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Thailand’s junta sets up media watchdogs to monitor anti-coup dissent

27 June 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 26, 2014

Thailand’s military junta has set up watchdogs to monitor all kinds of media for content that is deemed as “inciting hatred towards the monarchy” or providing “misinformation” that could potentially complicate the work of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the junta calls itself.

The committee is chaired by Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew, deputy NCPO chief for special affairs.  Its members comprise representatives of agencies including the Royal Thai Police Office, army, navy, air force, Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office and Public Relations Department.

The meeting agreed to set up four panels to “monitor” the media:

  • A panel to follow news on radio and television stations, led by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC);
  • A panel to monitor news in the print media, led by the Special Branch;
  • A panel to monitor news on the social media, headed by the permanent secretary for information and communication technology; and
  • A panel to monitor international news, led by the permanent secretary for foreign affairs.

Upon finding news items deemed detrimental to the NCPO and the royal institution, they are to send a daily and weekly report to Pol Gen Adul and the NCPO chief [army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha].

Media censorship panels formed“, Bangkok Post, June 25, 2014

“All agencies have a duty to the people and the various media to make them understand the work of the NCPO, while at the same time to clamp down on the spread of ‘information’ that could incite hatred towards the monarchy and also on misinformation,” Pol Gen Adul was quoted as saying by the Isara News Agency.

The set up of the panels and the large-scale cooperation between the military, government sectors and “independent” federal agencies is another sign of attempts to tighten the control over the narrative in the news and social media, which have been repeatedly warned by the junta not to broadcast content that “could negatively affect the peace-keeping work of the authorities”. There has been no clarification on what this would entail, exactly.

During the military coup of May 22, 2014 all TV stations were only broadcasting announcements by the military and several satellite TV stations (mostly associated with the political protest groups) were ordered to cease broadcasting and have remained off air since. Others, including foreign news channels, were gradually allowed back on air under the condition that they do not air shows debating the political situation.

The junta has also been trying to combat dissent online, especially on social media. Efforts are made (with the cooperation of Thai internet service providers) to block access to anti-coup and anti-monarchy content. Reportedly, at least 200 websites have been blocked and social media users have been warned not to spread “wrongful” information that may “incite unrest”.

Authorities have suggested creating a national online gateway in order to filter out undesirable website and are even considering a national social network that they’re in full control off. The junta has also reportedly resorted to gathering user information via phishing, fooling the unsuspecting user into installing an app on their social network.

In late May, a brief block of the social network Facebook sparked uproar online, while statements by the Ministry for Information and Telecommunication Technology (MICT) and the NCPO over whether or not the Facebook-block was ordered or it was an “technical glitch” contradicted each other. It emerged later through a the foreign parent company of a Thai telco company that there actually was an order to block Facebook, for which it got scolded by the Thai authorities.

The special emphasis by the junta on alleged anti-monarchy content is highlighted by the fact that since the military coup all cases that fall under the draconian lèse majesté law are now under the jurisdiction of a military court.

Manop Thiposot, a spokesman for the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), voiced his concern over the establishment of the junta’s media monitoring bodies. “Without clear guidelines it could negatively affect the public’s right to information and severely restrict the work of the media,” Manop said in an interview with the newspaper Krungthep Turakij. He called on the NCPO to clarify their working process and make it transparent.

Manop also reports that military officers have entered the newsroom of an unnamed newspaper and ordered reporters not to report about the newly established anti-coup movement in exile (founded by former politicians associated of the toppled government), while at the same time the junta publicly claims to be “unfazed” by it.

The junta is making it again clear that it will not tolerate dissent and criticism, all in the name of “avoiding misunderstanding” as it puts it. It aims to control of the post-coup narrative, but will struggle to get a handle on the multiple ways people are getting their information and communicating with each other, as well as the diversity of opinions those media outlets have spawned.

On ‘happiness’ and Thai opinion polls after the military coup

25 June 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 24, 2014

We here at Siam Voices usually do not cover Thai opinion polls for two reasons: first, there are too many of them out there on a weekly basis by the major survey institutes (ABAC, NIDA and Suan Dusit) alone, and second, they’re mostly crap! The main problems with Thai opinion polls are the wording of the questions and a rather small sample size of the people being surveyed. There have been several examples in the past that at least raised some eyebrows about the questions asked and the results that come out of that – see a few of Bangkok Pundit’s numerous posts here, here and here.

