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Bizarre Hitler scene sneaks into Thai junta propaganda movie

14 December 2014
A screenshot from the short film '30' shows students painting a picture of HItler. Pic: AP.

A screenshot from the short film ’30’ shows students painting a picture of Hitler. Pic: Youtube screengrab.

A bizarre and brief scene depicting Thai students painting a picture of Adolf Hitler has made its way into a propaganda short film financed by the military government. “30” by director Kulp Kaljaruek is part of the “Thai Niyom” (“Thai Pride”) movie aimed at promoting the “12 core values” drawn up by by junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha shortly after the military coup of May 22, 2014.

These commandments “12 values” are essentially the junta’s guide to becoming a “good” Thai citizen. It includes values like showing respect to superiors, resisting the temptation of “religious sins”, upholding “Thai customs and traditions”, and sacrificing oneself for the good of the country. School children (and sometimes even adults) are advised to recite them daily, and to further push their agenda the military junta has financed short films based on said values.

And so we have the short film “30”, about a spoiled brat young, wealthy and neatly-kempt Thai boy and his underachieving, goofy (and darker-skinned!) best friend in school (a private school, mind you!), learning about friendship and acceptance. This would all be as expected if it wasn’t for that intro sequence stylized like a children’s coloring book showing the different school activities,  one of which involves the protagonist standing in front of a  portrait of Adolf Hitler during art class, while winking suggestively at the camera (0:54 min. in video below).

The movie was uploaded to YouTube and was unsurprisingly removed from official channels after a sufficient amount of baffled outrage on social media at the odd inclusion the scene. As usual, bootleg copies have popped up elsewhere already. This not the first time that there has been outrage at the insensitive or just simply misplaced use of Nazi symbols and Adolf Hitler depictions. In the past unsuspecting school and university students (and certain Bangkok hipster shops) have been criticized for their trivial use of such images.

But was this just yet another lapse in judgment and a show of ignorance stemming from a rather dismal education system? Or – given the apparent winks and nods throughout the whole short film (e.g. rich, spoiled, overachieving boy living in mansion attending a private school) – is this part of an almost satirical subtext undercutting the whole “12 core values” and the military junta’s re-imagineering of what makes a “good” Thai?

(MORE: Thailand’s junta brings its message to the silver screen)

Whatever the case may be, it must have somehow flown over the heads of the officials – Thai junta Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth and several other ministers are credited in the movie as sponsors before the actual cast and crew – and thus found its way to an astonished general public. Certainly not what the generals had in mind.

UPDATE [Dec 9]: The colleagues at Khaosod English have talked to “30” director Kulp Kaljaruek and he seemingly shows no regret or remorse or any deeper meaning at all:

“As for Hitler’s portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere. It’s even considered a fashion. It doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I didn’t expect it to be an issue at all.” […]

When asked whether “30” was an attempt to poke fun at Gen. Prayuth’s Twelve Values in a subversive way, Kulp insisted that he did not intend the film to be political at all.

Director Defends ‘Hitler Scene’ in Thai Junta Film“, Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Just as much as Hitler is sometimes being treated as a pop cultural icon in Thailand (see above), his production company “Kantana Motion Pictures” (and part of one of the largest TV and film companies in Thailand) also seems to like some of the same motifs and color schemes…! The director continues:

“[Hitler] is the character of this child,” Kulp explained, […] “He’s always been ‘number one,’ and he’s selfish. Hitler is also a ‘number one,’ in a bad way,” Kulp continued. “He was good at persuading a lot of people, but he refused to listen to the majority. He was always arrogant. That’s why the war happened.

Director Defends ‘Hitler Scene’ in Thai Junta Film“, Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Apart from incorrectly stating almost any historical fact about Hitler and the Third Reich (is he suggesting that Hitler started World War 2 out of arrogance and there was widespread opposition against him? Really?!), he has absolutely fumbled artistically justify that scene other than making a shrewd reference to the dangers of a charismatic evil swaying the population – which is further supplemented by a military junta spokesman:

Col. Sansern Kaewkumnerd, spokesperson of the Office of Prime Minister, admitted that he has not had time to see the film, but offered a possible explanation of why the Hitler cameo was included. “If I were to make an uneducated guess, it may have been intended to say that democracy has good and bad sides,” Col. Sansern said.

