UPDATE (November 1, 8.00am): After an 18-hour marathon session ending at 4.20 am, parliament punched the Amnesty Bill through the second and third reading with 310 votes, while 4 MPs abstained: the red shirt leaders Natthawut Saikaur and Weng Tojirakarn, original bill sponsor Worachai Hema and Khattiya Sawasdipol, and the daughter of Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol aka “Seh Daeng”, the rogue general who supported the red shirt movement and was killed while giving an interview with The New York Times at the beginning of the 2010 crackdown. The opposition Democrat Party staged a walkout. The bill is now in the Senate for approval.
The political atmosphere in Thailand is seeing rising tensions again after a period of relative calm and could see a major showdown this morning (Thursday) as the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT) is submitting the controversial and rewritten Amnesty Bill for deliberation in parliament while the opposition is preparing to take to the streets and is trying to mobilize protests against it.
The so-called Amnesty Bill was originally intended to benefit only those involved in political protests since 2006, but not their leaders or any officials involved in violent clashes. However, a 35-member parliamentary vetting committee (dominated by Pheu Thai MPs) retroactively amended the bill, extending it to ”persons accused of wrongdoing by a group of people or an organisation set up after the military coup of September 19, 2006.“
This would include all officials and military officers responsible for the deadly crackdown on the 2010 anti-government red shirts protests as well as former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 after was convicted for abuse of power and sentenced to two years in jail.
The Pheu Thai Party has faced a backlash over the amendment, not only from the opposition Democrat Party but also from within their own ranks as the red shirt supporter base are objecting the possibility that those responsible for the victims of the 2010 crackdown could walk away scot-free. A red shirt splinter group and families of the victims held separate rallies against the bill over the past week.
Parliament announced on Tuesday that the deliberation for the second reading will begin this morning, before the third and final reading will take place on November 2 – technical and procedural hurdles notwithstanding. What also emerged is that the party ordered all its MPs to attend and also to vote in favor of the bill. All signs clearly show that the Pheu Thai Party is really now pushing to pass it through parliament, where it has a comfortable majority coalition.
On the other political side, the opposition Democrat Party are also now preparing their counter-measures, focussing outside of parliament:
The Democrat Party, which is planning to hold a mass rally at Samsen train station in Bangkok this evening to voice opposition to the blanket amnesty bill, should abide by the law, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog said yesterday. (…)
Four deputy Democrat Party leaders – Korn Chatikavanij, Thaworn Senneam, Issara Somchai, Siriwan Prassachaksattru , and party executive Satit Wongnongtaey – stepped down from their positions as board members. Though the five will continue as MPs, they say their reason for quitting the board was to pre-empt any moves to dissolve the part based on their role in the protest.
“Protesting Democrats told not to break law“, The Nation, October 31, 2013
While the planned rally and fierce attitude on display by the Democrat Party has limited impact on what is going inside parliament, it will come down to how many people it can muster. In recent months they have regularly staged rallies (with conflicting reports on attendance numbers) while other anti-government groups, such as the “People’s Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism” (PEFOT, what a moutful!) or the short-lived white masks could gather only a couple of hundreds.
However, given the focus on a feared Thaksin whitewash and return to Thailand, the Democrat Party is in a rare situation where it could assemble a broader anti-Thaksin coalition (including whatever is left of the ultra-nationalist yellow shirts). Even though it is unlikely that they will literally rally for days, a ‘strong’ first showing could give at least some temporary momentum - Democrats have optimistically estimated it can rally 10,000, though half that would be considered a success.
The big questions are at what point Pheu Thai will pull back (if at all) and how the red shirts’ grassroots base will react to the Amnesty Bill? Whatever happens in the next few days, this is the result of a certain hubris in the Pheu Thai Party on this issue. In the past, the ruling party would dip its toe to test the political waters with each new piece of critical legislation (as seen with the constitutional amendments). Now it seems that they are just short of dive bombing into hot water.
The danger for the ruling party does not come so much from the opposition, in or outside the parliament, but rather from within, especially the red shirts, even though the mainstream United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship – despite its declaration to abstain a few MPs - is likely to follow the party line and not create a mutiny should the bill pass. Nevertheless, the party should not underestimate the potential for dissent and resentment among its supporters for what is essentially the betrayal of a key campaign promise.
