Tanks Roll into Bangkok…Suthep says Bangkok will Stay Closed until Reform is Certain…Suthep Unclear about Reform…Bangkokians Brace for Shutdown…Yingluck Seeks Military as Mediator in Talks with PCAD…Suthep Vows No Election …Pheu Thai Confident of Winning Upcoming Election…NACC Ruling could mean Judicial Coup…
Today tanks are once again gracing the cement tracts of the corrupted capital of Thailand, but this time we are told the spectre of killing machines is just for Children’s Day on January 11th, and has nothing at all to do with the current political strife.
The Royal Thai Army told the public that if they see tanks driving down their streets this Friday along with artillery, armoured vehicles, people carriers, and helicopters – they shouldn’t “get jittery” as the parade is only for exhibitive purposes. The people have been told not to worry. The tanks are for kids to play with.
Even though many Thai children do traditionally celebrate their special day by playing with or beholding instruments of war and carnage – think the annual jet plane demo by Wing 41 in Chiang Mai – this comes at a time when surely one would think twice about sending tanks into the middle of Bangkok…what with the approaching ‘shutdown’ on January 13th and rumours of coups and civil war. The army has nonetheless promised that things will be back to normal after Children’s Day. The people are understandably concerned. As Bill Hicks once joked, perhaps the pigeons around Rachadamnoern Avenue right now can be heard saying, “coup, coup.” It remains to be seen what will happen if antidemocratic protests turn violent. If the military is already in place, and decides to act, then we might just call this felicitous. A felicitous Children’s Day coup. Yingluck has spoken of this possibility and has said she believes that acts of violence by protesters will purposefully try and create a pretext for military intervention. Protest leaders have denied this.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s army chief, was questioned about the possibility of a coup late in December and he remained philosophically vague saying, “The military does not shut or open the door to a coup, but a decision depends on the situation,” and “Don’t be afraid of things that haven’t yet happened.” He might as well have waved glove puppets at his interlocutors as a response.
It remains unclear in Thailand exactly what will happen next. The numerous political analysts share conflicting opinions. The critics are at each other’s throats as much as the ‘pawns’ in the street (the sacrificial pieces offering themselves either to the Evil Thaksin Regime or the Monstrous Suthep Plot, depending on who you’re reading). The threat of civil war due to this irreconcilability of entrenched oppositions is something many commentators are presently not ruling out. One thing just about everyone agrees on is that there will be blood once again on Bangkok’s hardened streets. Violence seems to be the lowest common denominator in Thai politics.
The Suthep-led People?s Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State (PCAD) has said it will close down Bangkok on January 13th. One of their intentions is to drive caretaker PM Yingluck Shinawatra out of Thailand and seize her assets if she doesn’t comply with the movement’s demands. If this should happen then electoral democracy will be suspended and a People’s Assembly will be installed into power: a group of appointed people who protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has haloed the ‘good people’, a dream team chosen by, at this point no one knows. PCAD’s reasoning behind this thoroughly undemocratic proposal is that the system is broken, and that politicians are canny at bending the laws and the constitution and these issues must be fixed before a new general election can usher in the caretaker government’s party because with another mandate it is very possible that they will whitewash all past sins as well as change the constitution enough to control the senate as well as parliament, as long as they keep winning elections.
In other words, if one side is positioning itself as a party of the people and the Guardians of the Great Thai culture, then so is the other side. Only the anti-government side is saying the people, or the agrarian mass, don’t know what’s good for them…yet. Both sides denounce the other as tyrannical. Both sides insist that behind the rhetoric the realpolitik is oppressive, autocratic, and self-serving. The news media, depending on who you read, either write mob or gathering, for the same group of people, even if they’re a peaceful mob or gathering. This is important, and indicative of the news’ and our own subjectification of the mess. There is of course a good argument that says people should be educated enough to understand the machinations and hidden agenda behind political maneuvers, and to be able, if only at an elementary level, to deconstruct Thailand’s murky political past. If the masses have been hoodwinked on propaganda, we might also ask if those protesting in the street right now in Bangkok are able to intellectually interpret Thai history and politics. Or, are many protestors hoodwinked on a different kind of propaganda?
Many of those who engender the framework of Thai politics have some dirt on them. As Suthep heralds in a new era of good people it doesn’t bode well that his past is full of badness. He is facing charges of murder for his involvement in the 2010 crackdown where scores of unarmed civilians were gunned down during the military crackdown – an omnipresent noun in the Thai consciousness – and his personal history is also spotted with a series of corruption allegations. As for the Shinawatra double team, they also have a despicable history of violence and swindling. Where ever I go in Thailand I ask questions about politics, at the market, in the barber’s chair, at the pub, at the fitness centre, and mostly I hear, “they’re all bad, all corrupt”, and it is this fatalism that leads so many people to vote solely on the principle of selfishness. So many Thai people have no belief in politics, and so when they hear that good people will be running the country, perhaps they are only hoping for the best of a bad lot.