Director Defends ‘Hitler Scene’ in Thai Junta Film“, Khaosod English, December 9, 2014

Uneducated indeed, since Thai ultra-conservatives – including the anti-government protesters, whose actions this and last year have paved the way for the military coup – like to often play the “Hitler-also-came-from-elections”-card in order to denounce democracy as a whole, as we have previously discussed here, here and here.

UPDATE 2 [Dec 11]: The Prime Minister’s Office Minister Pannada Diskul told Reuters, after apologizing for the understandably upset Israeli ambassador, that “The director had decided to make changes to the film even before it made news to ease everybody’s concerns.” That’s rather surprising to hear since, as seen above, the director initially said that he  “didn’t expect to be an issue at all”…!

What does Thailand really know about the CIA’s ‘black site’ prisons?

13 December 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 12, 2014

Thai officials have denied the existence of secret U.S. detention and interrogation facilities in Thailand, following the highly anticipated release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s use of torture in the past decade during the interrogation of terrorist suspects. But there may be some indications that Thailand may knows more than it is ready to admit.

The 525-page, highly redacted report finds that the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were brutal – far worse than previously thought and ineffective in acquiring credible information. Among the 119 detainees, 26 were wrongly detained and 39 were tortured, according to the report. What the Senate Committee report didn’t further reveal were the exact locations of these CIA facilities around the world. Fifty-four countries are suspected to have participated in the CIA rendition program to aid in the capture, detainment, transport and interrogation of terrorist suspects outside the jurisdiction of the United States – among them is Thailand.

However, members of the current Thai military government were quick to deny the accusations:

“A secret prison has not existed here and there are no reports of torture in Thailand. No Thai agencies have carried out such operations,” Prime Minister’s Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said. “There have never been cases of bringing in these sorts of prisoners. We have never conducted any illegal activities with the US.”

Suwaphan, a former director of the National Intelligence Agency, said he did not see Thailand being mentioned anywhere in the report. “The incidents mentioned in the report took place many years ago … Anyway, I can assure [you] there are no secret prisons or torture in Thailand.” […]

Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda affirmed that no secret prisons had existed in Thailand. “The Army was unaware of any secret prison in Thailand when I served as the Army chief. At that time, I had given assurance that Thailand did not have any secret prisons,” Anupong said.

Armed Forces Supreme Commander General Worapong Sanganetra said he had no information regarding secret prisons or torture of suspected terrorists in Thailand.

Govt denies secret prisons here, tightens security at US Embassy“, The Nation, December 12, 2014

Contrary to Suwaphan’s statement, Thailand is actually mentioned in the report by name (starting at page 301) in the capture of “Hambali”, former leader of the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (which has links Al Qaeda) and the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings. The capture in Ayutthaya in 2003 is being credited to “signals intelligence, a CIA source, and Thai investigative activities”, even though the report now says it was “largely through luck.”

There have been rumors about a detention facility in Thailand since the early 2000s during the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Washington Post was first to report in 2005:

By mid-2002, the CIA had worked out secret black-site deals with two countries, including Thailand and one Eastern European nation, current and former officials said. An estimated $100 million was tucked inside the classified annex of the first supplemental Afghanistan appropriation.

Then the CIA captured its first big detainee, in March 28, 2002. Pakistani forces took Abu Zubaida, al Qaeda’s operations chief, into custody and the CIA whisked him to the new black site in Thailand, which included underground interrogation cells, said several former and current intelligence officials. Six months later, Sept. 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh was also captured in Pakistan and flown to Thailand.

CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons“, Washington Post, November 2, 2005

Despite the very few mentions of “Thailand”, the report very often cites “DETENTION SITE GREEN”, which is widely believed to be the CIA black site prison in Thailand. It has been rumored that the location was somewhere either in Udon Thani province, in Sattahip at the Thai Navy base or near Don Muang Airport.

