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Thai govt declares state of emergency as political crisis deepens

23 January 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 22, 2014

The political standoff took a new twist Tuesday when the Thai government’s declared state of emergency to counter the ongoing anti-election protests. With additional developments in the background, the wheels in this political crisis are about to spin faster.

With the mass anti-election protesters’ campaign to “shutdown” the capital Bangkok entering its second week, the Thai caretaker cabinet decided to declare a state of emergency (SoE) on Tuesday evening as a response to the continuous targeting of government offices and banks by the protesters. The move also comes after explosions on Friday and on Sunday injured over 60 demonstrator and killed one. The suspects are still at large and police have set a 500,000 baht bounty on the perpetrator of Sunday’s blast.

The 60-day state of emergency, starting on Wednesday, will last until March 22 and covers Bangkok and in parts its surrounding provinces Nonthaburi, Thonburi, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakarn. While the emergency decree is significant in principle – potentially  expanding the power of security forces to include searches, arrests and detentions people with limited judicial and parliamentary oversight and also censor media coverage – details of which regulations are being issued had yet to emerge as of publishing.

The announcement also includes a restructuring of the government organization tasked with handling the demonstrations. It now officially called the “Center for Maintaining Peace and Order” (CMPO) or “ศูนย์รักษาความสงบ” (ศรส.) in Thai.

Tuesday’s announcement brought a familiar face in Thai politics back to the front line with the Pheu Thai MP Chalerm Yubamrung, who announced the CoE, assuming the position as CMPO director, while police chief-general Adul Saengsingkaew and defence ministry’s permanent-secretary Nipat Thonglek acting as operating directors.

Chalerm is a veteran politician known for his bullish appearance and his reputation of being a blowhard, to put it mildly. When he was reappointed from deputy prime minister overlooking national security to labor minister in a reshuffle last year, he bemoaned his apparent political downfall. But when the current protests kicked off last November, somehow Chalerm managed to wrestle his way back into the headlines when he seemingly single-handedly took charge of monitoring the rallies led by opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban – practically his political counterpart and arch-nemisis. Weeks later, Chalerm even boastfully and colorfully announced that he’s “****ing back!”

The CMPO declared that the rallies by Suthep – who in April 2010 as deputy PM issued the last SoE declared in Thailand during the red shirt protests – have “constantly violated the law, especially in closing down government offices and banks and harassment against civil servants to prevent them from working.” But at the same time they insist there are no plans to crack down on the protesters and are hoping that Suthep will surrender himself to the authorities. A notable sight during the televised announcement was the toned down presence by military officers, normally front and center at such announcements, even though many hold positions in the CMPO.

As the effects of the state of emergency declaration are yet to take effect, the government of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has taken a proactive role after months of a hesitant, non-confrontational approach by police. Protest leader Suthep was unsurprisingly defiant, as he called the authorities to “come and get us” and still insists that his movement is “peaceful” despite riots and threats by its militant wing. Suthep says that the protests will continue with a view to stopping the February 2 election.

In related news, the Election Commission (EC) – still very reluctant to hold the February 2 polls – has asked the Constitutional Court to review the possibility of postponing the election. According to the constitution, a general election cannot be moved to another date, but by-elections can. However, with the SoE declaration affecting only Bangkok and surrounding provinces, the court may actually find a reason delay the vote because of these special circumstances. Moreover, candidacy registration has been disrupted by anti-election protesters in over 20 districts in the deep South.

With the state of emergency declaration the tense standoff between protesters and caretaker government goes to the next level and is less than likely being resolved anytime soon, since the government seemingly determined to hold the February 2 election and Suthep most likely now even more determined to stop it. Adding to that the EC’s ongoing efforts to delay the February 2 elections, the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigation against 308 mostly Pheu Thai lawmakers for their role in the proposed constitutional amendments and another probe directly targeting caretaker prime minister Yingluck for her rice subsidy scheme, the current political crisis in Thailand could be in very real danger of spinning out of control.

Thailand’s Election Commission reluctant to hold February 2 poll

18 January 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 17, 2014

Thailand’s Election Commission has asked the caretaker government of interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to postpone the general election scheduled for February 2, voicing its concern over “violence and chaos” amid the ongoing anti-election protests.

