless' recent blog "Class 7 are back again". I have noted that Fearless often uses claims or adjectives that I personally find to be shockingly unfair, in fact I am often surprised that they are not removed for fear of libel action.

However the last blog I felt to be so inaccurate as to be obscene. To that end I felt the need to make some responses, I realise the subject matter will appear dull to most but, in fact, the life of Chamlong Sriamung is anything but dull.

"It is not only weird but plain wrong that we still do not read in Thai history books what the role was of the killers of Class 7, led by the likes of Prem Tinsulonda, Kriangsak and Chamlong."

This implies that the men were old buddies. In fact Chamlong is notably younger than Prem and they did not serve together. Chamlong did not work with Prem until Prem was PM.

"They all had in common that they were just like the old bullies educated by foreigners. In this case the Americans employed them. They gathered intelligence (we all know what Americans mean with gathering intelligence in times of war or looming war) for the Americans in South Vietnam"

Again, Chamlong was not working with Prem at this time. Chamlong served in Laos and Vietnam. He was working for the Thai volunteer division in Vietnam, and Thailand were US allies just as S Korea and Australia were. The Thais were employed more for their knowledge of Jungle warfare than anything else though, and
by his own account Chamlong was in an office most of the time .

I'm not aware that Prem even served in Vietnam.

"Chamlong, Prem and Krangsak did so with as most visible and know achievement the mass murder at Thammasat University at 6 October 1976. "
This is the reason I have been moved to write. The events of Thammasat were horrific - people were burned alive, raped and simply beaten to death while people looked on and smiled. To make flippant, unproven comments about such an event is shocking.

Chamlong did partake in right wing rallies before the events of Oct 6th. His military unit did take part in the coup after the event but there is no evidence to show that he or his men had any part in the violence itself. I am not aware of any source that links Prem with the violence either.

I believe that there is more to be learned about these terrible events but people should use evidence, not blind accusations, to make the case.

"Poor people after all will in general show leftist behaviour. Being robbed by the likes of Chamlong from their dignity they want a honest piece of the economic cake" If there is one thing Class 7 cannot stand is democracy and certainly not democracy influenced by the masses that smells like coming from the left side of the political spectrum. "

During his first run for governor of Bangkok, Chamlong received huge support from food stall owners who felt he had spoken up for them. Chamlong won two Bangkok elections by a considerable margin including votes from many of the working lass.

In his first run as governor, Chamlong would actually go out at night and use his salary to buy food for road sweepers and check they were in good health. He did this not once or twice but many times. He did this not in the eye of the media but in private.

"Make no mistake, the Class 7 alumni are killers, they have showed their disrespect for human life over and over again. Negotiating is not their strongest point. They were behind the mass murder in the 70's and in the 90's. If Chamlong and his friends do not get their way, they will deploy their thugs to get their way. "

Again I find this hard to take. It's one thing to express opinions but words like "killers" and "disrespect for human life over and over again" are not things that should be thrown around lightly simply because you disagree with someone. I think it reflects very poorly on the writer.

In the 90's Chamlong was leading a rally against a dictator who clearly was deeply unpopular. Fearless, how can you call Chamlong undemocratic and a hater of the poor and then blame him for leading a rally that clearly received widespread support against a dictator? You then blame him for the army opening fire on them?

"he blew up his Palang Darma party, after winning a stunning 318 seats in parliament in 1988"

Actually they won only fourteen seats.

"half of them were from his Chanti Asoke sect, unimaginable in any developed country) "
Only one of them was from Santi Asoke.

"he was spit out by the people when they learned about his role in the Thammasat massacre. "

Actually he had spoken publicly about '76 when he first ran for governor. By the time he was PDP leader that was an old issue. He retired from politics twice, both times due to internal issues within his party. I've never heard of him being 'spat out' or of '76 as being an issue in his retirement.

I also feel that if making strong accusations we should be careful with our facts.

Yes, the old elite - especially Prem - have a huge amount to answer for and
Chamlong Srimuang is far from perfect and I do not support the PAD in all doing right now but I do support the protest against amending the constitution.

When we consider that the typical politician - especially in Thailand - is someone whose main interests in life are money, money, more money and perhaps some power in the way, ask yourself who would you prefer? More of the same or a guy who sleeps on a straw mat, gives away the gifts and salary he gets to poor people and spends days on end meditating or running around checking the street sweepers are OK?

Give me the second choice every time.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

For those who are claiming that verdict on Pojaman was politically influenced, how do they explain the fact that they have almost been invited to flee by being given permission to leave Thailand? How can someone sentenced to three years jail be released on bail and allowed to leave the area of jurisdiction?

The only reason the Shiniwatras have been forced to deny they will claim asylum is because the likelihood is so obvious.