This is where the aforementioned Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was brought to and “placed in isolation on June 18, 2002, and remained in isolation for 47 days, until the CIA began subjecting him to its enhanced interrogation techniques on August 4, 2002″ (page 30 of the report), hoping to gain intelligence on an imminent terrorist plot.

The report also indicates (despite the many redactions) that at least a few officials had knowledge about Abu Zubaydah’s detainment at the black site in Thailand, contradicting this week’s official denials. Under the section “Tensions with Host Country Leadership and Media Attention Foreshadow Future Challenges” in the chapter about Abu Zubaydah’s case, it reads:

On April █ 2002, the CIA Station in Country █ attempted to list the number of Country █ officers who,[t]o the best of Station’s knowledge,” had “knowledge of the presence of Abu Zubaydah” in a specific city in Country █. The list included eight individuals, references to “various” personnel █████████████ and the “staff” of ████████████████ and concluded “[d]oubtless many others.” By April █, 2002, a media organization had learned that Abu Zubaydah was in Country █, prompting the CIA to explain to the media organization the “security implications” of revealing the information. The CIA Station in Country █ also expressed concern that press inquiries “would do nothing for our liaison and bilateral relations, possibly diminishing chances that [the ███████████ of Country █] will permit [Abu Zubaydah] to remain in country or that he would accept other [Abu Zubaydah]-like renderees in the future.” In November 2002, after the CIA learned that a major U.S. newspaper knew that Abu Zubaydah was in Country █, senior CIA officials, as well as Vice President Cheney, urged the newspaper not to publish the information. While the U.S. newspaper did not reveal Country █ as the location of Abu Zubaydah, the fact that it had the information, combined with previous media interest, resulted in the decision to close DETENTION SITE GREEN.

“Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program”, United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, published December 9, 2014, page 24 – PDF

That’s at least a strong indicator that the report lists eight individuals (possibly more) who know about the detainee’s presence in the country of “DETENTION SITE GREEN” and highly likely the same country the local officers come from – which is believed to be Thailand in this case.

The “major U.S. newspaper” that was asked not to reveal the information about Abu Zubaydah’s whereabouts is likely the Washington Post, which also wrote that the Thai officials at one point must have become aware of the CIA facility and its operation eventually:

Two locations in this category — in Thailand and on the grounds of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay — were closed in 2003 and 2004, respectively. […]

But after published reports revealed the existence of the site in June 2003, Thai officials insisted the CIA shut it down, and the two terrorists were moved elsewhere, according to former government officials involved in the matter. Work between the two countries on counterterrorism has been lukewarm ever since.

CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons“, Washington Post, November 2, 2005

Both Hambali and Abu Zubaydah, among other former detainees of “DETENTION SITE GREEN”, are currently beingheld at Guantanamo Bay.

The question now is who among the Thai officials knew what at what point? Obviously, the blanket denial by the current military junta is not only to protect themselves from losing face and potential legal and diplomatic repercussions both domestically and from abroad, but even more so since some members of the junta (like then-army chief Gen. Anupong EDIT: he became army chief in 2007) were in charge wof national security back then.

It also highlights the tenure of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra again and his dealings with the United States, Thailand being its oldest ally in the region. Asia Times Online wrote in 2008:

Months before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, the US and Thailand established the Counterterrorism Intelligence Center (CTIC), a secretive unit presciently which joined the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Thai intelligence officials to gather information about regional terror groups. […]

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinwatra’s democratically elected government paved the way for the CIA’s secret prison’s establishment, first by refusing to ratify the previous Democrat Party-led administration’s decision to sign onto the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and second by granting a legal exemption and agreement not to extradite any US citizens who violated the Rome statute on Thai soil to an ICC signatory third country.

His government also, apparently on the US’s urging, introduced terrorism-related charges into Thai criminal law. In quid pro quo fashion, Washington rewarded Bangkok in 2003 with the bilateral promise to negotiate a free trade agreement and upgraded Thailand to major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, which allows the Thai military to procure, sometimes at friendship prices, sensitive military technologies.

Yet the public revelations about CIA-led torture of terror suspects brought to Thailand cast a harsh new light on that special bilateral relationship and raises even harder questions about Thaksin’s motivations for allowing the US to violate Thai sovereignty.