The Election Commission of Thailand (EC) is responsible for holding elections and to ensure that these take place legally and fairly. The EC consists of five commissioners, who are elected by a special committee (including the head of the Constitutional Court) and confirmed by the senate. Since the military coup of 2006, the commission has held two nationwide elections in 2007 and 2011 and in both cases re-incarnations of toppled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s party have won.

Now, after a new set of five commissioners was confirmed on December 13, 2013, just a few days after Thaksin’s sister and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck dissolved parliament and called for snap-elections on February 2, the Election Commission seems more than reluctant to have another one.

The first signs appeared right after Yingluck’s announcement to dissolve the House, when one of the commissioners, Sodsri Satayathum, expressed some doubt:

The election commission is ready to hold elections, but I’m not sure whether the political groups want to hold it or notIf the political groups are not ready for an election, there’s no use for the election commission to do it.

Thai Premier Rejects Demands That She Quit“, New York Times, December 10, 2013

What then followed was a series of contradictory statements, a back and forth between different commissioners and in general a farcical performance by a government agency that is supposed to take care of the election process, but is apparently unwilling to do so.

BANGKOK, Dec 17 – Newly-appointed Election Commission (EC) chairman Supachai Somcharoen stands firm that a snap poll must be held on February 2.

He said the EC is obliged to organise the general election as imposed in the royal decree and the candidacy applications, set for December 23-27, will be held as scheduled despite a protesters’ threat to hold a rally at the registration sites.

Election commissioner firm on Feb 2 general election“, MCOT, December 17, 2013

BANGKOK, Dec 19 – Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) today urged the government and protesting groups to hold talks on postponing the February 2 general election. (…)

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, one of the five commissioners in charge of election administration, admitted that it is difficult to hold a smooth election amid the present political climate and possible chaos. “This is an abnormal situation. All factions should hold talks for a smooth election. Don’t take February 2 as a condition or restriction (for political resolutions). (…)” he said.

Election Commission hints at postponing Feb2 election“, MCOT, December 19, 2013

BANGKOK, Dec 20 – The Election Commission (EC) announced today to go ahead with a snap poll on February 2 amid escalating calls for national reform before such an election.

EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen said after meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that the EC did not offer to mediate among different factions in light of political conflicts. He said the prime minister and election commissioners agreed that an election is essential and should be held fairly but the EC would not give its opinions whatsoever.

Election Commission goes ahead with Feb 2 election“, MCOT, December 20, 2013

The EC then organised the candidacy registration at the Thai-Japanese Stadium sports complex in the Bangkok district of Din Daeng, despite repeated threats by the protesters to disrupt the week-long process. That was what exactly happened and the situation escalated almost immediately some protesters sparked violent clashes, causing the death of one protester and one police officer (the circumstances of his death initially unclear), and later seized the registration location in order to bar everybody from entering.

Despite the possibility to move elsewhere in order to avoid the protesters the EC decided to keep the registration location where it was. After the violence in Bangkok and disruptions by protesters at registrations in 28 districts in the southern provinces (to which there would be no extension period) the commission then said the elections should be called off.

The flip-flopping by the EC continued in the new year when the election was confirmed by a commissioner and the secretary-general, only then to be put in doubt again a week later after the auditor-general urged the Election Commission to reconsider whether holding the February 2 election is worth the estimated 3.8bn Baht ($116m). On January 10, Isara News Agency reported first that the EC was going to submit an urgent letter to Prime Minister Yingluck, asking her to issue “a royal decree postponing the elections,” echoing the auditor-general’s sentiment that under the current circumstances it would a huge “waste of state funds”. However, tha was denied by the EC secretary-general. But a few hours later then…

Responding to the Election Commission’s letter, Prime Minister Yingluck invited the EC, all political parties (incl. the boycotting Democrat Party) and the anti-election protesters themselves to discuss a possible election postponement. But none of the opposition showed up and the commissioners sent their secretary-general to the meeting and Yingluck announced that the elections would go ahead on February 2.

Then, the Election Commission invited Yingluck to attend a meeting on Friday. However, commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn couldn’t resist to include that quip:

นายสมชัยระบุว่า (…) ถ้าหากยังไม่มาก็จะส่งจดหมายเชิญไปอีก จะเปลี่ยนโรงแรมที่นัดคุยไปเรื่อยๆ ซึ่งสุดท้ายอาจจะเป็นโรงแรมโฟร์ซีซั่นส์ นายกฯ ก็อาจจะมาหารือ

Mr. Somchai said (…) “if she [PM Yingluck] doesn’t come, we’ll still send out invites, keep changing hotels to meet until we finally [zeroed in on] the Four Seasons Hotel. May be then she’ll come, no?