After the military coup last month at the height of a prolonged political crisis with street protests and a (man-made) political impasse, the first several opinion surveys are saying that the general mood has improved – despite heavy-handed and draconian measures such as media censorship and detentions by the military junta and a “happiness campaign” to win back the hearts and minds it those it had intimidated.

Let’s start with Suan Dusit Rajabhat University‘s June 15 survey, ranking the top 10 things that made 1,634 respondents the most happy about the military coup (paraphrased):

  1. No more political protests – 93.09%
  2. Situation is safer – 87.12%
  3. Reduced cost of living, fixed fuel and gas prices – 85.99%
  4. Rice farmers are getting paid – 84.29%
  5. Fixing the economy – 80.24%
  6. Battling corruption – 77.32%
  7. Commitment of junta’s work – 73.53%
  8. Soldiers ensuring a safer daily life – 73.14%
  9. Increased arrests of criminals – 71.96%
  10. Free stuff by the junta (World Cup free-TV coverage, concerts, movie tickets etc.) 71.31%

“ความสุขที่ประชาชนได้รับ จาก คสช.”, Suan Dusit Poll, June 15, 2014 – (PDF)

None of the previous Suan Dusit surveys (among them titled “Top 10 things Thais think should be reformed” and “What the junta needs to say to convince you“) have actually asked if the respondents are actually happy with the military coup. That was remedied in the most recent poll by them on June 22, on the one-month anniversary of the coup.

The National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta is known, scored an approval rating of 8.82 out of 10 points in a poll of 1,600 people conducted by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University and released Sunday.

Those surveyed cited the junta’s ability to quickly implement short-term measures needed to restore stability and economic confidence, as the main reasons for their positive reviews.

The majority of the people polled said they were satisfied with the absence of the protests and political violence that began at the start of the year and escalated until the military took charge of the government on May 22.

About 65% of respondents said they wanted the military to remain in charge of the country to complete its measures to eradicate corruption and speed up economic and political reforms.

Thai Junta Scores High Approval Rating, Despite Concerns“, Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2014

To be precise, they asked 1,614 people in the final question:

5. How satisfied are you with the junta’s governing after one month?

  • 50.84%: Very satisfied, because situation is peaceful, order has been restored, problems being solved swiftly etc.
  • 39.57%: Somewhat satisfied, because security has improved etc.
  • 5.27%: Not satisfied, because it’s only a short-term solution, there’re still conflicting news etc.
  • 4.32%: Not satisfied at all, because it’s undemocratic, rights are being restricted, no freedom etc.

“ประเมินผลงาน 1 เดือน คสช. ประเมินผลงาน 1 เดือน คสช.”, Suan Dusit Poll, June 22, 2014 – (PDF)

However, in a previous question in the same survey 37.98 per cent of respondents also said that “there’re still people not accepting and protesting the coup that say their rights are being restricted” as an actual problem.

Another head-scratching survey result was carried out by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) – whose political impartiality is questionable, since NIDA-associated personnel were involved in the anti-government protests – which found this…

The Nida Poll was carried out on June 20-21 on 1,259 people all over the country to gauge their opinion on who the NCPO should nominate for prime minister. Most of the respondents, 41.30%, said the NCPO should nominate Gen Prayuth, the army and NCPO chief, for the post.

This was followed by 8.5% for two-time former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, 2.38% for former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, 1.43% for former finance minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula and 1.19% for former deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

Most Thais want Prayuth as PM“, Bangkok Post, June 22, 2014

It found 5.24 per cent suggested former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck Shinawatra, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Chuan Leekpai, Gen. Surayud Chulanont among other politicians and senior military figures. That leaves a significant 26.5 per cent that had no answer at all, while 10.33 per cent said nobody’s apt for the post – that’s hardly an overwhelming “majority” as the Bangkok Post has titled it.

And finally, in the wake of the junta organizing free screening of the fifth installment of the nationalistic, dramatized biopic series of the 16th-century King Naresuan, the ABAC Poll of the Assumption University:

The opinion survey was carried out on June 15 and 16, involving 424 people who went to see the free screenings of the movie on Sunday.

Nearly all respondents, 95.3% to be exact, said they came away happier after seeing the film. However, 5.4% said they were only moderately happy with it, while 0.9% said they were no happier.

Thais cheered up by Naresuan movie“, Bangkok Post, June 17, 2014

That sentiment was also echoed by the so-called “Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association” (whose name apparently is mangled in translation) whose majority (93.7 per cent) of 424 Bangkok-based moviegoers were “happy” to have seen the movie – what else would an institution with that name have found out? Just to be clear, a sample of only 424 people are overwhelmingly positive about a movie they have seen for free!