While support for PCAD is robust, much of the country, as well as foreign commentators, have called this essentially a fascist movement led by an out-of-control egoist, puppet of the elite, exultant during his last breaths on the political stage. That’s one way of looking at it: The Nation last week said that Suthep was, “steering Thailand away from failure.” The Bangkok Post and The Nation both voted The Protests as the best thing to happen in Thailand last year.
Civil Disobedience was congratulated, especially in view of the worm-infested Amnesty Bill. Only the protests didn’t stop there, and presently we are looking at yet another coup in this embattled country where Thainess is embraced and yet the people are alienated from each other due to class, and because the country, or even the concept of Thailand is still fairly new. Decentralization policies have attenuated this rupture somewhat, but the divide is still evident between the rural poor in the provinces and those residing in Old Siam.
PCAD maintains that the rural poor are not yet endowed with the intelligence to choose – good – political leaders and are too easily manipulated by populist polices and cash payment for votes. The Democrats are against the vote, for now anyway, until the vote gets done right…
The Election Commission has said that the elections of 2nd of February will go ahead, in spite of mulling over a delay. The Election Commissioner, Thirawat Thirarojwit, following violence (one policeman was killed) at the Thai/Japanese Sports Complex during the drawing of ballot sheet numbers said that he did not want to see “the election taking place amid pools of blood.” Even with the go ahead because many Pheu Thai Thai MPs were blocked from registering for the election there’s doubt as to whether a government can be formed with the absence of so many MPs.
And so the point has been raised by many left-wing critics, and mostly western media, that ironically universal suffrage is not in line with the Democrat’s ethos, something perhaps tantamount to a devout Christian leader teaching his followers that God doesn’t exist. The Democrats however state that they are saving Thailand from the evil Thaksin regime, one that would have been reinstalled had Yingluck’s Amnesty Bill gone into effect as well as from the proposed changes to the constitution which would essentially see them in power with little opposition and need for accountability for the foreseeable future. The Democrats are basically saying that universal suffrage is not applicable to Thailand, not until they clean house.
“We’ll fight for months if necessary,” Suthep was quoted as saying, until that house is cleaned and good people have superannuated bad people.
Suthep has vowed to scupper the proposed election on February 2nd knowing full well the outcome. The majority of voters will vote for Pheu Thai, whether paid or not. As Thai economist Pasuk Phongpaichit wrote in the Bangkok Post in December, the allegations of vote buying and this being used as a reason to eject the government is, “…nonsense. Dangerous nonsense.” It is in the interests of those accused of buying votes to also use their vote as they are the ones desirous of changes in the system. A system in which they are often denigrated and laughed at for being bottom of. It’s shouldn’t be at all surprising to anyone who has read some Thai history why these apparent numb-skulls from the north voted for a self-serving, corrupt oligarch with delusions of grandeur when that man’s policies showed these bottom feeders some fiscal sympathy. If only the Democrats had spared some change when the time was right, they may have accrued more affection from the voting public in the fat part of Thailand.
Anti government protesters, it should be stated, are mostly middle class – not the elite as has been claimed, the elites are a fractional lot – although it doesn’t help the middle income, politically astute, tax-paying Bangkokians when well known hi-society people are totems for the cause, nor do people waving wads of thousand baht notes in the air infuse someone with much hope for Thailand’s future.
This more temperate middle class say it is they who are paying (income) taxes to support certain populist programmes which are benefiting the poor – not the ultra popular and expensive War on the Drugs, which certainly doesn’t benefit the poor – while their voices are not numbered enough to be heard. Their message is that they demand a system where there is accountability for their tax paying money. With no other avenue to achieve this, they have taken to the streets. The question remains though, a protest of accountability to what end? What do these educated middle class people want to achieve by replacing one oligarch with a rich history of corruption – labeled as new money – with another oligarch with a rich history of corruption – labeled as old money? What is in it for them: real social progress, an improved education system, improved healthcare, equality, an ethical leadership, a harmonized Thailand, etc? Or, perhaps merely tax breaks, or less money injected into the provinces? What ‘they’, and I mean on both sides of the fence, are fighting for is always inscrutable. It might be for The Greater Good, it might also be because they got divorced this year, or have insurmountable debts, or just want to win, or are easily led down the garden path. What we should hope for is that the oligarchs in power fight for equality and become an anodyne to the class fracture, but as it stands it likely that won’t happen as the fracture might be too deep already.
