The Dead and Thaksin

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From Manager, August 14, 2016
Man: We got four dead people… Master, please eat them so you have relief from sadness… and depression.
Caption: Food for happiness

[This refers to the bomb attacks and arson in several southern provinces in Thailand before Mother’s Day weekend. This caused at least four deaths and many injuries.

The government implied that the bombing wave was related to the domestic political situation in Thailand, clearly implying Thaksin, the ultimate power behind the opposition, was involved.

The cartoonist plays on the idea that a person is unhappy if his enemies are happy. The results of the referendum vote were a humiliation for Thaksin and seems to dash his hopes at future charter rewrites and amnesties for himself. It sends the message to Pheu Thai politicians that Thaksin has little hope to return so perhaps they might be tempted to reject his influence. Thus, the news of the deaths and the troubles these events are causing to the junta and the economy should cheer Thaksin up according to the cartoonist.

Whether Thaksin was involved in the recent violent incidents or not (and many believe considering the events of 2009 and 2010 that nothing is out of the question for him), Thaksin has made his reputation by fearlessly transcending the traditional rules of Thai politics.

The line promoted by the Red Shirts–that the referendum was really a vote for or against military rule–backfired. The result was supposed to be either close or “no” with resulting stories in the media explaining how it all meant that Thai people were hungry for democracy.

The overwhelming yes vote seemed to disappoint the international media as well. Foreign media outlets (as well as analysts) had been building up the story that the vote would either be very close or likely “no” and would thus reflect growing dissatisfaction with military rule.

Indeed, the avalanche of reporting predicting a closeness in the vote reflected the media mood before the Bangkok Governor elections in 2013. At that time every source–even pollsters–falsely promised a huge win for Thaksin’s “power pole” candidate.

The overwhelming “yes” vote for the charter, despite the repressive atmosphere under which the referendum was conducted, initially seemed to take Thailand off the geopolitical map with the media reports signing off with “elections coming in 2017.”

Hardcore opponents of the junta would have to be pleased since the bombings have removed the notion that it will be smooth sailing for the junta after their referendum win. The bombings resulted in more “trouble for the junta” stories as well as somber pondering about how badly tourism and the economy would suffer.

The bombings call into question the peace of the country, the junta’s claim that the people support their rule, and even their very control of events on the ground.

Thaksin is even reviving a customary tact from his time as prime minister–bringing lawsuits against those who speculate that he is behind the bombings.

The Manager Group (publisher of this cartoon) has been fearless (as well as often profane and politically incorrect) in criticizing Thaksin, the Democrat Party, and even the military. Thus, this graphic cartoon and the accusations it makes should be no surprise.

However, editorial cartoonists usually escape lawsuits simply because the media itself is seen as partisan and thus all view their assertions with a grain of salt.

Academics however are consequential figures and what they say is respected and meant to be taken seriously. That is why Thaksin’s lawsuits target academics rather than editorial cartoonists in partisan newspapers.]

Earlier: Analysis: Mother’s Day Bombings

Earlier: Analysis: Thailand’s Half Democracy

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