US and Thailand: Allies in torture“, Asia Times Online, January 25, 2008

It has also been argued that the participation of Thaksin’s government in the “war on terror” indirectly led to his campaign in the infamous “war on drugs” that resulted in some 2,800 possible extrajudicial killings and also horribly mishandled the situation in the Deep South, which sparked an Islamic separatist insurgency that still lasts until today.

Back in the present, questions remain about Thailand’s role in harboring the CIA’s detainment facilities and knowledge about the torture of terrorist suspects inside the black site prison, what is now widely billed elsewhere as “America’s shame”. The current military government’s denial is in stark contradiction to the US Senate report. It does not raise confidence that anyone in Thailand will come clean about it – let alone be transparent – and it could grow into yet another dark stain on Thailand’s military junta.

Interview with Patrick Winn: New documentary explores vice and violence in Thailand’s Deep South

10 December 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 9, 2014

Saksith Saiyasombut speaks to award-winning journalist Patrick Winn about his new documentary ‘Red Light Jihad’

Bars line the street, on display are neon lights, beer signs and women trying to lure in passing revelers. This scene could be anywhere in Thailand, but this particular red light district in Su-ngai Kolok is on the border with Malaysia in Narathiwat province. Here, soldiers and military vehicles patrol the streets to protect the sex workers and the Malaysian men they cater to from the very real possibility of attacks by Muslim insurgents.

That is the backdrop for ‘Red Light Jihad: Thai Vice Under Attack’, a short documentary made by Patrick Winn and Mark Oltmanns for the Global Post. Su-ngai Kolok is representative of the distrust, fear and sense of injustice that permeates life in the southernmost, predominantly Muslim provinces in Thailand. The insurgency has claimed more than 5,000 lives in the past decade.

Siam Voices spoke with Global Post’s award-winning senior Southeast Asia correspondent Patrick Winn earlier this week via email about his new documentary and the challenges they encountered making it. The interview starts after the trailer below.

———————————–

Saksith Saiyasombut: Patrick, tell us a little about how this idea for the documentary came about?

Patrick Winn: Most Thais and foreigners alike tend to regard the southern insurgency zone as a hostile, alien place. And yet there’s this raging red-light scene that attracts tons of guys. They’re mostly men from parts of Malaysia under Sharia law, which forbids the bars, prostitution and assorted vice available in Thailand.

Obviously, that situation has all the ingredients needed for a fascinating story. Around this time last year, I considered using the red-light scene as a window into this conflict. So I set out to understand the motivations of the tourists, the sex workers and the jihadis who see all this vice as an intrusion into their homeland.

I was extremely lucky to bring on a highly talented videographer, Mark Oltmanns, who’s also a Thai speaker. It was our second time reporting as a duo on the Deep South.

Saiyasombut: As you just said, this isn’t the first time that you have covered the Deep South – was there anything this time that felt different, especially given the scope of this documentary?

Winn: Actually, no. Martial law may be the new normal for post-coup Thailand but it’s the old normal for the deep south. People have grown numb to the checkpoints, razor wire and violence. The mood is consistent: anxious and not terribly hopeful.

This project was more difficult for me personally because I witnessed a fatal bombing. While reporting in May, I heard a series of thundering booms in my hotel room and rushed out the street. Several blocks away, a woman wearing a hijab was laying face down in the road. She’d been killed by a motorbike bomb. I knew the woman was already dead because she was half-covered with a sheet and emergency workers were unhurriedly removing her gold jewelry. She did not appear to be a target. Just an very unlucky passerby. It was incredibly tragic.

The reactions from shopkeepers, hostesses and others I interviewed after the bombing were also disturbing. They were able to quickly shrug off the violence. Lots of nervous laughter, which is a common Thai coping mechanism.

Saiyasombut: What was the most surprising thing you have encountered during the research and filming? And what was the biggest challenge?

Winn: I was surprised at the candor of the sex workers. There are plenty of reasons why someone with that job wouldn’t want to get mic’d up on camera and answer nosey questions from a foreign journalist. But the women we interviewed seemed eager to drop the happy, smiley mask and just vent. There’s plenty to vent about. They face all the dangers and annoyances any sex worker faces plus the ever-present threat of bombs or bullets. This job requires a lot of cunning and perseverance.