ตะลึง! “กกต.สมชัย” งัดโฟร์ซีซั่นส์เหน็บ “ปู”“, Khaosod, January 16, 2014

The Four Seasons Hotel is a reference to a heavily rumored (and still unproven) private issue concerning the prime minister. It begs the question why a high-level official like Somchai is making such a statement. Looking back at the series of flip-flops and contradictory remarks, we have to wonder what role the Election Commission is playing here? Because by the looks it, we should not ask how the election can be delayed, but rather if the Election Commission wants to hold one at all?

Organized chaos: Thai anti-election protesters’ hardline faction

16 January 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 15, 2014

With the ongoing protests escalating again, anti-election protesters spread out across Bangkok this week in their much-touted “shutdown”, further putting pressure on the caretaker government of interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and to cancel the elections scheduled for February 2. Various factions inside the protest movement have also mobilised. One group in particular drew attention after this threat on Monday:

Protesters announced they will close the entrance of Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai) on Ngam Duplee road and also the Stock Exchange of Thailand on Ratchadapisek road if caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra refuses to resign before the deadline on Wednesday. Aerothai is in sole charge of all communications between aircraft and air traffic controllers in Thailand.

The blockade would be carried out by the Students and People Network for Thailand’s Reform (SPNTR). Uthai Yodmanee, a core leader of SPNTR, said Monday morning that if Ms Yingluck did not resign and leave the country by the given deadline, his supporters would close access to both sites.

He said the stock market has to sacrifice because Thai investors are still ignoring the situation and the protesters viewed the stock market as the “heart” of the Thaksin regime, because former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was still able to manage the capital markets from overseas.

SET, air traffic control targeted“, Bangkok Post, January 13, 2014

A similar threat was also made the night before by Nittikorn Lamlua, a senior advisor to the faction, adding that it would be solely under the responsibility of this group, not of the main protest leaders. A spokesman for the main protest leaders, in an attempt at damage control, almost immediately issued a denial that any protesters would target Thailand’s air traffic control or any other public transport system. However, Uthai was seemingly unfazed by their main allies’ apparent disapproval and reiterated his threats on Tuesday night:

(…) the hard-line movement Students and People Network for Thailand’s Reform (STR) yesterday confirmed it planned to blockade the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the offices of Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (AeroThai) if caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra did not resign.

STR coordinator Uthai Yodmanee said the group would wait until 8pm tonight [Wednesday] – its deadline for Yingluck to step down. “If Yingluck does not resign by then, the STR will block the stock market and the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand office,” he said, adding that STR leaders were designing a strategy on how to blockade the two places.

Any disruption of AeroThai’s services could cause chaos for civilian aircraft, including domestic and international passenger flights, scheduled to land in Thailand, as well as those flying through Thai airspace, Uthai said.

AeroThai and SET are in protesters’ sights“, The Nation, January 15, 2014 

It seems that the protest leadership is losing control over the most hardline and militant wing in their movement, which has previously already been at forefront of this protests’ most volatile and chaotic actions.

Uthai Yodmanee and Nititorn Lamlua, the men behind the militant “Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand”-group of anti-election protesters. Pic: Post Today

The so-called “Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand” (NSPRT) – or in Thai กลุ่มเครือข่ายนักศึกษาประชาชนปฏิรูปประเทศไทย (คปท.) – is led by Uthai Yodmanee, a student union leader at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok. The 32-year-old’s political activity goes back as far as 2006, when he was involved in anti-government protests led by the “People’s Alliance for Democracy” (PAD), also known as the yellow shirts, demanded the ouster of then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (source). In May 2007 (after the military coup of ’06), he reportedly laid flowers at the Constitutional Tribunal, thanking them for dissolving Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party (source).

He also joined the rubber farmer protests last year, which in part turned violent. The anti-Thaksin stance would become a constant in Uthai’s political activism. It is reported that he has close ties to fellow southerner Thaworn Senniam, who resigned as deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party in order to lead the anti-government protests.

