Despatches from Thailand

thailand troopsAsian Insiders Point of View.   I think that most of you would agree that the people on the ground have a better idea of what is going on than outsiders and that applies to much of the reporting on the situation in Thailand by foreign media.   Every day I hear several complaints about misreporting by the foreign media, from both Thais and expatriates who have lived in Thailand for quite some time.   As of last December (2013) I’ve lived in Thailand for 21 years and mixed with the people making those complaints.   The US and British media receive most criticism.

Coups d’état are not very democratic however, democracy is not simply electing a group to govern a country in any way they wish.   Democracy includes good governance in democratically running a country and, during the past 13 years, Thailand has been governed by politicians who either don’t understand good governance or totally ignore it.   Vote buying, assassinations of opponents, corruption, intimidation, cronyism, etcetera have been the norm.

Several years ago, Thaksin Shinawatra, an-ex prime minister, was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years imprisonment however, like a few other Thai politicians, rather than serve his sentence, he fled the country and, using family, relatives and cronies he had prepositioned, he has virtually run Thailand during his self-imposed exile.   The Royal Thai Police have a dreadful reputation here in Thailand and Thaksin was once a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Thai Police.

The three articles below are briefs .   Two are the editorials from today’s editions of both English language newspapers in Thailand while the third is a letter to the editor from a Westerner who has lived and worked in Thailand for many years.   Together, they might serve to convince readers that the current coup d’etat was badly needed.   One can only hope that it will serve to clean up the governance of an otherwise delightful country to live in. Barry Petersen – Asian Correspondent

bangkok post logoSay cheers to police reform

Bangkok Post   Thursday, May 29, 2014  Editorial

There is an old Thai saying about the police in comparison with the military.   It goes like this: “The wives of military personnel count bottles (Whisky bottles), the wives of the police count banknotes” This age-old statement hits proven true time and again about how financially rewarding it is to become a police officer over becoming an army officer.  

The Thai public seems to have accepted police corruption as a fact of life.   Clubs and bars can operate after closing hours because they pay under-the-table fees on a monthly basis to the police.   Rich kids get away with lenient penalties or with impunity because they can bribe the police, prosecutors or even the court.   Even among the police themselves; those who have close political connections or-who have the-deepest pockets will get promoted to higher positions. It is not only not the corruption problem within the police force which has raised calls from the public for long-overdue police reform.   The poor police performance during the six-month long protests has served to intensify public demands for a major overhaul of the force. 

When the police did nothing as more than 25 people were killed and over 1,000 injured during the protests, it lends credence to public suspicion of political interference.   This is not acceptable.   Justice cannot be done when the arms of the law refuse to do their jobs or abuse their power.   Past attempts to overhaul the police force have failed due to stiff resistance from top-ranking police officers working hand in glove with some politicians, according to Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunjorn, a retired deputy police chief.

He recalled two failed attempts – both of which he had direct involvement in.   The first was in 2006during the government of then prime minister Surayud Chulanont when he headed a police development committee.   Two bills were proposed and endorsed by the cabinet but were held up at the Council of State.   When the government left office, the bills were dropped automatically. One of thebills was about police restructuring and the other called for the formation of an independent body to investigate police misdeeds.  he second attempt was in 2009 during the tenure of . prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.   The attempt did not make any headway due to police resistance to change.

Currently, the military junta has been conducting a “purge” of the police force which saw the removal of national police chief Pol Adul Saengsingkaew and other police commissioners who were thought to be too closely linked with the so-called “Thaksin regime”.   Removing individual police officers without effecting structural reform of the police force, however, does not guarantee a clean, and just police system.   There have been several sensible suggestions from previous reform committees and civil society on how the police force should be reformed.   We know what problems should be tackled.   There is no need to set up another committee.