All these surveys prove the main problems with Thai opinion polls – a small sample group and the wording of the questions and possible answers – still exist. This is especially true in the post-coup environment, where criticism of the military is difficult at best and public dissent not tolerated. It is unlikely that the positive-sounding poll results reflect the complete picture – which also explains why the deputy national police chief can claim that “90 per cent of various opinion polls support” the junta’s work.

Only a real, all-encompassing method to hear out the opinion of a large section of the population could bring in a clearer picture like, you know, a referendum, or an election…!

Thailand’s military junta wants you to snitch on anti-coup dissidents – for cash!

25 June 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 24, 2014

Thailand’s ruling junta has unleashed a new weapon in its quest to quell anti-coup activism.

Voice of America reported on Monday:

Thailand’s police force is now asking for citizens’ help in identifying those perceived to be displaying opposition to the military coup in the kingdom.

A Thai police general has announced he will give cash rewards to those turning in photos or videos of anyone illegally expressing a political stance. (…)

Deputy police commissioner General Somyot Poompanmoung has announced rewards of about $15 [THB 500] for each picture of such suspects.  The police general said he will personally pay the reward for any photographs that result in charges.

Thai Police General Offers Cash for Snapshots of Dissidents“, Voice of America, June 23, 2014

This comes after a protest in central Bangkok took place on Sunday, exactly one month after the military coup of May 22, 2014 and a little more than a month after the country was put under martial law. Police officers, some of them in plain clothing, were deployed. They detained and later released student activists.

In previous weeks, small but vocal anti-coup protests popped up in the capital, some showing the three-finger salute from “The Hunger Games” movies, reading George Orwell’s “1984” in small groups or just eating sandwiches. Such simple and seemingly innocent  actions have met with scorn from the military junta, which has repeatedly warned against any form of opposition to the coup. The warning also includes comments made on social media, which the junta is still struggling to control.

The call to report dissidents is not new in Thailand, as very recent history has shown: In 2010, the government of then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva oversaw the initiation of a so-called “cyber-scout” program to train volunteers for online monitoring of web comments deemed insulting to the monarchy.

A similar tactic was later used by Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, commonly known as the “Singha Beer heiress” and later involved in the anti-government protests of 2013-14. In 2011, working for the opposition Democrat Party, she urged citizens to email any hints of anti-royal slurs online.

As seen in numerous cases regarding alleged lèse majesté suspects, vigilantism was at least tolerated if not actively encouraged. It seems that the military junta is now expanding it to its opponents and those who do not agree with its takeover of power a month ago.

Suthep claims ‘in talks with Prayuth’ since 2010 to plot Thai coup

24 June 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 23, 2014

Former opposition politician and anti-government protest leader Suthep Thuagsuban claims to have been in talks with Thailand’s army chief and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha to topple the governments associated to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra “since 2010″, according to local media.

The Bangkok Post reported on Monday…

[Suthep] admitted for the first time he had discussed with the coup-maker Prayuth Chan-ocha strategies to root out the influence of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies since the 2010 political violence.

Mr Suthep broke his silence at a fund-raising dinner on Saturday night at the Pacific Club in Bangkok.

His remarks suggest Gen Prayuth has been actively plotting to bring down former prime minister Yingluck Shinwatra, including the period leading up to the coup when she was defense minister. (…)

He said he chats regularly to Gen Prayuth and his team via the Line chat app.

“Before martial law was declared, Gen Prayuth told me ‘Khun Suthep and your masses of PDRC supporters are too exhausted. It’s now the duty of the army to take over the task’, ” Mr Suthep said.

He had consulted Gen Prayuth since the 2010 political unrest on how to root out the so-called Thaksin regime and join hands to reform the country, fight corruption and dissolve colour-coded politics that divided Thais.

Suthep in talks with Prayuth ‘since 2010’“, Bangkok Post, June 23, 2014

In 2010, Suthep was deputy prime minister in charge of national security and director of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), which was tasked with overseeing the security situation during the red shirt protests in Bangkok (including authorizing the use of deadly force). Gen. Prayuth was at the time deputy commander-in-chief and tipped to become the successor to then-army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda. Both played a pivotal role in the deadly crackdown on the red shirt protesters in May 2010 which killed at least 90 people and injured thousands.