The NSPRT came on the scene last year when rallies led by the opposition Democrat Party and others targeted the government’s amnesty bill drafts last August, but failed to gain momentum and were slowly fading in support, which led to one anti-government group’s relocation of their rally site. That was when the NSPRT took over that stage and was seen as a political fringe group for the first time. With the rewritten amnesty bill draft passing parliament in late October, the anti-government protesters were reignited, which led to the anti-government rallies that are still going on until today.

Another central figure of the NSPRT is the faction’s senior member Nititorn Lamlua, a “human rights lawyer” of the Lawyers Council of Thailand and previously attached to the PAD. His most recent activism before the protest targeted the government’s 350bn Baht water management scheme ($10.6bn), which has been criticized for its non-transparent process among other complaints.

As the Thai academic Aim Sinpeng correctly observed, “nationalism, anti-mega projects and anti-corruption underlie some of the main motivations” for both men and the NSPRT.

What also distinguishes the hardcore faction are their extreme actions during the protests. Nititorn led a rally to the United States Embassy in mid-December after previously threatening to storm it. The US State Department statement earlier supported the “democratic process in Thailand,” essentially endorsing the February 2 elections. At the embassy, Nititorn bizarrely suggested that the US ambassador Kristie Kenney should leave the country. “If she needs to leave the embassy, she’ll have to go by helicopter because she has badmouthed the protesters,” he was quoted as saying. The NSPRT also attacked the Election Commission’s registration center in Bangkok in late December, where two people were killed in the clashes with police and have later temporarily seized the building.

With the deadline imposed by the NSPRT looming and the uncertainty over what will happen next in the “Bangkok shutdown”, the questions are if this fringe group will actually launch an(other) attack designed to incite chaos – this time severely threatening to disrupt Thailand’s air safety – and whether or not the main leaders have any control over their hardliners. As recent events have shown, there are small groups among the protesters that are prone to spark violent escalations and the NSPRT is one them.

Tongue-Thai’ed!: Whistle blown on Abhisit’s spurious pleas for reform

10 January 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 9, 2014

This is part XXIV of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

Ever since deciding not to compete in the upcoming snap-elections on February 2 after a lot of meandering, the implosion of the opposition Democrat Party has left Thailand’s political party in a bit of an existential downward spiral as it tries to echo the anti-election protesters’ mantra of “reform before elections”, while still grasp at the last bits of political relevancy the party has. In an effort to maintain that, the Democrat Party has launched its non-election campaign to discourage convince people to follow their boycott.

Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva held a speech at a party event called “Eradicate Corruption, Committed In Reforms” in Bangkok on Tuesday, when this happened:

Here’s a description of what happened:

[...] an unidentified man stood up in the audience and blew his whistle. The audience mistook him as a supporter of Mr. Abhisit, since whistle-blowing has been a trademark of the anti-government protesters, and no one restrained him until he held up a sign which read – in English – “Respect My Vote!”.

The heckler then shouted at Mr. Abhisit, “If you cannot even reform yourself, how can you reform the country?”. Mr. Abhisit was visibly surprised by the incident, but the former leader tried to manage the confrontation by thanking the man for his remarks.

However, the heckler went on to shout, “When you were the government, why didn’t you do it? Stop the discourse about anti-corruption. You have intimidated other people, so can they not intimidate you as well?”.

Heckler Tells Abhisit To ‘Respect My Vote‘”, Khaosod English, January 7, 2014

The heckler was later identified to be a 34-year-old Bangkok businessman referred under his Facebook handle “Ake Auttagorn” who told Prachatai that he staged the one-man protest “out of frustration” at the political discourse now and that “Thailand already had this lesson many times before” with the Democrat Party “always at the center of it”.

And this is how Abhisit reacted to the heckler…

“This is an example of reasons why we need reforms,” Mr. Abhisit told the audience, “This is the form of Democrat Party′s rivals”, to which the heckler shot back, “I am not your rival, I am the people!”

Security guards later surrounded the man and led him out of the room. After the heckler has been removed, Mr. Abhisit told the crowd that such harassment is a reason why the upcoming election on 2 February 2014 would not be a fair one.

Heckler Tells Abhisit To ‘Respect My Vote‘”, Khaosod English, January 7, 2014

While he at least didn’t snap back at the heckler (and could have said something like, you know, “stupid bitch”), Abhisit failed to ackowledge that the need for reform is not because of a heckler disrupting him, but rather because of an uncompromising deliberate escalation by the political opposition and the anti-election protesters originating from a long-held contempt for electoral democracy, those who vote for their political rivals and the failure of the opposition to effectively present itself as a viable political alternative. The Democrat Party has chosen to be part of the problem rather than being part of the solution, no matter how loud the whistle is being blown on them.

