The Wheel Begins to Turn: Weekly Rallies and Disapproving Academics

From Thairath, June 2, 2013
Cartoon title: Anything can happen in this country.
On the octopus’s face: Claim to be a decent person with morality
On the octopus’s tentacles, from top left: [a boot the represents the force of the military]; the Constitutional Court; NACC [the National Anti-corruption Commission]; selected senators; hooded figure [on the figure: order to suppress the people, 100 dead bodies (referring to the May 2010 military dispersal of the Red Shirt protest)]; Mob [meaning protesters against the government]; double standards
Over death: Strike open the truth, but tell lies.
On knife’s blade in hand of man: Have connections.
On papers around PM Yingluck: Reconciliation bills; amnesty bills; constitution amendment; 350 billion baht worth of water management projects; borrowing 2.2 trillion baht for Thailand; 2020; ’14 budget
At bottom left: Mouse man: Demons in disguise [The mouse man is artist Sia’s caricature of activist Sombat Boongamanong, whose nickname is Nuling (or Mouse). He always appears at the edge of Sia’s cartoons calling on human rights and reform.]
Mouse: nominees of the dark power

Who would have guessed that the government’s most persistent critic, whose website has been the source of nearly every Thaksin scandal over the years, could be killed, with the murderer immediately confessing, and the website finally offline–all within a few days? Well, it happened this week in Thailand.

It certainly could be the case that Akeyuth Anchanbutr’s chauffeur was “pushed too far” in the Thai style by an arrogant and over confident “big man” (which Akeyuth certainly was). However, it is not surprising that there is skepticism over the details considering the case has been hastily wrapped up by a police officer who once flew to Hong Kong to personally thank Thaksin for his posting. And Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm’s immediate statements that politics was not involved can be taken no more seriously than his confident assertions on almost any other subject.

Murders by disgruntled lackeys as well as political killings by the Royal Thai Police are both integral parts of Thai culture. Also integral is that the public will be resigned to never really being sure about the truth of the situation. Whatever the reason, Akeyuth’s death comes at a time when political tensions are rising once again.

Earlier this month Noppadon Pattama, who serves as Thaksin’s spokesman in the Thai-language world, was quoted as saying he noticed “unusual movements of news” as well as “rumors.”

He was right. It started with academics and the heightened rhetoric of the “white mask” anti-government demonstrations (Thaksin’s populist policies blamed for rifts in societyThe Nation, June 1, 2013).

What is the significance that academics are passing judgment on the government? What is the significance of weekly organized rallies against the government?

In Thai culture in general, it is expected that the elite and educated pass judgment on others. The city dweller (assumed to be the elite and educated) passes judgment on the hoards of country people who bring regional tycoons to power. In politics these elite are one of the unelected and informal checks that are expected to temper the activities of the elected. The elected are held with some suspicion, as it assumed that they will inevitably seek to benefit themselves and their status by harnessing the supposedly uneducated voter.

When seminars begin again that include academics passing judgment on a sitting government, it means the classic Thai cycle in the lead up to a coup is starting. It will later include the “Chula doctor’s letter” where, again, elite physicians from Thailand’s most prestigious university present a letter to the government saying it has engaged in overreach. This trend includes expressions of disapproval and concern from military figures, those in the state bureaucracy, and elder statesmen (like Anand Panyarachun who this week spoke out against the government). We can already see a ramping up of media scrutiny (this time being conducted on the internet as the mainstream Thai papers are considered, rightly or wrongly, to be already co-opted by the Pheu Thai) and regular ongoing protests. This is the significance of the sudden regular white mask protests–to create either a genuine groundswell of public opinion or at least the appearance of it.

The English-language press has joined in as the government is referred to as a “regime” and even the Nation has decided to begin referring to Thaksin as the “defacto leader” of the government.

It is important to note that the military cannot take open action without feeling confident that there will not be widespread protest or dissent. They must be able to claim that they have support for any action. The pro-Thaksin camp can rest assured that they can make things sufficiently painful for the military. The military has always been inept at governing and their humiliating outing after the coup in 2006 means there is little real stomach to act against Thaksin amnesty with tanks on the street–even if it were assured a Red Shirt siege threatening Bangkok would not happen again.