Last week, we reported on the attempts by MPs of the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT) to amend the amnesty bill draft to include those affected by groups or organizations set up after the military coup of 2006. The original draft by PT MP Wocharai Hema pardons protesters involved in the numerous political protests in recent years, but not their leaders and authorities involved in clashes during these events.
Now with the planned rewrite – spearheaded by PT MP Prayuth Siripanich, the deputy chairman of the parliamentary vetting committee of the bill – it could mean that a number of politicians and officials under investigation or already convicted could be acquitted, including former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The outcry by the opposition Democrat Party and anti-government protesters over a feared whitewash of their political enemy was to be expected. However, there’s also opposition coming from PT’s own supporter base: the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the umbrella organization of the red shirt movement, who issued a statement voicing their disagreement with the draft rewrite since it also could potentially acquit those responsible for the deadly crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protests in 2010:
(…) The United front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) would like to release this following statements:
1. The UDD are standing by its commitment to support the original format of MP Worachai Hema’s amnesty bill that will grant pardon to political prisoners of all colours only. (…)
3. The differences in solutions to the problem derived from the dissimilarity of opinions. Some MPs believe that amnesty bill should be priority after the formation of the government but the UDD believe that constitutional amendments and the eradication of coup consequences should be the primacy. However, since three years have passed and thousand remain convicted, the amnesty for political prisoners of all colours became the immediate policy of the UDD which resulted in the organization’s proposal for the amnesty bill that was later transformed into the original version of MP Worachai Hema’s bill.
4. One of the core problems is the group of people who will receive amnesty. In the case of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra who was victimised by the consequences of coup d’état, he should be granted justice through the elimination of coup consequences, not via amnesty bill. The amendment of article 309 is the right way to help Thaksin and it should be abolished.
“UDD Statement on the Revision of MP Worachai’s Amnesty Bill“, October 25, 2013
In essence, the UDD opposes the notion of a rewritten amnesty bill that would see political and military officials not punished for the events of 2010, while at the same time suggesting an alternative route to undo the conviction of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra via constitutional amendments, which are another hot issue the government is currently facing heavy flak from the opposition and especially Section 309 seems to be very protected by the Democrat Party.
In the aforementioned Section 309 of the 2007 Constitution, the coup makers are essentially granted an amnesty since their actions and their consequences are declared constitutional, including the set-up of government agencies. One of them was the Assets Examination Committee, whose investigations led to a conviction of Thaksin in 2008 for abuse of power in a land purchase by his former wife and his self-imposed exile to avoid a 2-year prison sentence. The same conviction would be overturned by the rewritten amnesty bill.
On Sunday, around 300 red shirts of the Red Sunday Group of activist Sombat Boongam-anong (which is considered as a more progressive splinter group) returned to Rajaprasong intersection in the center of Bangkok – where most of the 2010 protests took place – to show their disappointment in the proposal, with Sombat accusing the Pheu Thai Party and Thaksin of failing their followers. Prior to that, the families of the 2010 protest victims have also voiced their opposition to it.
Despite the apparent controversy the ruling Pheu Thai Party has created among their own ranks, it is very doubtful that this could result in a backlash that is sizable and influential enough to revert it or even a “mutiny” as the Bangkok Post suggests, since the red shirts have already stated not to protest against the government should the bill pass in this form.
It is obvious the ruling Pheu Thai Party is willing to bank on a big political gamble that (while maintaining a comfortable majority in parliament) could alienate those parts of the supporter base that want to see justice for the deaths of the 2010 protests, one of the campaign promises that brought them to power in the first place.
UPDATE (Tuesday, 8.00pm): In a decisive push forward, parliament will meet on Thursday, October 31, to deliberate the amnesty bill in its second reading according to several media reports. What also emerged that the Pheu Thai Party passed a resolution that all its MPs, including the red shirts, are required to attend and all should vote in favor of the bill. The vote on the third deliberation is planned to take place on November 2.
One of the most heated political issues in Thailand could reach boiling point as a parliamentary committee has retroactively added a passage to a bill that could effectively whitewash former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of past legal convictions.