Thailand’s NACC ruling: Why it happened and what it means

09 January 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 8, 2014

Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) will charge 308 lawmakers, most from interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party, for proposed amendments to the country’s constitution adding more uncertainty over its candidates for the upcoming federal election on February 2.

The proposed changes would have changed the Senate into a fully-elected chamber with 200 members, whereas currently only 76 elected and 74 appointed senators make up the 150-strong upper House (Article 111 of the Constitution). The amendments would have also affected passages that bar direct relatives of MPs, political party members and recently retired MPs to run for Senate (Articles 115.5, 115.6 and 115.7, respectively) and would have done away the one-term limit of six years (Article 117). The draft passed both the House and the Senate in all three readings.

In November, the Constitutional Court quashed the draft amendments and declared them unconstitutional, citing a violation of Article 68 of the Constitution stating that a fully-elected senate would “overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State,”  and insisting that all these changes would enable “a domination of power” by both chambers. Additionally, the Court noted irregularities (some Pheu Thai MPs were caught using their colleagues’ voting ID cards) and discrepancies (the original draft is not the same that was later submitted to parliament, mainly regarding Article 117) in the parliamentary process.

However, the Court stopped short of dissolving the Pheu Thai Party. Instead, the opposition Democrat Party (whose MPs and like-minded appointed senators had originally brought this case to Constitutional Court) asked the NACC to investigate the 383 MPs and senators – including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the presidents of the House and the Senate – that have proposed and voted in favor of the amendments, seeking their impeachment.

The NACC announced on Tuesday that after a 7:2 decision it will press charges against 308 lawmakers – 293 of them have proposed and voted in favor in all three readings, while 15 did so in one of the readings. The key reason is this discrepancy:

“The NACC [at this point] based its decision on the Constitution Court’s ruling which also covers the part about the falsified draft charter amendment, (…) Basically, the 308 MPs and senators were involved in proposing the draft, so they should be aware that the draft was fake and they should be responsible for their actions,” [NACC member Vicha Mahakhun] said.

NACC to charge 308 lawmakers“, Bangkok Post, 8 January, 2014

They also decided to dismiss charges against 73 lawmakers, including interim Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, finding their part in the process to be “insufficient” and protected by Article 130 of the Constitution, which sets out an MPs’ or senator’s right “in giving statements of fact or opinions or in casting the vote by any member” to be “absolutely privileged”.

65 of these lawmakers voted in favor in the third and final reading, while only eight did in the first and/or the second, but none of them actually proposed the amendments. Two other lawmakers have been dropped from the complaints.

Also, in a separate case, the NACC will charge Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont and his deputy, Senator Nikom Wiratpanij, for their roles in passing the proposed amendments, accusing both of abusing their power. Both men will hear their charges Friday.

The big questions now are what will happen next and what impact it could have for the upcoming elections on February 2, as many of the 308 lawmakers are running for office? As of now, the legislators are asked to testify to the NACC in the next two weeks and can remain in their positions until then. The NACC will then decide on their cases and whether or not the MPs and senators will face impeachment. In that case, Article 272 of Constitution applies here, which states that if the NACC finds “that the accusation has a prima facie case (evident to be true until proven otherwise),” the accused should “not perform his or her duties until the Senate has passed its resolution”.

Amidst the ongoing anti-government and anti-election street protests (with protesters set to up the ante again on January 13 with a city-wide “shutdown” in the capital Bangkok) aimed at suspending electoral democracy indefinitely in favor of an appointed “People’s Assembly”, fears of a coup of some sort have increased. Comments by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha on a military coup (“Don’t be afraid of things that haven’t yet happened … But if they happen, don’t be frightened. There are [coup] rumours like this every year.”) have done very little to calm things down.

A “judicial coup” has become a little more likely with the NACC’s decision to press charges against hundreds of lawmakers from Pheu Thai,  Thailand’s most electorally successful political party, and their fate will be decided in two weeks – just days before election day on February 2.

Siam Voices 2013 Year in Review – All Parts

01 January 2014

Here are all my posts of the Siam Voices 2013 Year in Review series of the past week in one handy list for you:

Thank you everybody for the support! Happy New Year and may 2014 bring us some good news for right reasons to write about…!