As always, the biggest challenge in reporting on Thailand’s insurgency is representing the jihadi perspective. Even the Taliban and the Islamic State have press officers. But Thailand’s rebellion is infamously murky.

It took some cajoling to get the former leader of a now-defunct insurgent umbrella group called Bersatu to go on camera. His name is Wan Kadir. He’s from Pattani province but says he served in the US army as a non-citizen during the Vietnam War, returned to the states and joined American anti-war protests. That later influenced his zeal to liberate Thailand’s Muslim deep south.

Saiyasombut: The current conflict in the south has been going on for over a decade now with thousands of casualties and despite repeated efforts there’s no apparent resolution in sight – what did you hear on the ground? What are their thoughts about the conflict and do they have any hope for improvement?

Winn: My sense is that hope for improvement among Malays in Thailand runs low. I’m basing this on conversations with a range of sources: everyday non-political folks, activists, separatists and so on. They see that the conflict is entrenched. The Thai establishment isn’t going to cede any power. And Muslim Malay society isn’t going to suddenly transform into a bunch of Buddhist Thais.

Saiyasombut: What’s the impression you’re getting from the Thai authorities? Do they have a better grasp of what’s going on than their superiors in Bangkok?

Winn: The local authorities obviously know their terrain far better than the generals in Bangkok. That doesn’t mean they’re particularly well suited to mediate between Buddhists and Muslims. The factionalism runs very deep. The army fosters a siege mentality. They heavily defend minority Buddhist villages and tend to see all-Muslim areas as danger zones.

For example, in the documentary, you’ll hear a Thai colonel saying that “not all Muslims are bad… but my primary responsibility is to this Buddhist militia.” He’s referring to the “Or Ror Bor”, an almost entirely Thai Buddhist armed volunteer force.

For brevity’s sake, I’m painting with a broad brush here: there are also plenty of young troops doing the best they can to behave decently in a violent and unpredictable place.

Saiyasombut: Many different Thai governments have tried to resolve the conflict in the South, none of them successful. The current military government has launched another attempt, but has been very vague about it so far. What really needs to be done?

Winn: The solution is fairly obvious: more autonomy for Malay Muslims, who comprise 80 percent of the deep south’s population. I think most could tolerate living under the Thai state but they’d like much more authority in managing their own affairs. As it stands, the area feels a bit like an occupied colony.

Imagine you grow up in a hometown patrolled by young men with M-16s who can’t speak your language. Neither do most of your schoolteachers, who also preach obedience to an unfamiliar faith. You’re routinely frisked. Most of the major political decisions that affect your life are made by outsiders. It’s a recipe for rebellion.

The jihadis worsen the situation by giving the Thai state a pretext to step up its war footing. Malay Muslims also have to live in fear of separatists murdering them for “collaborating”, which is almost impossible to avoid when you live under a system where Thais hold all the political and economic power. It must be exhausting.

The Thai government might relieve this pressure cooker by relinquishing more control. But the military junta is all about tightening control and imposing “happiness” by force. That didn’t work when the Siamese kingdom conquered this territory more than a century ago. They shouldn’t expect it to work now.

Saiyasombut: Thank you very much for the interview!

You can watch the documentary ‘Red Light Jihad: Thai Vice Under Attack’ over at Global Post. Patrick Winn can be followed on Twitter @BKKApologist and Mark Oltmanns’ website can be found here.

Thailand’s military junta to delay elections to 2016 – is anyone surprised?

29 November 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 28, 2014

In the immediate aftermath of the military coup of the May 22 earlier this year, there was some early hope by rather optimistic (but ultimately naive) observers that this hostile takeover of powers would be just a “speed bump” or a “slight setback” for Thailand’s democracy. The hope was that, as with the previous coup in 2006, powers would be returned to a quasi-civilian government that would organize fresh democratic elections within a year.