One of the dominant issues in recent months is the ongoing wrangling over the so-called amnesty bill. In August, several different drafts, mostly by MPs of the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PT), granting amnesty to various groups were put forward.
In the end, the draft by PT MP Worachai Hema was proposed and passed in its first reading after a (by now almost to be expected) tumultuous and long parliamentary debate and similarly tumultuous scenes outside the building involving protesters. Wocharchai’s draft grants all involved in the numerous political protests from the military coup of September 19, 2006 to May 10, 2010 – just a few days before the end of the anti-government red shirt protests – amnesty (both red and yellow shirts), while excluding its leaders and also authorities and politicians that were responsible in the violent crackdowns of May 2010. Like all other drafts, this also excludes those sentenced and imprisoned for lèse majesté offences.
The bill is currently being vetted by a parliamentary committee and on Friday it did this:
The 35-member vetting panel, dominated by MPs from the ruling coalition, voted 18-8 to support a proposal by the panel’s deputy chairman Prayuth Siripanich, who is an MP from the ruling Pheu Thai Party. He suggested that Article 3 of the bill should be rewritten so that the amnesty covers persons accused of wrongdoing by a group of people or an organisation set up after the coup of September 19, 2006. (…)
The 2006 coup-makers set up the Assets Examination Committee (AEC) to investigate corruption allegations against members of the Thaksin cabinet.
The AEC’s investigations led to many cases against those politicians, including one that led to an imprisonment verdict against Thaksin. In October 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced the ex-prime minister to two years in jail for abuse of power in the Ratchadaphisek land scandal, after his then-wife bought a state-seized land plot at a price much lower than the market price. In February 2010, the court seized Bt46 billion of Thaksin’s assets believed to have been earned from abuse of power. There are more cases against Thaksin that have been suspended while he is a fugitive abroad.
“Amnesty bill change by panel ‘to benefit’ Thaksin“, The Nation, October 19, 2013
Another prominent ex-politician that would profit – if said passage is written into law – is Pracha Maleenot, a minister during Thaksin’s premiership and whose family (which runs the broadcasting and entertainment giant BEC-TERO) was considered to be one of the main financial supporters of the Thai Rak Thai Party, the original incarnation of today’s ruling Pheu Thai.
Last month a court found the former deputy interior minister Pracha guilty of corruption after an investigation of the AEC into the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority’s (BMA) purchase in 2004 of 315 fire trucks and 30 fire boats, all worth an estimated THB 6.6bn or $165m* – allegedly almost THB 2bn or $50m* more that the market price. All other defendants’ charges in this case were dismissed or acquitted, including then-governor of Bangkok Apirak Kosayodhin of the Democrat Party. Pracha was handed a 12-year prison sentence in abstentia, as he failed to show up during the trial and is rumored to have fled the country.
But the main focus is of course on the possible scenarios involving Thaksin, who is believed to be still in control of the Pheu Thai Party. While many supposedly independent government bodies set up by military junta after the 2006 are heavily politicized with a certain bias against Thaksin, there’s no doubt that the former prime minister has a lot to gain from that specific modification of the amnesty bill as it would pave a way for the self-exiled Thaksin to return home without any legal obstacles – and on top of it being reimbursed THB 46bn ($2.3bn) in frozen assets.
The ruling Pheu Thai Party is unsurprisingly drawing fire from its political opponents, as an unhindered return of Thaksin to Thailand would spell a political doomsday scenario for many of his enemies. Ultra-conservative anti-Thaksin groups – currently extremely small in number and impact – are already planning protests against the bill’s latest revision.
Meanwhile, the red shirt umbrella organization the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) has reacted rather timidly and avoided specifically addressing the potential loophole for Thaksin, who is supported by a large portion of the movement. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, also did not comment on this issue.
It seems that in this eternal political game, be it the amnesty bill or the constitutional amendments, the ruling Pheu Thai party is testing the waters for a bigger legislative foray, one of which could see the return of Thaksin to Thai soil. However, with each push the government should be careful not to provoke the ever-agitated anti-Thaksin and anti-government forces as Thailand’s heated political climate could easily boil over again.