The courts are a much better weapon to use against the government. Warnings about a “judicial coup” have not aroused the same alarm as when there are actual tanks on the streets. Government and Red Shirt calls for the court to be abolished or judges resign to make way for those friendly to Thaksin simply do not play the same way to the public as when the military is abrogating a constitution.

What has caused all this now? After years of delay, two amnesty bills are being pushed by the Pheu Thai–full amnesty and partial amnesty. The only reason for this double-barreled approach is to give the government the cover it needs to get a full amnesty passed. The pledge to “bring Thaksin home” has long been a rallying cry of the government as well as the Red Shirts leadership connected to the Pheu Thai Party. Amnesty and constitutional reform have been perennial issues that are undoubtedly the real priorities behind this government directed from afar (now more or less openly) by Thaksin.

While amnesty appears to be first up, the rewriting of the constitution would be just as dangerous for the powers that be. Promises to eliminate the power of the courts to check government action and the creation of a fully-elected senate, in particular allowing MPs’ husbands and wives to serve in the senate as they did during the Thai Rak Thai years, would once again stop the senate’s ability to temper the popularly-elected MPs.

In passing amnesty and rewriting the constitution, the popular concept of democracy is employed. “We have the most votes” and “we are overwhelmingly popular” translates into “we can rewrite the laws.” That perhaps represents well the nascent definition of Thai democracy. From the government perspective, only a single party-based government without fear that unelected sources of power can check it gives it the freedom of action needed to make reforms and then make them last.

Last year in May 2012, Prime Minister Yingluck was brought forward for the last major amnesty push. Then she insisted that the reconciliation bill (judged an amnesty bill by critics) was urgent and that the government “got the clear mandate from the people.” At that time Thaksin faced a backlash after telling Red Shirts to forgive and forget so an amnesty for all could be passed. He quickly mended fences and reversed himself as the Red Shirts are essential to protecting the government from street protests.

At that time the push fell apart due to strong-arm due to tactics in parliament (the opposition rushed the house speaker to physically prevent him from introducing the bill) coupled with behind-the-scenes military “advice” that tricked the government into thinking another long delay was the wise move.

Now Thaksin foes think they have the government significantly weakened. PM Yingluck was drawn into the fray in April with her speech praising the Red Shirts and Thaksin and the courts successfully weathered attempts at intimidation while wracking up an impressive list of cases that can be used to shake up the government if necessary.

The Red Shirt movement is transforming as well. It was initially designed to meet force with force to halt another PAD-like siege of the government. However, as months pass, some Red Shirt factions appear to be gradually following their own agendas, more based on regional power plays of their leaders and becoming less reliable allies in demanding reconciliation defined as “amnesty for all.” A partial amnesty bill not including Thaksin would be disastrous as it would take the pressure off those in the movement who are continually hounded by criminal charges. Each month lost means the movement might continue to be distracted by local political issues. Local disputes and power grabs continue to divide them while more radical factions play into the hands of those who want to smear Thaksin with accusations of revolution and disloyalty to the monarchy.

All those who would lose from a Thaksin return–essentially every politician who is not a Thaksin relative–will tend to drag their feet on amnesty, but still try to look like they are not doing so. Factions within the Pheu Thai will be dreaming of a future premiership–an impossibility if Thaksin returns. An open break with Thaksin is unlikely of course, as Thaksin’s strength has been the vast financial influence that has created a remarkable party discipline unusual for the Thai political world. And any government shakeup that could oust a Shinawatra relative from the premiership would surely see thousands of Red Shirts on its doorstep.

Each failure to push through amnesty diminishes Thaksin’s future chances. This is complicated by an unnameable, but inevitable event that will afford the opportunity for a prolonged time of stately decorum backed up by military order. This means time is running out for amnesty measures. Thaksin has to act. After a possible upcoming cabinet reshuffle (rumored to finally include firebrand Red Shirt leader Jatuporn to placate disgruntled Red Shirts), it should be full-steam ahead on amnesty.

If amnesty is stalled, new elections might be called, followed by an immediate government push for amnesty again. However, despite the Pheu Thai’s popularity, an election is an unknown, a variable, an admission of defeat… and most of all a delay. So new elections will indicate a last resort situation.

What have we seen again and again when amnesty is pushed? A period of high political tension and political theatrics (so MPs can show Thaksin they really want to obey him), followed by a collapse in support and a delay. Whether Thaksin can really bide his time and afford another delay is the question.

