Tag Archives: PAD

The first casualty

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As troops and antigovernment protestors clashed on Bangkok’s streets again this week, a furious battle also played out in the media over casualties. Government spokespersons and army officers insisted that bullets had not been fired into the crowds. Their opponents said the opposite.

Soldiers had at times pointed their weapons at people, and some of the red-shirted demonstrators had been shot, but there were few reliable details of who was hurt, how, where and why.

Staff at the prime minister’s office blamed Red Shirts on motorbikes for a melee with local residents that left two dead. Other sources were less certain about the identities of the protagonists, but doubtful voices were drowned out as local outlets obligingly reported the official version. Meanwhile, emailed narratives of battles around the city had it that the Red Shirts’ rivals were in some areas backing up the army, but there was no immediate evidence to support this claim either.

What all this goes to show is not which side is to blame for the street blockades and bloodshed of the last few days, but how difficult it has become to believe Thailand’s media. Since 2006, when domestic news agencies and many overseas ones fell over each other to enthuse about the army’s latest power grab, the biases of newspapers, magazines and broadcasters have become more pronounced, their coverage more partisan, and their opinion-makers seemingly more sure of themselves even as things get less certain.

In normal times, the impoverished domestic journalism which has become a hallmark of Bangkok has made following current affairs there difficult; with the city under siege and a state of emergency declared, it has made following them all but impossible. Continue reading

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The ties that bind Thailand’s Burma policy

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When Abhisit Vejjajiva slipped through the back door and into the prime minister’s seat in Thailand late last year, exiled democracy advocates from Burma welcomed him. Over a week after reports broke of the Thai navy forcing boatloads of people from Burma back into the ocean to die, they should be thinking again.

Abhisit’s maneuvering into the leadership spot – made possible only after military and royalist intrigues and the three-month illegal takeover of the offices that he now occupies – prompted lots of excited talk about nascent change in Thailand’s policies on Burma.

That was never going to happen. At no point in the last two decades has there been a meaningful shift in Bangkok’s approach to dealing with the generals to the west, neither under Abhisit’s Democrat Party or any other. There have been a few changes in style, but none in substance.

This is because the strongest ties binding Thailand’s policies on its neighbor are not from ministerial offices, but from military bases. And as the prime minister owes his job to the people that decide those policies, rather than the electorate, there is no advantage to him if he tries to do things differently.

The strength of these ties could not have been more apparent than in the handling of news that perhaps thousands of people from western Burma travelling to southern Thailand in boats have been repeatedly forced back out to sea since last December. Continue reading

Prosecute the PAD

sondhi chamlong

[Die rechtliche Verfolgung der Taten der PAD]

According to news from Thailand this week [of December 18], police are set to lay charges against protestors responsible for blockading parliament after the leader of the main opposition party finally succeeded in becoming prime minister without having to win an election.

News reports said that police were compiling video footage and other evidence of demonstrators that threw rocks at vehicles, assaulted passerby, damaged public property and kept parliamentarians trapped within the legislature.

These are serious offences and if the police have the evidence they need, they should certainly try to prosecute. But the crimes of this group pale by comparison to the scale of criminality demonstrated by their opponents, those who occupied Government House for three months from August, and the two main airports for a week from the end of November.

In fact, the number of serious crimes committed under the banner of the group calling itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy is so large that it’s hard to imagine police officers even having time to investigate the melee outside parliament on Monday. Continue reading

Constitutional game-playing imperils Thailand

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The verdict to dissolve three parties in Thailand’s coalition government and ban the prime minister and his party executives from politics for five years is the latest in a series of increasingly surreal judgments that have brought the country’s senior judiciary to the center of its political mayhem. It follows a ruling by the Constitutional Court’s predecessor last May to terminate the party of the ousted Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, from which the newly-disbanded People’s Power Party was born. It also follows another unanimous ruling from the court this September to throw out the then-Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej, for cooking on TV.