However, the 2006 military takeover failed to purge the political forces of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with his sister Yingluck taking power in 2011, only to be ousted earlier this year. This time the military junta, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has been particularly cagey (as mentioned here) about the near- and mid-term future of Thailand’s political discourse – particularly about when elections will take place – so much so that the piercing questions by the media at one press conference provoked a walk-out by the junta leader.

In the weeks following that the junta set the agenda: the so-called “roadmap” sees “reconciliation” by the “reform process” as a main pretext before democratic elections can be eventually held. Now six months after the coup, with the establishment of a fully junta-appointed ersatz-parliament called the “National Legislative Assembly” (more than half stacked with active and retired military officers), a fully junta-appointed “National Reform Council” tasked with making reform recommendations, and the rather exclusive “Constitutional Drafting Committee”, the institutional bodies for the junta’s political groundwork have been set, joined by a cabinet of ministers that is largely the same as the military junta at the top.

The junta said that, all going to plan, elections could be possible in late 2015. However, that prospect is now very unlikely:

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also defense minister, said elections will take place in 2016, citing groups opposed to the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order, as it is formally known, as one reason for the delay.

“We will be able to organize elections around the start of 2016 once the constitution is drafted,” Prawit told reporters. “Right now there are elements opposed to the National Council for Peace and Order.”

Thai election pushed back to 2016: deputy PM“, Reuters, November 27, 2014

This should come as NO surprise to even the casual observer. There have been quite a few times already that a delay of elections has been hinted at. Here they are in reverse chronological order:

Speaking to the BBC’s chief business correspondent Linda Yueh, [Thai finance minister Sommai] Phasee said that from his conversations with Gen Prayuth “I think it may take, maybe, a year and a half” for elections to be held.

He said both he and the prime minister wanted to see an end to martial law, but that it was still needed now “as his tool to deal with security”.

Thailand elections ‘could be delayed until 2016‘”, BBC News, November 27, 2014

[สัมภาษณ์กับนายเทียนฉาย กีระนันทน์ ประธานสภาปฏิรูปแห่งชาติ (สปช.)]

“กฎหมายลูกที่ต้องร่างเพิ่มเติมภายหลังได้รัฐธรรมนูญจะใช้เวลาเท่าไร บอกไม่ได้ ตอบได้เพียงว่าไม่นาน รวมเวลาการทำหน้าที่ของสปช.ทั้งหมดน่าจะห้อยไปถึงปี ’59

[Interview except with Thienchay Keeranan, President of the National Reform Council]

“How much time it will take to amend the constitution [for a referendum] once this is set – I cannot say. I can only say that it won’t take long, the work of the National Reform Council will be done by 2016.

แนวทางปฏิรูป-กรอบร่างรัฐธรรมนูญ – สัมภาษณ์พิเศษ“, Khao Sod, October 27, 2014

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (…) said on Wednesday that elections planned for 2015 will depend on whether wide-ranging national reforms can be completed within a year.

“I outlined a roadmap. The election must come with a new constitution and eleven reform areas,” said Prayuth. “Everything depends on the roadmap so we must see first if the roadmap can be completed. Elections take time to organize,” he added, giving no further details.

Leader of Thai junta hints at delay in return to elections“, Reuters, October 15, 2014

The actual reasons for the delay are pretty simple: the so-called “reform” plans by the junta – aimed at marginalizing the electoral power of Thaksin Shinawatra’s political forces even at the cost of disenfranchising nearly half the electorate – are apparently taking longer than initially believed, despite all the government institutions being dominated by its political allies.

Furthermore, martial law is still in place in order to quash any form of opposition, seen this past week (read here and here). It is these public displays of dissent that the junta will use as a pretense to claim that “reconciliation” hasn’t been achieved yet and thus an election cannot be held under the present circumstances. At risk of sounding like  broken record, the real problem isn’t the fact that there is opposition to the military junta, it is rather that the opposition is banned from expressing it publicly  – if at all, it should be done silently, says the junta.

The junta’s attitude to its commitment to the “roadmap” (and a lot of other things) can be summed up by what junta Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister (and largely assumed main backer of the coup) General Prawit Wongsuwan said earlier this month at a press conference after a case of junta interference in the media (we reported):

I would like to remind the media that the government, the NCPO are currently in the process to achieve reconciliation in this country. Everything that is an obstacle to reconciliation… everything that will create divisions – we won’t let that happen! Let it rest, wait for now. […] so wait… for a year! We have our roadmap, the government, the NCPO are following it, they’re following their promise. So why the hurry?!