The best common outcome for the anti-Thaksin camp is to maintain the government as is and endlessly delay amnesty plans. This is the ultimate solution for now.

This means keeping the Pheu Thai MPs passing legislation and spending money with the expectation that Thaksin influence will be gradually replaced by the ambitious of in-country politicians, like Sudarat and her growing faction (more on this in this earlier analysis: More about why Pheu Thai MPs feel hesitation in risking their comfy positions in a free-spending sitting government by pushing for Thaksin amnesty).

With Pheu Thai still in power there is little reason to call out the Red Shirts which would surely happen if Pheu Thai was judicially disbanded and a new government formed from the remaining MPs. More time passing allows the Red Shirts to devolve into their local power cliques. New elections would certainly return Pheu Thai to power with a fresh mandate. The hope would be that, over time, the natural attrition of fortune will impact the government. This means scandals like the rice pledging scheme might swamp and discredit the government in the eyes of the public.

The political situation, for all its variables, controversies, and conspiracy theories, is stoked by an elected government daring to give its supporters amnesty and even rewriting the nation’s constitution in a way that will surely preserve its power for a generation. Its popularly is powered by a highly popular appeal to a majority that is used to decades of neglect and indirect representation. It is the lure of majoritarianism applied to the definition of democracy–“we can pass anything we want as we were elected.” Not only Thailand, but nations are struggling with this (such as Russia, Turkey, and Egypt) as democracy in some form and definition is assumed to be the ultimate end-state of government in the twenty-first century.

The opposition, having experienced the Thai Rak Thai years when the media and business became political pawns of one-man and one-family rule, fears this future. It works against it by again starting the cycle of academic disapproval, weekly protests, and the threat of judicial sanctions to bring the elected government to its knees.

(Ron Morris’ book on the Thai political universe, The Thai Book: Protest, Democracy, Big Men, Coups, Bombs, Killing People and Forgiveness, will be released by Villefort Publishing in June 2013.)

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15 Responses to The Wheel Begins to Turn: Weekly Rallies and Disapproving Academics

  1. Wiz says:

    Looming economic hard time that caused foreign investors with withdraw the cash has already caused many Thai real estate developers in troubles while Moody’s threat to cut the government credit rating now cause the plan for 2.2 trillion Baht loan for Infrastructure and 350 billion Baht loan for flood control projects by issuing the bonds have become more expensive …thanks to the controversial rice mortgaging schemes initiated by none other than Thaksin that please farmers and rice mills in Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos at the expense of Thai farmers and Thai rice mill owners without government connections

    Worse, rumors widespread that the government is running out of money from central budget to pay Salary for the bureaucrats and top brasses … due to the perennial budget deficits … Let’s see what is going to happen.

    BTW, it is not just the Chula Doctors who are going to send the opened letters, the rural doctors who have to work with the people so hard in the rural area now sending another opened letters to ask for the removal of Minister of public health due to his controversial P4P policies along with the endless conflicts of interest which have become a hallmark for PT government, Not to mention about the war at Ministry of Science and Technology about the appointment of the new boss and the board of Directors.

    The list about the conflicts of interests are too long to be mentioned here. In my honest opinions, Tyranny of Majority to promote the abuses of power as well as the endless conflicts of interests are to be NULL and VOID.

  2. Pingback: A coup in the making? | Political Prisoners in Thailand

  3. Pingback: A coup in the making? | Political Prisoners of Thailand

  4. L. Joseph says:

    Your editorial could well have been written by any of the conspirators who planned and/or catered the military coup in 2006 and two judicial coups that followed. It’s bad enough that the two principal English language newspapers in Thailand have become propaganda outlets for the same group. Do we have to find you spouting the same authoritarian agenda in English on the internet?

    I don’t know your editors’ background and I could care less what Thaskin is up to. I know you’re no fan of Thaksin or the red shirts, and that’s your right. What’s alarming is the obvious sympathy your website seems to be showing now for illegal and likely treasonous acts designed to overthrow the elected government. That’s a serious step into the dark side of journalism and politics.