Like the cooking show verdict, the judges this time ruled on a narrow legal question under section 237 of the 2007 Constitution. According to this clause, any member of parliament found to have committed or abetted an offense under the electoral act, or contrary to any order or announcement of the Election Commission, shall be deprived of voting rights. These offences could be minor, may change from time to time with new orders from the commission, and do not even constitute criminal acts. But anyhow, if it can be shown that the party leader or any executive member knew about the offense and failed to do anything about it, then it is mandatory that the party is dissolved and its executive banned.

Imaginary scenarios for how a similar law might apply to other professions don’t need to be stretched very far to realize the section’s absurdity. Continue reading

Constitution court rewards criminality

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(ศาลไทย ตบรางวัลให้แก่กลุ่มคนที่ทำผิดกฎหมาย)

History repeated itself in Thailand this week when a top court for the second time in as many years dissolved the biggest political party, along with two of its partners, and effectively banned its leader and executive members from politics.

The Constitution Court, which inherited the job from an interim tribunal that issued a similar order against the former ruling party last May, unanimously disbanded the three coalition partners in accordance with section 237 of the 2007 Constitution.

Under this remarkable clause, which an unelected panel wrote into the charter on behalf of the 2006 coup makers, political parties must be dissolved if it can be shown that they failed to prevent electoral offences from occurring in their ranks.

In football, this would be the equivalent of a rule that if one player gets a red card, the whole team is disqualified from the league, with the captain and coach sent into early retirement.

The ruling allowed the political extremists, who had brought thousands of human shields to occupy the airports for a week, to declare victory and go home in time for the king’s birthday on Friday.

Irrespective of the formal grounds for the sentence, in timing and content it has been perceived as endorsing the extremists’ ideology and goals. In effect, the court has indicated that while vote buying cannot be tolerated, hijacking public facilities, vandalizing property, shooting at people and vehicles, illegally detaining fellow citizens, attacking state officers and setting up a proxy police force not only can be tolerated but can even be rewarded. Continue reading

“Final battle” can only end in Phyrric victory

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Organizers of the prolonged raid on the Bangkok international airport have insisted that they will bring down the government at any cost. In targeting the airport they have taken a dramatic strategic step and have also made a move of enormous symbolic importance.

Suvarnabhumi Airport represents modern Thailand. The new airport was a huge project aimed not only at cementing the country’s commercial place in Asia but also at demonstrating how far it has come by comparison to most of its immediate neighbors.

Under normal circumstances, legions of security personnel would have protected the terminal, accompanied by the dire warnings of senior officers about anyone thinking to damage national prestige with funny business that might upset foreign tourists and businesspeople. Under normal circumstances, the police would have quickly moved to prevent or end any seizure, just as they did when protests occurred on government premises against the interim military regime last year.

But these are not normal circumstances. Crowds have already spent months occupying Government House, defying court orders to vacate, as well as one attempt to forcibly dislodge them. Now they are seemingly also at liberty to camp out in Thailand’s showpiece airport, with the expectancy that another military putsch will bump both them and the incumbent government out.

All these events speak to the complex interests that are at work behind and through the cynically named People’s Alliance for Democracy. Continue reading

Cooking lessons, guilty; coup, no problem

"I won't leave! I won't leave! I won't..." "LEAVE!"

Among all the responses to the judicial sacking of the prime minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, this week, the New Mandala blog summed it up:

Hosting a TV cooking show = Guilty!

Staging a coup and tearing up a constitution = No problem!

As the blog post suggests, arguments about the technicalities of whether or not Samak was employed to be a television chef during his time in office, thus violating the 2007 constitution, miss the point. Although that may have been the matter upon which the court was asked to decide, this is not what the rest of us should dwell upon.

Let it not be forgotten that in September 2006 when the generals took power in Thailand, the upper courts did as they have always done at these times: nothing. The junta quietly chucked out the constitution and its court while farcically purporting to uphold judicial independence.

In May the following year, the coup was tacitly endorsed in a verdict of the court’s successor, a military-appointed tribunal, on the simpleminded premise that as every other military takeover was legitimized through the courts, then why not this one too.

It did not have to be that way. Continue reading