Among the suggestions are decentralisation of the police force to make the force less susceptible to political manipulation and the transfer of control for certain police units such as the border patrol police to the Defence Ministry.   Equally important is changing police attitudes to more deeply respect the fundamental rights of the people.   And there is a pressing need to overhaul the education and training system of police cadets towards the demilitarisation of the police force.  A clean and effective police force is one of the few issues people on opposing sides of the political conflict agree upon.   Without police reform, public access to justice is denied and peace and order cannot be sustained

nation news logoSweep the house – then RETURN IT to rightful owners quickly
Editorial   Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coup leader must kick-start an inclusive reform process and provide a timeframe for the return to democracy.   Our latest military coup – or “power seizure'” as the National Council for Peace and Order(NCPO) prefers – took place less than eight years after the previous one on September 19, 2006.   Both times the coup-makers cited the need to prevent further political violence and bloodshed as a major reason for their intervention.   The military is now viewed by many as “referee” and the only hope we have of putting a stop to months of political warring between the. ruling Pheu Thai Partyand the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

For many observers, the coup was a “necessary evil” to combat rampant abuse of power by the ruling politicians, who turned the electoral mandate to their personal benefit.   A large sector of the public has welcomed the power seizure in the hope that it will bring an end to violence and eventually see corruptpoliticians punished.        .

The military did not stage the coup out of the blue.   It waited until it was clear that the deadly violence would continue unabated and that those in power would do little to stop it.   The take-over is certainly a violation of democratic principles, causing dismay among the international community, but so far it has met with only limited resistance m Thailand.          

Meanwhile, the take-over has halted the violence, which had mostly targeted those protesting against the government. Arrests have been made and war weapons seized in raids that have unearthed suspects found to have connections with politicians.   Many of those arrested are being described as red shirts, including two suspected of carrying out the attack on a PDRC protest site in Trat in early February that left two children dead and more than 20 people injured.

Army and NCPO chief Prayuth Chan-ocha maintains that the military took power in the national interest rather than to benefit one side or the other.   The junta’s actions so far have supported his words, with measures taken to tackle problems that are the legacy of the ousted caretaker government and the political deadlock.   These include making payments to rice farmers owed some Bt100 billion under the previous administration’s loss-making and corruption-plagued price-pledging scheme.

But there are other issues that it must urgently consider, including restoring freedom of speech and providing a timeframe for the return to democracy.   The junta chief has not made clear who will become the next prime minister or when the next election will be held.   Even more important is the need for a reform process that includes all the warring parties.   The military must recognize that, without such an inclusive process, sustainable results that satisfy disaffected factions and ensure lasting peace will not be possible.

Judging from his recent moves, General Prayuth appears to be avoiding mistakes committed by previous coup leaders. Hopefully he will not be lured by the sweet scent of power, a temptation to which many of his predecessors succumbed.  He must assure the public that the troops will return to their barracks after completing their house-sweeping mission and hand over the power to an elected government.

nation news logoMedia responsibility

Letters to the Editor Thursday May 29, 2014

Re: “Media urges NCPO to allow freedom of expression”, Politics, May 28.

The writer of this article seems to forget that freedom of expression in an undemocratic Thailand is the very reason for the current coup.  The media would be correct to push for free speech within a democratically aware country, but Thailand has never experienced democratic governance.

Freedom of expression of the majority has translated as armed intimidation under Thailand’s corrupt system. One faction has used its partisan media to indoctrinate their young into believing the right to vote gives them the right to do as they please.   Until the media become responsible, with the interests of the country as their main concern, they will cause unrest.

Freedom of expression is a principle of democratic governance but has a place only within a country which is both democratically aware and democratically governed.   When General Prayuth has eradicated the totally undemocratic system which has controlled the country for decades, then the benefits of democracy will be enjoyed by all. Thailand is in a very sensitive transition at the moment. Crying for democratic rights is premature and irresponsible.     Democracy as the form of government must be established as the first priority.   A responsible media can play an important role in sustaining democracy as they could in establishing it.    JC Wilcox   Bangkok




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