Why the hurry indeed when you cannot be actually held accountable for missing the deadline…?

The curious case of Yingluck Shinawatra’s Bangkok Post (non-)interview

28 November 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 27, 2014

On Monday, the ‘Bangkok Post’ ran what was touted as the “first interview” given by former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra since the military coup of May 22, 2014, which ousted her government after nearly six months of anti-government protests and thus a manufactured political deadlock.

In the story, written by the Post’s military correspondent Wassana Nanuam, Yingluck said that she “knew from the first day” in office that her tenure would be cut short; if not by “the independent agencies or the judiciary, [then] it would be a coup.” In another poignant quote attributed to Yingluck, she described her removal from office with this metaphor:

I did my best to fulfil my duty as a prime minister installed via an election and who preserved democracy,” she said. “It’s the same as if the people had handed me the car keys and said I must drive and lead the country. Then suddenly, someone points a gun at my head and tells me to get out of the car while I’m at the wheel driving the people forward.

“Yingluck saw the coup coming”, by Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post, November 24, 2014 [article removed, read copy here]

This is a rather strong statement from the former prime minister, who’s known for her rather soft and reconciliatory rhetoric and has shied away from giving interviews or to comment publicly since the coup. Furthermore (according to the article at least), Yingluck also didn’t rule out that she may enter politics again, if she isn’t disqualified before and if there’ll be any democratic elections in the near future.

Then, the article was removed from the ‘Bangkok Post’ website on Tuesday.

That raised suspicions as to whether or not there was some sort of outside interference, given the sensitive subject and the rather bold words. After all, since the military coup the media is under strict scrutiny of the military junta, hardly allowing any criticism (let alone opposition voices) – so much so that Thai junta Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha told the media not to report on the ousted PM or her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself toppled in a military coup in 2006 and has been in self-imposed exile for years; while still wielding considerable influence in Thai politics from afar.

But the actual reason was apparently more banal:

[…] its author, Wassana Nanuam, later wrote on her Facebook that the piece was not based on an interview with Yingluck. Rather, the article was drawn from bits and pieces of private conversations with the former leader, Wassana wrote. 

“I just wanted to present lighthearted and colourful angles [of former PM Yingluck]. I didn’t want to focus on politics,” Wassana wrote. “Let me insist that this is not an interview. It’s a recollection of lighthearted and colourful topics about the former Madam Prime Minister.”

According to Wassana, the editors at Bangkok Post“misunderstood” the intention of her article when they edited the piece.

“They may have looked at the heavy angles and raised them into points that are different to what the author intended to present, but I recognise it as the error on my own part.”

She concluded, “I’d like to take responsibility for any [errors] that were caused by the lack of clear communication from my article. I know that I will be criticised and scolded by many sides.”

Bangkok Post Reporter Retracts Interview With Yingluck“, Khaosod English, November 25, 2014

Just to recap on what Wassana said: she essentially intended to write a fluff, “lighthearted” piece about former prime minister Yingluck’s life after the coup – all based on comments by her that were off-the-record! Yingluck’s former secretary Suranand Vejjajiva also confirmed in a TV appearance that, while the two women did meet,  Yingluck did not give an official interview. And yet somehow, these off-the-cuffs remarks have found their way into written word and were then suddenly published as an interview that was in no way “lighthearted”.

But it is really hard to tell that “bits and pieces of private conversations” are off-the-record and aren’t supposed to be published, no?!

To say that the Post and Wassana’s (whose apparent closeness to many of the top brass has often been questioned) decision to run the story as it was is a major blunder would be a major understatement. This fundamental editorial misjudgment (even more glaring given Wassana’s experience) has – intended or not – set things in motion already.