So it should come as no surprise that Suthep and the military have maintained contact since 2010 – but also already before that: a leaked US diplomatic cable from 2008 notes that Suthep “maintains contacts in all camps, including the military”. Also, it explains the apparent refusal to intervene when the Suthep’s anti-government protesters were occupying large areas in central Bangkok and obstructing the elections earlier this year.

Also, Reuters reported in December that defense minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan and former army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda were supporting Suthep’s protests behind the scenes. Both Gen. Prawit and Gen. Anopong are now serving as the junta’s chief advisor and its deputy, respectively.

Nevertheless, the reaction from the military junta was equally unsurprising:

“Gen Prayuth insisted he had never talked or exchanged messages in private with Mr Suthep,” Col Winthai said.

“He said as leader of a security force, he had been assigned by the then government to persuade all groups to negotiate, a feat that had never been achieved,” he said.

“Yingluck Shinawatra, the government at the time, instructed the army to warn all groups to avoid breaking the law and protect the people,” he said. (…)

According to sources, Gen Prayuth was “very upset” with Mr Suthep as the atmosphere is improving. 

Prayuth denies Suthep’s coup plotting claim“, Bangkok Post, June 23, 2014

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post‘s “military correspondent” Wassana Nanuam has clarified that the initial report was not based on a third party source, but on a Bangkok Post colleague who actually attended Suthep’s charity event on Saturday:

Whether or not Suthep was either reminding us that the protest movement he led is still alive or reminding the military junta about their role in the run-up to the military coup, it does show yet again that the interests of those that demanded and ultimately chased out the government of Yingluck Shinawatra were, and still are, closely aligned.

P.S.: About that LINE conversation…

World Cup fever in Thailand, brought to you by the military junta

13 June 2014

Originally posted at Siam Voices on June 12, 2014

[Author's note: Due to the military coup of May 22, 2014 and subsequent censorship measures we have placed certain restrictions on what we publish. Please also read Bangkok Pundit's post on that subject. We hope to return to full and free reporting and commentary in the near future.]

If you’re in Thailand and want to watch the FIFA World Cup in Brazil on television, chances are you could get confused by the TV broadcasting rights situation. But fear no more: Thailand’s military junta is trying to ensure that everyone can see football’s biggest tournament.

In the summer of 2012, many Thai football fans were caught off guard when they heard that they weren’t able to watch the EURO 2012 through their True Vision cable subscriptions, since the broadcasting rights – although matches were aired on the country’s free TV channels – belonged to another corporation and thus couldn’t be re-broadcasted on another platform, despite last-minute attempts to remedy that. So, if people didn’t want to watch the Euro via the conventional rabbit ears antennas, they had to buy another set-up box.

It seemed like things were about to repeat themselves for this year’s World Cup, as there was yet another squabble over who gets to air what matches. The broadcast rights for the FIFA World Cups in 2010 and 2014 were bought exclusively by media conglomerate RS Public Company Limited in 2005. Initially, you’d have to buy another set-up box in order to watch all 64 matches on a dedicated channel.

However – with some degree of foresight and with the 2012 fiasco in mind – RS also sub-licensed all matches to other providers like PSI via satellite and True Vision on cable. Only 22 matches, including today’s opening game (3am Friday, Thai time) and the final were to be broadcast on the terrestrial, army-owned Channel 7.

That’s not enough according to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). In 2012, the NBTC issued a rule that certain sports events have to be aired on free TV regardless of the rights owner and its intended media platforms, taking a cue from similar regulations elsewhere as in the UK. These seven sport events are: the SEA Games, the Asian Games, the Olympic Games and their Paralympic counterparts, and the FIFA World Cup.

Already back then there was trouble brewing: RS argues since they have bought the rights in 2005 the NBTC 2012 ruling doesn’t apply yet. But the NBTC insists that the ruling also covers the 2014 FIFA World Cup and thus RS must provide free coverage for all.

RS argues that it would have a negative impact on its business considering how fiercely competitive the Thai market for football broadcasting rights is. The European top leagues are split among different providers and in 2013 Cable Thai Holdings (CTH) managed to snatch the rights for the dominantly popular English Premier League from True Vision for an estimated sum of $320m for three seasons, becoming the worldwide record buyer.

It is not known how much RS has spent for the broadcast license for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. According to an economy news report from November 2006 (PDF), a source said that RS “paid $20m” while also complaining that previous Thai license holders only paid less than half the sum. When comparing to other countries – Germany’s TV deal is estimated at $180m – this seems very low. On the other hand, RS was reportedly expecting 700m Baht – or $21.5m – in revenue and sponsorships.