*Exchange rate USD : THB in 2004: 1:40
Thai court sentences former leader of the ultra-royalist and reactionary yellow shirts movement Sondhi Limthongkul to two years in jail for lèse majesté, but for entirely the wrong reasons.
Things went from bad to worse for Sondhi Limthongkul, the media mogul turned leader of the so-called ‘People’s Alliance for Democracy’ (PAD) aka the yellow shirts, on Tuesday:
The Appeals Court on Tuesday sentenced Sondhi Limthongkul, a core member of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, to three years imprisonment after finding him guilty of lese majeste, reversing the lower court’s decision which acquitted him of the charge. The prison sentence was reduced by one-third to two years in jail because his testimony was deemed useful.
Mr Sondhi was charged that on July 20, 2008 he went up the stage and made a speech at a rally of PAD supporters at Makkawan Rangsan Bridge over a loud speaker.
“Sondhi gets 2 years for lese majeste“, Bangkok Post, October 1, 2013
In that speech, which was broadcasted by his own satellite TV channel ASTV, Sondhi quoted pro-Thaksin supporter Daranee Charnchoengsilpaku, more commonly known as “Da Torpedo”, demanding her arrest and prosecution.
Daranee’s reportedly very strong remarks made in 2008 criticized the military coup of 2006 and the monarchy, which led to her arrest and sentencing to 18 years in jail. But, following a petition from her, the ruling was nullified and her case was declared a mistrial (we reported) since the hearings were not made accessible to the public and the media. Nevertheless, she remained imprisoned and the retrial in 2011 still found her guilty, sentencing her to 15 years in jail. Earlier this year in July, it was announced that Daranee will seek a royal pardon after more than 5 years of imprisonment and several have reported health concerns.
This lèse majesté charge against Sondhi - filed by the police - originates as far back as 2008 as he was issued an arrest warrant shortly after the aforementioned broadcast and eventually faced trial in 2011 after several delays. In September 2012 he was acquitted of the charges by the Criminal Court, as it found that Sondhi had “no intention” of breaking the law. Now, a year later, a higher court has overturned that ruling.
For Sondhi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corporate fraud earlier this year, it is another blow for the man who led a powerful and controversial political movement, more commonly known as the yellow shirts. The group is notorious for their street protests and the siege of Bangkok’s airports in 2008 (the trial has yet to commence) in their continuous campaign to rid Thai politics of the influences of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (a former business partner of Sondhi), including the current government of his sister Yingluck.
In August, Sondhi and other high-ranking leaders announced their resignation from the movement after they failed to convince their former allies, the opposition Democrat Party, to quit parliament in an effort to topple the government. While all involved insist that the PAD is not dead, their departure effectively disables the already marginalized movement (for now), despite the ongoing existence of ultra-royalist, anti-democracy and reactionary political offshoots.
The lèse majesté case and the conviction against Sondhi shows that even supporters of the monarchy and proponents of the draconian law are not exempt from the deeply flawed Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The reasoning of the judges clearly shows the ‘logic’ of the law and its perceived purpose:
The Appeals Court found Mr Sondhi guilty as charged, reasoning that it was not necessary for him to repeat Ms Daranee’s remarks in public. In doing so, Mr Sondhi caused other people to know what Ms Daranee had said and to talk about it, thus affecting the monarchy.
“Sondhi gets 2 years for lese majeste“, Bangkok Post, October 1, 2013
In other words, Sondhi made himself an accomplice to the crime and it doesn’t matter if it was used in order to vilify her and demand her arrest, since Daranee’s words – as with all other allegedly offensive remarks in all lèse majesté cases - are not publicly discussed outside the court rooms. As explored in a previous blog post here, prosecutors have the contradictory task of pursuing offenses against the monarchy (and also the often cited “national security”) yet at the same time insist that they do not have an effect on them personally as loyal Thais.
Notably, while countless other lèse majesté prisoners are rejected bail and remain imprisoned while awaiting trial – as authorities claim they are a flight risk - Sondhi Limthongkul yet again walks free on bail (reportedly 500,000 Baht or $16,000 in this case) and probably will never see the inside of a prison cell.
On Monday we reported on the Thammasat University student and her provocative poster campaign against student uniforms.