Siam Voices 2013 review – Part 5: What else happened in Thailand…?

31 December 2013

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 31, 2013

This is the final part of our Siam Voices 2013 year in review, as we look what else made headlines in Thailand in the past 12 months – including the strange, outrageous and ridiculous. You can read the previous parts here: Part 1: Politics - Part 2: Lèse Majesté & the media - Part 3: The Rohingya - Part 4: Education and reform calls

It has become somewhat of a tradition now at the end of every year in review that we highlight all those news stories that were for various reasons not covered in the blog and mostly talked (rather more ranted) about on my Twitter feed. So without further ado, here’s the definitive incomplete look back at what else happened in Thailand, from the noteworthy to the quirky and from nonsensical to downright ridiculous.

Most unexpected pro-LGBT message of the year: During the Bangkok gubernatorial race earlier this year, the main challenger to the incumbent (and later re-elected) Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, Pheu Thai Party’s Pongsapat Pongcharoen published a campaign video with an unexpected pro-LGBT message promoting sexual diversity, mainly aimed at wooing the city’s potential transgender voters. While he didn’t mentioned more details how that would have been reflected in his policies, this we saw a legislative push to bring legal equality to same-sex marriages in Thailand, which would be the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. While a survey last year polled 60 per cent to be against same sex marriage, Thailand is generally known to be tolerant (but not entirely accepted) towards diverse genders and sexual orientations. A bill would have been submitted for a vote in the later months of the year, but due to the current political crisis and the dissolvement of the House, the legislation has been put on the backburner for now.

Media failures of the year: Those who are regularly following me know that I can be admittedly harsh on my colleagues in the Thai media. But apart from the small typos or mix-ups, there were three particular inexcusable cases of failures: one of them is when Daily News posted the full ID card (with photo) of a British gang-rape victim (which as taken down shortly after public backlash), and then there was Channel 3 showing the full murder of two women, but instead blurred the perpetrator’s gun (as per regulation).

In both cases, the authorities also are partly to be blamed since it was them who released the pictures to the media, as they did in the case of a 12-year-old ethnic Karen girl that was kidnapped and tortured by a couple in Kamphaeng Phet province (who unsurprisingly jumped bail and are still at large) – in fact they actually stripped her almost naked to document her mutilated body after years of torture by the couple in front of the press. While they did not show her face, the media are the last line of defense for crime victims and should apply their own judgement, rather than to recite everything said by the police ad verbatim - the victims deserve better.

Media mix-up of the year:  Channel 5 for running a picture of actress Meryl Streep portraying the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher instead of the actual Iron Lady herself. However, they weren’t the only ones who made such a blunder on that occasion as a Taiwanese TV station ran footage of Queen Elizabeth II during the news of Thatcher’s passing. Also, (almost predictably) some people also confused actor Morgan Freeman for the late Nelson Mandela…!

The worst Thailand-related article of the year: “10 Things Americans Can Learn From Bangkok“, Huffington Post, February 26, 2013. Where to start…? Nearly all 10 points in this click-bait list are either incorrect (“SkyRail”, eh?), horribly wrong (“the red light districts are well regulated by police officers and social workers” – really?!) or sheer nonsensical (“packed with people for whom globalization is a watch word”)! But the worst part is: it unwittingly makes a case PRO lèse majesté (“Respect Your Elders”) and confuses it for quirky local folklore…!

Pseudo-science in Thai media: In June, The Nation ran a story about John Hagelin, a physicist and “1994 Ig Nobel Peace Prize winner” who proposed the Thai army to use “quantum physics and transcendental meditation let the part of brain that created negative behaviour to relax and thus cut crime and terrorist attacks” for $1 million. What they fail to mention (or to look up): 1) his theory about a correlation between “physics and consciousness” is regarded as nonsense by most physicists and 2) the Ig Nobel Prize is “a parody award presented at Harvard University” as a “veiled criticism of trivial research”.

Most celestial Thai political candidate: Thoranee Ritteethamrong, Bangkok gubernatorial candidate No. 21, came in dressed as the Chinese goddess Guanyin at the candidate sign-up and held her campaign without any billboards, but with a mandate “from heaven”. That got her at least 922 votes (or 0.035 per cent) on election day.