(By the way, the world governing football organization FIFA is excepted to make $4bn in TV rights and marketing from this World Cup.)

In late March, the Central Administrative Court ruled in favor of RS arguing that the “must air” regulation can not be applied to the 2005 rights purchase retroactively. The NBTC appealed the ruling and RS subsequently threatened to black out the broadcast of some matches in order to “prevent further damages to its business,” according to a lawyer representing RS. The NBTC argues that Thais have able to watch the World Cup free of additional charges since 1970 and only football fans in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore have to pay to watch the World Cup in Asia.

Then the Supreme Administrative Court ruled on Wednesday…

The Supreme Administrative Court on Wednesday ruled in RS Plc’s favour in a case where the national telecom regulator tried to force the company to broadcast all 64 World Cup 2014 matches on free TV.

Court rules in RS’s favor“, Bangkok Post, June 11, 2014

So everything is back to normal – 22 matches on free TV, all matches are paid content – right? Well, not quite…

Thailand’s military junta, which promised to “return happiness to the people” after last month’s coup, asked regulatory officials on Wednesday to find a way to allow the country’s many soccer fans to watch the entire World Cup for free.

The junta contacted the chairman of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the country’s broadcast regulator, and asked him “to seek ways to return happiness to the people through viewing all of the 64 World Cup matches on free-to-air channels,” NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tanthasit told a news conference.

Thai junta to ‘return happiness’ through World Cup“, Associated Press, June 11, 2014

That’s right! In its newly announced quest to “return happiness to the Thai people” the military junta is now trying to bring ultimate joy to nearly all Thais by making the World Cup watchable for everyone, by trying to end a contractual and regulatory deadlock singlehandedly solely for the benefit of the Thai football fans, no matter how much that’s going to cost.

And after some promising signs on Wednesday, it looked to be a done deal on Thursday morning, even before the official press conference, according to The Nation:

In a bid to live up to its motto of “Bringing happiness back to Thai people”, the junta yesterday managed to pull off a deal for the live telecast of all World Cup 2014 matches on free TV, which will bring joy to 22 million households. (…)

TV5 [army owned] will televise 38 matches on top of 22 live matches on Channel 7 [also army-owned] under a contract between RS and Channel 7, a junta source said.

A press conference titled “TV5 returns happiness to Thai people to join the World Cup spirit” will be held today at Army’s TV5 headquarters. Representatives from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), TV5, broadcast rights holder RS, and sponsors will speak on their collaboration, NCPO spokesman Winthai Suvari said. (…)

A source said RS had sought Bt700 million [$21.5m] compensation from the NBTC, claiming the firm will lose the opportunity to sell about 1 million of its set-top boxes for the World Cup. RS has already sold 300,000 boxes.

The NBTC is looking at the possibility of tapping into the Research and Development Fund for Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services to compensate RS, but it could risk violating its regulation. The fund is valued at more than Bt20 billion [$615m].

Free World Cup telecast“, The Nation, June 12, 2014

However, Thai PBS reported on Thursday that the junta has denied ordering the NBTC to compensate RS for any loss in revenues, and that the broadcasting of all matches on terrestrial television in not a done deal:

The National Council for Peace and Order today denied that it has ordered the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission to compensate RS Plc 700 million [$21.5m] baht if all World Cup matches are to be aired live on free TV channels. (…)

He said efforts are being made to enable the live broadcast if the channel via the research fund could not be done.

It could be in the form of sponsors from the private sector and from helpful people to make the broadcast of all matches on free channels, he said.

Junta denies ordering NBTC to absorb RS broadcast right loss“, Thai PBS, June 12, 2014

No word yet on whether or not this proposed unorthodox solution could be a breach with RS’s contract with FIFA or if is this was a last-minute sub-licensing deal.

In any case, Thai football fans can tonight start watching the World Cup at ungodly late hours (kick-off for the opener is at 3am, Friday local time) from a variety of content providers with full happiness – and hopefully also free of charge soon.

Now, about that curfew that is still imposed in Bangkok…!

UPDATE [June 12, 2014]:

In post-coup Thailand, junta mandates ‘happiness’ and ‘reconciliation’

11 June 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 10, 2014

[Author's note: Due to the military coup of May 22, 2014 and subsequent censorship measures we have placed certain restrictions on what we publish. Please also read Bangkok Pundit's post on that subject. We hope to return to full and free reporting and commentary in the near future.]