Now, the controversial student known as “Aum Neko” is facing more trouble:
A TV show host has accused the student known for her campaign against mandatory uniform wearing of insulting the monarchy.
Ms. Ponnipa Supatnukul, 41, the host of a talk show called “Best of Your Life” which is broadcast on a satellite TV channel, filed the complaint to the police in Nonthaburi Province, invoking Article 112 of the Criminal Codes which criminalises insults to the Royal Family. (…)
The student, who goes by her nickname Aum Neko, was interviewed in a talk show hosted by Ms. Pontipa 3 months ago, according to Ms. Pontipa. In the show, she said, she talked to Ms. Aum and 20 other Thammasat students about the impact of economic slowdown on students′ livelihood.
Ms. Pontipa claimed that Ms. Aum shocked everyone by “talking outside the topic” and “insulting the higher institution”, a term referring to the monarchy. Ms. Aum’s words were “so shocking we could not broadcast the show”, Ms. Pontipa said, but she has nevertheless stored footage of the interview.
She claimed that she decided to pursue a legal action against Ms. Aum because she was incensed by the student′s continued defamation of the monarchy. Ms. Pontipa also alleged that Ms. Aum is encouraging other students to commit similar crimes.
“Lese Majeste Complaint Against Reformist Student“, Khaosod English, September 16, 2013
The complainant made sure that the filing of her charge was well-documented as she let somebody film the process at the police station and posted it later on Facebook. She also had a few press members in tow.
Ms. Ponnipa also provided the officer with documents given by an unnamed Thammasat lecturer that includes personal details about “Aum Neko” including her actual gender by birth (she is a transgender woman), her actual name, birth date and personal ID number – which Ms. Ponnipa also willingly let the cameras film (a reason why I decided against embedding the video, as it was accompanied by an audible cackle by one of the bystanders).
While the nature of the offending comments allegedly made by the student has yet to be disclosed, Prachatai reports that the complainant pointed to a Facebook post by “Aum Neko” that apparently crossed the line for the TV host, as it criticized the pre-screening of Royal tribute movies at cinemas, where standing up is mandatory. In the same report, ”Aum Neko” herself has expressed “shock and much anger” as she cannot believe that others would resort to “dirty means” in order to discredit her.
One really has to question the motives and the way Ms. Ponnipa filed her lèse majesté charge, since she was sitting on the alleged offensive remarks for months just to use them against her right now after the anti-uniform campaign gained more attention. Also, she repeatedly showed suggestive pictures of the accused, trying to make the point that such an offence can only be made by an (from her viewpoint) “immoral” person, while repeatedly positively mentioning the virtues of His Majesty and her perceived duty to protect it.
There have been lèse majesté complaints in the past of similar frivolous and spiteful nature: just last Friday a court acquitted a man of lèse majesté, after his own brother filed charges against him in what was a very apparent a long-standing sibling rivalry turned ugly. (It is worth noting that the alleged anti-monarchy comments in this case were made in private, which would have had catastrophic ramifications in case of a conviction). The man was imprisoned for a whole year and repeatedly denied bail while his case was pending.
Another example is the case of actor Pongpat Wachirabanjong’s rousing pro-monarchy speech in 2010 (“If you hate our Father, if you don’t love our Father anymore, then you should get out of here!“), after which one person (mostly likely facetiously) accused him of improper language. Unsurprisingly, the case was dropped.
These and many more cases show one of several weak points of the Kingdom’s draconian law that can be punished with up to 15 years in prison: since anybody can file a charge against anybody, the police have to investigate every complaint and nearly all cases end up in court. The probability of this law being used out of contempt against outspokenness is very high and ultimately can undermine the purpose of the law: to protect the country’s monarchy.
The ongoing debate on student uniforms takes a racy turn, as one student’s poster campaign challenges the necessity of uniforms at Thammasat University.
They’re a common sight everywhere you go: young women in white blouses and black skirts or young men in white dress shirts and black dress pants, sometimes with belt buckles (in the case of the girls only held by a few binder clips) or pins sporting their university logos.
Thailand is one of the very few countries left in the world – next to neighboring Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – that requires students to wear uniforms even at university level. While the wearing of uniforms is mandatory at every academic institution in the country, how strict the rules are enforced varies from place to place and is mostly up to the teaching personnel.
