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THIS IS THAILAND
A Week in Review: February 19-25, 2011


You can't touch me...

Do Thai politicians become bad people, or do bad people become Thai politicians? All is revealed in this week’s This is Thailand. Read on…

Thailand and Cambodia have reached an uneasy truce over their border conflict. However, the fact that Thailand took possession of 6 Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets worth 20 billion baht last week had absolutely nothing to do with Cambodia suddenly softening its stance. Indonesia in its capacity as the current chair of ASEAN will send observers to monitor both sides of the border.

The PAD responded by saying something silly, but this time nobody was listening to them. Their constant demands for the government to step down because it refuses to go to war with Cambodia have eroded the last vestiges of credibility the yellow shirts may have had.

Meanwhile, their fellow anti-Cambodia and anti-government protest partner, the Santi Asoke Sect, reiterated its own demands for the government to step down over its handling of the border issue. However, in direct contrast to the PAD, it condemned the use of violence to solve the conflict.  

As the government was using peaceful bi-lateral talks to solve the situation before the Santi Asoke Sect together with the Thai Patriots Network (TPN) and the PAD agitated the situation and demanded military action, and as the government continues to reiterate its stance that bi-lateral talks are the only way to solve the situation, it is difficult to understand exactly what the Santi Asoke Sect is protesting about. But then the same thing could be said about most of the protests in Thailand.

Which brings us nicely to our old friend Jatuporn Prompan. While other red shirt leaders were remanded in custody on charges including terrorism after last year’s doomed siege of Bangkok, Jatuporn remained free simply because of the ridiculous immunity from prosecution he enjoyed as a member of parliament.

Even when parliament went into recess and that immunity expired, the Thai courts defied all the laws of logic by allowing him to remain free – albeit with certain conditions.

One of those conditions was that Jatuporn is not allowed to speak at rallies on topics related to the pending terrorism cases against him and the other red shirt leaders. However, increasingly emboldened by the impunity he inexplicably enjoys, Thailand’s red bulldog has been getting ever bolder.

Last week he pushed things a little further by openly threatening more disruptive rallies unless the seven incarcerated red shirt leaders were released from prison.

If this does not constitute talking about his case at rallies, I am not sure what does.

Yet once again, Jatuporn avoided punishment for breaking his bail conditions. More worryingly, however, within a day of his threats, the seven red shirt leaders and one guard were released on bail just as he demanded.

And within a day of their release, one of the released leaders, Kwanchai Sarakham, boldly announced that the seven were all planning to run for election as Phuea Thai party list MPs. However, it is not a desire to serve the people that has compelled them to run for public office. It is the immunity from prosecution so abused by Jatuporn that has driven them down the very short road from mob rule to politics.

Less than a day later, yellow shirt leaders reported to police to acknowledge charges against them relating to violating the Internal Security Act. After questioning, they too were released on bail.

However, there is at least one person currently behind bars in Thailand. In a week when an Asian Media Barometer survey confirmed restrictions on freedom of expression in Thailand caused by the Internal Security Act and the lèse-majesté law, Surachai Danwattananusorn, a core leader of the Red Siam group, was arrested for “making comments deemed insulting to the institution of the monarchy”.

This comes just 10 days after a modicum of common sense was applied when Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, a red shirt activist, had her 18-year sentence for lèse-majesté quashed by an appeal court.

I could never be accused of being a red shirt supporter, and Surachai and Daranee may well have been guilty of inciting hatred during their speeches, but using the lèse-majesté law to hold them is just wrong and is exactly why Thailand scored so poorly in the Asian Media Barometer.

While those who openly incited people to burn down the capital city are free on bail, others are behind bars for “making comments deemed insulting to the institution of the monarchy”.

Where is the justice? Where is the common sense?

And just in case you were wondering who is really in charge of Thailand, deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban was forced to deliver a grovelling apology to army Commander in Chief, Prayuth Chan-Ocha, last week after four Democrat MPs dared to criticise the Thai army’s handling of the situation in the south.

Paul Snowdon – February 26, 2011

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