To bring back love, how long will it take?
Please, will you wait? We will move beyond disputes
We will do what we promised. We are asking for a little more time.

These words accompanied by the soft melody of synthesized strings could be mistaken for the lines of any other contemporary Thai pop ballad. However, going back a few seconds shows that this song tackles an entirely different theme with a certain schmalz:

Today the nation is facing menacing danger
The flames are rising
Let us be the ones who step in, before it is too late

The lyrics belong to the song ”Returning Happiness to Thailand” (in Thai: ”คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย”) and is claimed to be written by army chief and junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha himself in just ”one hour”, but it’s still ”a message from his heart,” according to local media reports.

The song is just one part the military’s campaign to win back the hearts and minds of the Thai people after it launched a coup d’ètat on May 22, seizing absolute power, largely censoring media, detaining hundreds of people – many of them members of the toppled government, their supporters and outspoken academics and journalists – and generally cracking down on any criticism of the coup.

National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the junta calls itself, launched its reconciliation efforts last week in Bangkok with a street fair:

At a junta-sponsored event on Wednesday in Bangkok — part concert, part street fair — an army truck operating as a mobile kitchen dished out thousands of free “Happy Omelets and Rice.” Doctors from a military hospital gave out free medicine and checked blood pressure. A line of soldiers with shields and face paint stood ready for crowds to snap selfies.

The event drew mostly residents who supported the takeover, and it took place at a roundabout where just a few days earlier soldiers in riot gear had faced off against hundreds of anti-junta protesters. (…)

Cheer up, Thailand! Junta aims to return happiness”, Associated Press, June 7, 2014

If the first two weeks since the power seizure were about ‘shock and awe’ (especially in the provinces whose population supported and elected the toppled government), the efforts since then are focusing on what the junta sees as the most pressing issues, but doing so with a benevolent appearance.

Apart from the street fairs, the junta is also paying back rice farmers what they are owed from the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s ill-fated rice pledging scheme, and other populist measures like fixing fuel prices and protection from loan sharks. Furthermore, it is currently reviewing the big-investment projects of the previous, looking what it can salvage as its own policy.

Another main point of the junta’s efforts are the so-called ”reconciliation centers” that are being set up across the country. The general concept of these ”reconciliation centers” are to create a space where people and groups with opposite political viewpoints (think red shirts vs yellow shirts) are brought together to the table with the military acting as the self-appointed mediator.

The organization tasked to oversee these centers is the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), a body that has been around for a few decades, as David Streckfuss explains:

The military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), set up 50 years ago to ostensibly root out communists, has now been charged with helping parties separated by the political divide to “dissolve their differences” at “reform centers.”

Thailand’s Military Is Forcing People to Stop Worrying and Love the Coup”, by David Streckfuss, VICE NEWS, June 3, 2014

It’s not only ISOC’s involvement that makes critics skeptical of these centers, but also its links with history:

“I think the army tried to apply the techniques and concepts from the Cold War era during which they fought with the Communist Party of Thailand,” said Kan Yuenyong of the Siam Intelligence Unit.

“They apply concepts like the Karunyathep Centre which is like a re-education centre, and then after the program they can get back to the society as normal people.”

Karunyathep centre was set up in the 1970s, as part of the military’s soft approach towards Communist party members. Captured communists would be sent to the re-education camps to be taught about democratic values before being released.

However, the military maintains that the reconciliation centers will operate in today’s context and that this time, participation will be voluntary. “The concept might be quite similar but the implementation is different, we understand the context of the current situation,” said Colonel Weerachon.

Speculation, unease over Thai reconciliation centres”, by Arglit Boonyai, Channel NewsAsia, June 5, 2014

Whether or not these centers will bring reconciliation remains to be seen. A recent ‘peace ceremony’ in Nakhon Ratchasima is nevertheless being hailed as an “unprecedented” success.

With the military junta slowly taking shape and setting its goals, much depends on how heavy-handed its actions will be against those that do not support the coup. Especially in the age of social media, the traditional methods of the junta to sooth the dissent are becoming less effective and prolonged restrictions on free expression and political gatherings could further de-legitimize the military rule.

To put it in the words of aforementioned song by the junta: “What danger is the nation really facing?”

Infographic: Thailand’s New Junta

06 June 2014

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 5, 2014

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