And every now and then there is some controversy about the outfits students are wearing, mostly about their interpretation. For example back in 2009, the directors of the nation’s top tier universities Chulalongkorn and Thammasat in Bangkok complained about female students wearing uniforms that are “too sexy” and “inappropriate” - a publicly announced clampdown by both universities fell flat. Then in 2011, a similar short-lived uproar by education officials took place after a Japanese news website poll listed Thailand’s student uniforms as “the sexiest in the world.”
However, the questions about the necessity of uniforms at higher education level and its effects on student performance is rarely asked.
Several posters were plastered across notice boards in early September at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on the northern outskirts of Bangkok. The four different motives have slogans such as “Isn’t sex more exciting with student uniforms?”, “Were you required to wear a uniform at your last midterms?”, “When student uniforms are being challenged” and “Free humanity from the shackles” while depicting couples (both hetero and homosexual) having sex.
These were the creation of a transgender female liberal arts student at Thammasat University nicknamed “Aum Neko”, who shows her opposition to the mandatory uniform rule after it emerged that students were not allowed to take part in an exam in a compulsory freshmen course as they were not wearing the required uniforms.
In the Bangkok Post, she explains the reasons for her protest and why she chose the provocative motives:
“Personally, I believe in liberalism. I believe that ‘forcing’ students to wear uniforms at university level is an insult to their intellect and humanity. You are using the power of uniforms to control, not only their bodies, but their behaviour and thoughts.” About the provocative posters, in which she poses as one of the models, Aum Neko said that the main concept is to tie the uniform, which traditionally represents goodness and morality, together with sex, which represents wickedness, something that shouldn’t be expressed.
“Uniform opinions“, Bangkok Post, September 11, 2013
An extensive interview with Prachatai goes more in-depth about the motives and themes of her posters, explains why no fellow female students were taking part in the campaign and what she believes her university is supposed to stand for.
Unsurprisingly, the poster campaign has sparked debate on social and mainstream media on the necessity of student uniforms, but also about the ‘inappropriateness’ and shock value of the posters – with plenty of support and condemnation towards Aum. Thammasat University announced that it will conduct a disciplinary review of her actions (she caused another stir last year by casually posing on the lap of the statue of the university’s founder Pridi Banomyong), as some social media users are calling for her expulsion. However, Thammasat will also set up a committee consisting of lecturers and students to “to investigate the issue and come up with solutions.”
The story also raises the question whether or not the university is still maintaining it’s liberal-democratic roots, as its students have historically been politically active in the past - but the internal debate on the lèse majesté law (which bizarrely featured journalism students protesting against the reformists) has put the institution at odds with itself.
While on the surface the debate over student uniforms may appear to be just a superficial issue, it is one of many aspects in Thailand’s militaristic education system that reinforces uniformity and obedience, since for Thai conservatives these are still the most important characteristics of our education – while Thailand’s society has changed and is more than ready to move on.
This is part XXII 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.
Former Thai prime minister and leader of the opposition Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva was and still is by some regarded as a well-mannered politician who would never lose his temper or resort to the use of direct derogatory language towards political opponents or critics. We wouldn’t expect anything less with his oft-mentioned Oxford-educated (English language) eloquence and general high-brow public image.
However, with the increasing frustration of being in the opposition against a government that is seemingly unbeatable at the polls, the Democrat Party recently started to imitate the governing Pheu Thai Party’s political rallies and has taken to the streets to get their message across and mobilize their supporters. Freed from the restraints of parliamentary debates and press conferences, party members can unabashedly slam the government, its policies and everything else related to it.
At one such event in Bangkok on Saturday, Abhisit took the stage and among many other points in his speech, he criticized Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s regular absence in parliament and regular foreign trips, and her failure to tackle the problems back home while launching trivial projects like the upcoming reality TV show “Smart Lady Thailand” to advertise the Thai Women Empowerment Fund.