Most unjustified flip-out by a Thai official: There are couple of well-known public figures well-known for their temper (*cough*Prayuth*cough*), but this one takes the prize this year: Interior minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan blew his lid when an assistant village chief made headlines about his unusual birthday – February 30 – and didn’t get it fixed for 53 years. Instead of showing empathy with him (after all he couldn’t open up a bank account for example because of this bureaucratic mistake), Jarupong accused the low-ranked official to be a fame-seeker and should “die out of shame” he brought onto the Interior Ministry. Unfortunately, the assistant village chief resigned because of the minister’s apparent lack of EQ, but at least gets to officially celebrate his birthday now on every February 1.

Worst impression on the new colleagues at the first day of the new job: After losing his position as deputy prime minister for national security and being transferred to the labor ministry in the last cabinet reshuffle, Chalerm Yubamrung was crying foul play behind this move and that didn’t stop on his first day at his new job, when he reportedly “spent more than an hour complaining about his transfer” after introduced himself to his new subjects co-workers – team confidence building, it isn’t.

Insensitive and oblivious moments in Thai advertisement: A Thai woman in blackface in a commercial for a whitening-drink (!) actually becoming pale-skinned? Dunkin Donuts promoting their new ‘charcoal’ doughnuts with a Thai woman in blackface? A cosmetics brand offering ‘scholarships’ for the ‘fairest’ student? What could go wrong? A whole lot, actually!

Best Thailand-related viral video of the year: “Never Go To Thailand” by Brian Camusat. If only the Tourism Authority of Thailand would have even nearly as much swagger as this video – but then again it wouldn’t possess the irony to title it like this…!

Most unconvincing suicide case:

CHIANG RAI [PROVINCE] – An unidentified foreigner is believed to have committed suicide in a bizarre way, putting his head in a water-filled plastic bag and then sealing it with a copper wire around his neck, in a field near the Myanmar border, reports said.

Foreigner commits bizarre ‘suicide’“, Bangkok Post, January 4, 2013

Yeah, right…!

Strangest robbery of the year:

A robber made off with 2,200 baht [$71] in cash from a convenience store in Phuket province on Tuesday, but minutes later returned a 10-baht coin [$0.32] before escaping a second time.

Store robber returns 10 baht“, Bangkok Post, June 18, 2013

Most ambitious promise by a Thai politician:

The Ministry of Transport is expected to improve the entire public transport system within two months as several issues, such as passengers being rejected by taxi drivers and illegal parking, remain unresolved.

Public transport issues to be solved in 2 months“, National News Bureau of Thailand, July 15, 2013

Remember when Thaksin enthusiastically pledged to “free Bangkok of traffic jams in 6 months” back in the 1990s…?

Strangest dare of the year: After persistent rumors of ‘chemically tainted’ packed rice (which have proven to be not true), the president of the Thai Rice Association announced whoever eats one of their products and dies because of it will get 20 million Baht…!

Best costume: Deputy-prime minister Plodprasop Suraswadi as the 13th century Lanna King Mangrai…!

(Un-)honorable mentions: Wirapol Chattigo, the defrocked monk formerly known as “Luang Phu Nenkham”, embroiled in a sea of scandals starting with being filmed on a private jet plane sporting luxury items, followed by accusations of money-laundering and child molestation and reportedly at large abroad. Red Bull heir Vorayuth Yoovidhya, who is suspected to have killed a police officer in a hit-and-run case in 2012, failed to show up to hear charges in early September because he’s on an “overseas trip” and still hasn’t returned yet. Chalerm Yubamrung (yes, again), for saying it’s okay for “police officer to ask for money during Chinese New Year” since that’s “not a bribe” and for setting off a terror alert against the US consulate in Chiang Mai and then announcing the suspect “has left the country” unhindered – and all that based on a mere “sniff”…!

And now, the strangest story of the year, from the “Best intentions but poorly executed”-category

Thai officials say a man who was high on drugs was arrested after attempting to donate methamphetamine tablets to help flood victims at a relief center. (…) [The man] told the volunteers they could sell the drugs and use the money to support the troubled families. The volunteers were actually from a civil drug suppression task force.

Thai man arrested for giving meth to flood center“, Associated Press, October 15, 2013

Final words: I’d like to thank my co-writers and editors at Siam Voices and Asian Correspondent for their contributions and hard work this year. And a special thanks to YOU, the readers, for your support, feedback and retweets! We wish you a Happy New Year 2014 – let’s just hope that there’ll be more stories to write about for all the right reasons…

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