Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

A dirty history



The new prime minister of Thailand has outraged many by refusing to admit that an infamous massacre ever occurred. In two separate interviews Samak Sundaravej claimed that only one person died on Oct. 6, 1976, when police and paramilitaries stormed Thammasat University, killing at least 46 and forcing thousands into hiding. He denied that he provoked the violence along with other rightists, saying that it is “a dirty history.”

He’s right about that. But there’s a lot more to this dirty history than a single day of bloodshed or the marginal role that the prime minister may have played in it. Violence on the scale of Oct. 6 does not erupt unexpectedly. It is the finale to a thousand other lesser events. It is the day-to-day writ large.

In a doctoral thesis submitted to Cornell University last year, Tyrell Haberkorn follows one of the trails of repeated, silent incidents that culminated in the mayhem of 1976: the unsolved murders of dozens of farmers’ leaders in the north of Thailand. Continue reading

Ransacking & reining in the ‘rule of law’

Over the past months the interim prime minister of Thailand has stressed his strong interest in the “rule of law.” What does a prime minister installed through a military coup mean when he talks about the rule of law? What interest does the army have in this notion? Recent history gives a clue about their real intentions.

In 1975 thousands of striking police joined protesters demanding that the “rule of law” be restored to Thailand, after a court ordered the release of nine alleged communists in the northern city of Chiang Mai. The protests culminated in around one hundred armed and uniformed police ransacking the house of the civilian prime minister. They were never punished. The prime minister declined to take legal action; 14 months later police led a massacre that preempted renewed military dictatorship. Rhetorical commitments to the law were backed with lawlessness, and ultimately, the justification of order by force, with or without law.

In 2006 thousands took to the streets to demand the ouster of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of manipulating laws and financial institutions to serve personal objectives. His party began organizing counter protests, and allegedly arranged for physical attacks on critics. As in previous years, the pretext for the army takeover on Sept.19 was to protect the country from growing lawlessness and incipient bloody confrontation. The interim government has iterated that it will work hard to correct the wrongs of its predecessor by restoring the law to its rightful place.

Like the police in 1975, the concern of the generals in 2006 is not with the rule of law, but with the control of law.

Continue reading