It’s still not clear what the intentions of PCAD are, but it seems certain that ‘reds’ from the north and north east will meet with anti-government protesters in Bangkok at some point. Some red groups have reportedly vowed to head to the capital, although it was reported with the intention of supporting an election, not a civil war. The schism is one that Thailand cannot seem to reconcile, it seems an intractable class conflict, and perhaps once more in Bangkok the differences will manifest as violence. There has, in Buddhist terms, to be some kind of middle path. And that doesn’t mean asking the poor to be quiet and accept their God given status. It means in part succoring to their desperation.
The majority who voted in this government, quite rightly, feel aggrieved, as, for the first time in history, they have a voice, an effective one, they have voted in government after government – and obviously benefited from their elected officials – only to be overturned, by coup, by a cooking show, by what they see as trumped-up corruption charges – by condescending ‘elites’ in the cities. The protests are not doing themselves any favours by their elitist rhetoric and utter refusal to show respect to the voices of the masses. But their claim that there is a current tyranny of the masses is a reasonable one.
*Rumours are rife as to how this present conflict is related to the royal succession, but as journalist Mark Fenn recently pinned to the bottom of his story, when we write we write in a “political and legal climate that has a deleterious effect on freedom of the press and obliges journalists to practice self-censorship.”
On January 6th over 300 legislators were impeached by the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) for their role in passing a draft to amend part of the constitution. Had the draft been passed, and it almost was, then progeniture and nepotism would not have played a part in how the Senate is formed, turning it into a fully-elected chamber. The Constitutional Court finally declared that these changes would endanger Thailand’s esteemed democracy with King as Head of State, and so those who voted for it have now been impeached. The argument against the amendment is that if the Senate was fully elected, then it would be reasonable to suppose that every senator would correspond in policy with the elected government. The power of the government would grow exponentially, which, protesters say, is unacceptable in a country where corruption and political shenanigans is already so rife.
The question again is, who can be trusted to appoint the appointed? In Aristotelian terms you might ask, who is the Great unmoved mover? Outside of a democracy there has to be one.
We can see the difficultly in affecting major changes in constitutional law, including amending Thailand’s notorious Article 112 which, not surprisingly (or surprisingly, again it depends how you look at it) is not inclusive in party mandates. This causes stasis in a system that drastically requires an upgrade, but – to prolong the metaphor – the new software doesn’t work with the old hardware, and besides that, it’s then accused of piracy! The law, in this instance, is used to guarantee stasis. The status quo is a safe-haven for those who don’t stray from it, making radical views anathema to anyone who has them. If it’s broken, just leave it might be a fitting proverb. The impeachments may result in a judicial coup due to the uncertainty of its candidates in the upcoming election that may not ever happen, writes Saksith Saiyasombut in Asian Correspondent. In view of the impeachments this looks very likely. Some commentators are now saying that this move shows the true anti-government colours of the NACC as backers of the elites. Others are applauding “justice” being done at last as their conviction is that the amendments would have not only made Pheu Thai too strong, but given free rein to the “regime” on matters of free trade and sovereignty, allowing western corporations and the West’s military machine to be “entangled in Thai sovereignty”.
The sad fact remains that archaic laws still exist in Thailand and it looks like they will for the foreseeable future.
Outspoken Thai critic Kaewmala wrote on her Facebook page late last year:
“In Thailand, the land of cognitive dissonance and unrecognized ironies, men with guns and tanks can just tear up a constitution, flush it down the toilet, write a new one and shove it down our collective throat and we barely make a squeal.
But when the elected and authorized representatives of the people try to change even one part of that law previously shoved down our throat, the whole country hyperventilates as though it were a holy document not to be tampered with.”
Kaewmala writes that the game of playing politics (this is how it is actually said in Thai) goes on “full of repetitive inane plots with almost no character development. The same, interchangeable inane cast never learns to act properly or improve their craft…”
As Andrew McGregor Marshall puts it, we are witnessing “the growing pains” of Thailand right now as the country painfully metamorphoses from a feudal pseudo- democracy into a democracy really representative of the people, even those so-called ‘uneducate’ folk from up North. Bertrand Russell wrote in his tome The History of Western Philosophy, that the Enlightenment in Europe was an extremely bloody and violent period in European history as new ideas supplanted accepted norms. Change is a violent act: a schism results in conflict, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, and so after the violence perhaps synthesis, the two opposing sides become one functioning alliance. A new age of Thai politics not undermined by coups, paranoia, legal loop-holes, and Big Brother reckonings. It’s better to be idealistic than fatalistic. It’s certain that those clinging to the vestiges of an ancient country will at some point be exorcised. In the meantime blood will likely stain the pages of Thai history again. Let us hope that a brighter future comes screaming into existence if this should happen.