  5. Pingback: Ist ein Coup in Vorbereitung ?

  6. Wiz says:

    Khun Joe,
    Sound like the way UDD men who have not become disillusioned are saying though

  7. Wiz says:

    Mockery toward the hypocrisy of UDD men toward V for Thailand and the case of Article 112
    Note: Thai cartoonist starting to use English to allow widespread of his message around Social Network in the Internet

  8. Wiz says:

    Khun Vincent mockery toward UDD who thought that nobody else other than UDD men have any right to make demonstration – but they have underestimated the power of V for Thailand – even after killing Ekkayut to serve as examples to others just like slicing chicken’s throat to warn the monkeys, it just reinforced even more V for Thailand demonstrators with fully volunteered guards … Now, we are going to use the demise of Ekkayut as the way to keep them work much harder – never let Ekkayut die in vain

  9. Wiz says:

    Reminder to those who advocate Tyranny of Majority as the truest form of Democracy from Supreme Court Judge: Just majority alone will never be considered as the true Democracy. It must follow the rules and etiquette and those who control the rules and etiquette must NEVER one of the belligerent parties. If those who control the rules and etiquette are from one of the belligerent parties, the judges will be bias in favor with the one who take side to the point that they can do no wrong which is a fallacy — Therefore, the judges must never be one of the belligerent parties

    • gert says:

      So you want a change of government but you don’t want elections. Elections would be no good would they?Your lot coulnn’t win an election. Some sort of coup would be much better. The way it has been done so many times over the last 60 years. Well next time it will not be so easy. You may have the millitary and the monachy on youe side but the majority of Thai people are against you this time.
      As they say in England ‘ every dog has his day’ and you have had yours.

  10. Wiz says:

    Deep distrust on Electioneers

  11. Wiz says:

    Ajarn Suriyasai pointing out that the Democracy those PT-UDD men are advocating is nothing by Tyranny of Majority as the truest form of Democracy

  12. Wiz says:

    Thaispring 2 press release : Netizens “Revolt against the nation betrayer”

    Thaispring 1 : “Refusing the Ulaanbaatar speech” was a successful activity gathering a total of 26,173 signatures in their open
    letter. The copies of the open letter were sent to several Democratic communities and embassies overseas.

    Thaispring 2 : Netizens “Revolt against the nation betrayer” is an activity to promote political views in the society as per the
    following details:

    Firstly, the government has obviously shown that it is dominated by Thaksin Shinawatra breaking its own vow given to
    HM the King to rule the country with judgement. In addition, in August of this year, the government will amend the law
    overthrowing the constitutional verification which will relieved the people involve in the government faction.
    According to the apparent action mentioned above, Thai citizens are eligible to resist against this government as identified
    in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, section 69

    “A person shall have the right to resist peacefully any act committed for the acquisition of power to rule the country be a
    means which is not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution”

    Secondly, Thaispring, as an attempt to provide political knowledge to the people before the constitutional amendment in
    August, is planning a cyber stage to express the political view which will be seen as political rallies as per the following details:
    2.1) Thaispring working group has registered a Facebook page under the name “Thai Spring Forum” meanwhile having the main
    political Facebook pages as our alliances.
    2.2) Video clips of our six protests under different six topics will be released through our Facebook page every Sundays at 6pm.
    The first video will be released on June 23 and the last one will be on July 28 which marks the final activity of Thaispring 2.
    2.3) Apart from the video clips on the Facebook page, we have also provided complete information about Thaksinomic which
    were gathered from reliable sources.

    Thirdly, the six topics for the protests will be:
    3.1) Why Thaispring? : Enclose the majority tyrant
    3.2) Cheating government : Show the ineffective “puppet government”
    3.3) The trolley named “Desire” : Explain the government populism policies dragging the country to disaster
    3.4) _ _ _ tread on the cloud : Clarify the forceful of Thaksinomic corrupting stratagem
    3.5) Rape before marriage : Unveil the fraud of reconciliation draft act
    3.6) Revolt against the betrayer : Make comprehension about the Civil Disobedience among the citizen as mentioned in the

    Forthly, on behalf of Thaispring coordinators, we assured that the activities of the group will be operated only in cyber space.
    The gathering for video clip shootings will be limited in closed areas (not public).

    Vasit Dejkunchorn
    Kaewsan Atibodhi
    Kwansuang Atibodhi

    Thaispring Coordinator

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