Prayuth is apparently fuming and is considering to put a travel ban on Yingluck (while another Bangkok Post story still is referring to the non-existent ‘interview’), which would prevent her from fleeing Thailand as she is still facing an investigation for dereliction of duty in her government’s controversial rice pledging scheme by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). This could result in her impeachment – despite the fact that she is already toppled from power but could also be additionally barred from running for office in the future. But the NACC is also thinking out loud about criminal charges against Yingluck, which could spell real trouble for the former prime minister.

Yingluck has publicly said she won’t flee the country and that she will be “keeping a low profile”, looking after the house and her son – all in all, avoiding the media spotlight. It didn’t quite work out that way because, it seems, that somebody doesn’t know the difference between on- and off-the-record…!

No, the Tour de France is still NOT coming to Thailand!

26 November 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 25, 2014

The Tour de France, the world’s long-running, most prestigious (and somewhat plagued) cycling race, will start its 2016 edition from Manche in Normandy, France, with the rest of the route to be revealed on December 9. I might be going on a limb here, but I’m pretty sure that the last stage will be again on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Now, why would I write something like this on this blog here? Regular readers may remember this:

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is in talks with Paris-based Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) for the possibility of staging the world’s biggest cycling race, the Tour de France, in Thailand in 2015, the year when the entire Southeast Asian region will integrate under the ASEAN Economic Community framework. (…)

[TAT Governor Mr. Thawatchai Arunyik] added, “By playing host to a world famous cycling race as the Tour de France, we are saying that Thailand is ready to host any international sporting events of all types and sizes. (…)”

Tour de France to be held in Thailand next year“, TAT press release, October 2, 2014

The TAT jumped the starting gun on this one, issuing the press release after just one meeting with the Tour organizers (we reported). While it is nothing new for the first stage of the event to be held in countries other than France – there have been many starting locations, including this year in Utrecht, Netherlands – moving to an entirely different continent is quite a big stretch, which made the TAT announcement – which has vanished from its website – far more unbelievable.

Almost naturally – after a sufficient amount of buzz and ridicule – there was this unsurprising statement by the Tour de France organizers ASO:

ASO, however, believes something was lost in translation.

“There are talks indeed but not to bring the Tour to Thailand,” a spokesman told Reuters upon hearing about the claims from the TAT. “There are discussions to settle in Thailand via a criterium, just like we did in Japan with the ‘Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France’.” A criterium is a one-day race held on a circuit or though a city which often attracts the Tour de France winner but has little sporting value.

Thailand off course on Tour hosting plans – ASO“, Reuters, October 2, 2014

It’s not the first time Thailand has attempted to attract a world-class sporting event, and its not the first time it has run into problems: the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2012 became a fiasco when Bangkok failed to build the main arena in time, and an ambitious bid to host a Formula 1 race on the streets of Bangkok ultimately came to a screeching halt when the city rejected the inner-city circuit. Both incidents were examples of unhealthy, unrealistic ambitions and dodgy dealings by the Thai authorities – which would normally be perfectly acceptable in the world of sports.

It still doesn’t excuse the outlandish announcement by the TAT. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports (a very popular portfolio for would-be ministers for political and financial reasons), which the TAT is attached to, could for example attempt to better promote and support regional and local sporting events like the “Tour of Thailand” instead of thinking too big.

So, in case there are any doubts: NO, the Tour de France is still not coming to Thailand!

Siam Voices series: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand

24 November 2014

Over the past seven days, the Siam Voices team (including yours truly) ran a week-long series of articles on 6 months after the military coup of May 22, 2014. Here are the links to all the parts:

Introduction: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand by Saksith Saiyasombut
Part 1: Economic stability comes at a cost under Thailand’s military junta
Part 2: Prayuth, censorship and the media in post-coup Thailand
Part 3: An education fit for a zombie? 
by Jack Radcliffe
Part 4: Are Thai people really happy after the coup? 
by Thitipol Panyalimpanun
Part 5: Thailand’s junta and the war on corruption
Part 6: PDRC myths and Thailand’s privileged ‘new generation’ 
by Chan Nilgianskul
Part 7: Thailand tourism down, but not out
Part 8: Education reform in Thailand under the junta
by Daniel Maxwell
Part 9: 28 weeks later in post-coup Thailand: Some personal thoughts 
by Saksith Saiyasombut

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