And here is when things went downhill for Abhisit:
นายกรัฐมนตรีก็หลบเลี่ยงปัญหาเหล่านี้ ผมก็ดูไม่ออกครับว่าที่อยู่ในประเทศมา 1 อาทิตย์ที่ผ่านมา ไปทำอะไรบ้าง เมื่อเช้าเห็นแว้บๆ มีข่าวไปทำอะไร โครงการอะไร Smart Lady แปลว่าอะไร ผมก็ไม่ค่อยเข้าใจทั้งหมดหรอกครับ เหมือนกับว่าจะประกวดใช่มั้ย หา Smart Lady แปลว่าอะไร Smart lady นี่ผมถามอภิมงคลแล้ว แปลว่าผู้หญิงฉลาด แต่นี่ผมก็ถามว่า อ้าว แล้วถ้าทำโครงการนี้เนี่ย ทำไมต้องทำ ทำไมต้องหาผู้หญิงฉลาด ทำไมต้องประกวดผู้หญิงฉลาด เพราะว่าเขาบอกว่า ถ้าแข่งขันหาอีโง่ ไม่มีใครไปแข่งได้
The Prime Minister is dodging these problems. I don’t know what she was up to in the past week in the country. This morning I spotted what project she was doing – “Smart Lady”. What does that mean? I didn’t fully get that. It’s like a competition, right? What does it mean to find a “Smart Lady”? So I asked Apimongkol [Sonakul, Democrat MP] and he said it means ‘smart lady’. But I ask why do they do this project, why do they have to find a smart lady, why do they make a competition out of this? Because if they are looking for a stupid bitch, there would be no competition!
“คำต่อคำ นายอภิสิทธิ์ หน.ปชป.ในการปราศรัยเวทีประชาชน เดินหน้าผ่าความจริง วัดดอกไม้ ยานนาวา“, Democrat Party Thailand, September 7, 2013 – translation by me
Now, อีโง่ (pronounced “ee-ngo“) is not very easy to directly translate into English. However, the prefix อี (“ee“) is only used to address somebody in a very rude manner – think of it like “that …” in a very condescending tone. Since โง่ (“ngo“) means ‘stupid’ or ‘the stupid one’ and Abhisit was talking about the female prime minister, it is safe to assume that not only he made a derogatory remark about her intelligence, but also specifically about her gender.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of negative reactions followed these remarks from Pheu Thai Party members and government personnel. Also unsurprising was the repeated silence of the country’s prominent feminists, as previously seen here and here – despite the fact that prime minister at times faces nasty sexist remarks. Meanwhile, Yingluck herself is currently (somehow ironically yet again) on a foreign trip to Europe.
On Monday, Abhisit was seemingly unfazed by the controversial gaffe he created:
Mr. Abhisit did not apologise for his now-notorious remark when reporters questioned him at the Democrat Party headquarters earlier today. He claimed that he did not refer to Ms. Yingluck specifically when he said those words on the stage. “I was merely following what I saw on Google,” Mr. Abhisit insisted (typing “stupid bitch” in Thai on Google search would bring up images of Ms. Yingluck). [and there's also a dedicated Facebook page for it]
“I don’t know which newspaper has reported the news in such negative manner,” Mr. Abhisit told the reporters, “I suppose it’s the same old one that likes to distort [my words]. And if it’s Khaosod, I would not know what to say about it because that newspaper is beyond any remedy”. Asked by a reporter what he has to say to the people who are offended by his remark, the visibly irritated Mr. Abhisit shot back: “Offended about what?”
“Abhisit Unapologetic For ‘Stupid Bitch’ Remark“, Khao Sod English, September 6, 2013
A colloquial and at times rowdy beer tent-esque atmosphere is to be expected at such political rallies from all parties. However, with harsh rhetoric provoking vulgar crowd reactions (again, something other parties are not discouraging either) and erratic displays of antics in parliament - just last week a Democrat MP was throwing chairs – the Democrat Party are increasingly descending into gutter politics and will stop at nothing to damage the government, even at the cost of any political progress.
Some of his supporters would welcome that Abhisit Vejjajiva is ‘finally’ not pulling any more punches (as in the past that was left to e.g. his former deputy Suthep as extensively documented here, here and here), but while it is one thing to appear folksy and aggressive, it is an entirely another unacceptable thing to resort a misogynistic remark. There’s no doubt that Abhisit Vejjajiva is no more Mr. Nice Guy.