January, February, and March (and probably June) 2014
Tomatoes & Democracy - May 2014
03 May 2014
The Election Commission has chosen 20 July for a general election. While this might make some feel relieved that the current political conflict might end soon, nobody seems to be very happy about it. The Democrat party is considering whether to run candidates at all. The red shirts want an election day after tomorrow. The PDRC does not believe that there should be an election until reforms are made, and may again disrupt voting. I told you so.
Democrat leader and former Prime Minister Ahbisit has been making the rounds to sell his proposed solution to those who make decisions, including the military, the NACC, and the Elections Commission. Surprisingly, even PM Yingluck encouraged the public not to discourage him. Ahbisit has not yet met with her yet to discuss his plan in detail, and he now has no intention of having a conversation with Yingluck's brother. He has also not yet discussed his plan with Suthep.
Today Mr. Ahbisit revealed his plan to the public. In it, he calls for the current "caretaker government" to step down before NACC, the Elections Commission and the courts throw them out and ban them from political office for a long, long time. Their voluntary departure would not be in disgrace, but as a brief holiday from political battle. They would be replaced by a neutral appointed government that would not be empowered to make or change laws, and would be in office for no more than a year. Elections would be postponed until the end of their term. The "honeymoon" period for elected officials would become a year, which is a long time to hide your true colors. During the one-year government vacation, the Elections Commission would have time to change election rules to make voting both fair and corruption-proof. The PDRC and other entities calling for political reform would also have time to come up with meaningful changes in government and society.
To me, this makes a lot of sense, particularly compared to civil war and a coup. Unfortunately, none of this would be allowed under the current constitution. It is now clear how the interim government would be chosen, or by whom. Ahbisit says the new leaders would be chosen "by the people," which sounds pretty much like an election to me. He did suggest a referendum of some kind, which, to me, conjures up a mental picture of people voting.
San Francisco's Department of Elections just implemented a way for those of us living abroad to access ballots from a website, so I have already voted in the upcoming June election. I only voted once and was not persuaded with money, a bag of rice or Viagra. Isn't democracy wonderful?
07 May 2014
Only two hours ago Thailand's nine-member Constitutional Court ruled that the prime minister was guilty of abuse of power when she shuffled the National Security Council by sending its Chief, Thawil Pliensri, to a desk that had no work on it and probably not even a telephone to make way for her brother-in-law, if that is what you would call your brother's wife's brother. They do not call me the master of the run-on sentence for nothing. Anyway, Yingluck is out of office and out of a job, meaning that there are no Shinawatras in public office. Nine members of her cabinet are now unemployed as well since they approved the shuffle in violation of the constitution.
Yingluck still has another sword dangling above her head. The National Counter Corruption Commission is expected to rule this week in the matter of the failed rice pledging scheme. If they find against Yingluck she can be indicted and the Senate will have to impeach her. Sounds a lot like hanging a corpse to me.
So today should be considered the end of a very long first act that might be compared to the final act of Die Göterdämerung, the fourth and final opera in Wagner's ring cycle, which I have never made it through without falling asleep. No wonder a friend has dubbed this the "Sequoia Blog," following my story on 28 February.
In act two we will discover how Thailand is expected to function without a prime minister, cabinet, or house of representatives, a monarch who is removed from the dirty work of politics, and a dysfunctional constitution that allows us to find ourselves in such a mess. I can literally hear the whistles of the PDRC in Lumpini Park as I write this. On Saturday we will begin to hear the barking of the newly-disenfranchised red shirts, followed by the specter of chaos, civil war, and a coup. During intermission I think I'll get an extra bag of popcorn and a six pack. Act Two is sure to be thrilling but very, very long.
09 May 2014
This morning I broke my routine and arrived at the office at 07:30. Our good neighbors across the road in Lumpini Park plan to begin their "final push" at 9:09 on this 9th day of the month. We all go to astrologers and monks who tell fortunes here, recommend lucky numbers and what tell us what our names should be changed to. The one who counsels me advised an early departure to avoid massive disruptions of already-bad traffic. Half of the lanes of Rama IV Road have become a parking lot for the buses, vans, and SUVs that have brought an extra 100,000 people to exercise their constitutional rights, with or without a State of Emergency.
Act two begins without an overture. The time: late yesterday. The scene: The offices of the National Counter Corruption Commission. The seven members of the Commission have found Yingluk Shinawatra guilty of official incompetence and negligence as the head of the government's rice pledging scheme, which they believe lost 300 billion baht over a three year period. (That's $90 million and change in real money.) They will direct the Senate next week to proceed to impeach Yingluck, which seems silly since she has already been thrown out of office. If impeached by the Senate, however, she will be banned from holding public office for five years. They are also considering criminal indictments against her. Fifteen former government officials have already been indicted on corruption charges related to the rice fiasco.
Following Yingluck's day at the Constitutional Court on the 7th, those remaining in the executive branch of the government chose a new Caretaker Prime Minister. I don't remember his name, but it does not matter since he may set a record for holding that office for the fewest number of days and hours. He is a close associate of run-away former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and is, according to sources, a "person of interest" in the NACC's probe of stupidity and corruption attached to the rice project.
The Senate today will elect a new Speaker. Punters have their money on a constitutional law expert who is pro-reform, pro-reconciliation, and not sympathetic to the Pheu Thai party or the red shirts. There may be hope for Thailand yet.
Speaking of shirts, shame on CNN once again. Their newbie reporter in Bangkok called the PDRC "yellow shirts" in a broadcast on Wednesday. She should know better since the yellow shirts are long gone. These are the "flag shirts" because of all the shirts, hats, wrist-bands and other paraphernalia displaying Thailand's version of the red, white and blue. They sent Sara Seidner to cut her teeth on journalism at the outset of the red shirt uprising. She characterized those events as a 'populist street party.' I assume that she is no longer a reckless idiot since she has been given more responsible assignments since then.
I am now resigned to the fact this single episode of my blog has become, for better or worse, my life's work. I will be accepting donations by Paypal soon since I may have to forego a salary if Thai politics continue to be dicey. Standard & Poor's has mentioned a "negative credit rating" for the nation, and GDP is to forecast to be no more than 1.5% this year. The July 20th election now may not be a certainty after all. The good news is that the value of the baht is sinking fast, and you can now afford to visit Bangkok to see all of the pageantry of democracy for yourself. Let's do lunch.
10 May 2014
Today's thought: To understand recursion you must first understand recursion. I'm sure there is a political application there somewhere.
The PDRC began their "final push" yesterday and the red shirts are gearing up for their mass rally tomorrow, which is very thoughtless since some of us go to the supermarket on Saturdays. On the other hand, we'll finally get to see whose is bigger. Red Shirt leaders have instructed their members to refrain from violence. This may or may not be a ploy to disavow any participation in armed combat in the future. Four grenades were launched into separate sensitive buildings the night of the Constitutional Court decision, including the home of one of the judges. Shots were fired into the PDRC demonstration area from the bridge that overlooks the entrance to Lumpini Park. There were no deaths.
The PDRC's Lumpini demonstrators divided into mega-groups to construct stages at Government House and Television channels 3, 5, 6, 9 and 11. They want the media to stoop giving what is left of the government so much good publicity and only talk about the wonderful tings PDRC is doing.
The Chaeng Wattana demonstrators moved to the entrance to CAPO (nee "CMPO," the gestapoesque police arm of the caretaker government.) They were met with water canons yesterday.
PDRC's Suthep was among the first to congratulate the newly elected, reform-friendly Speaker of the Senate when he was very warmly greeted at Government House yesterday. Suthep submitted a request that the Senate and the Supreme Court cooperate with each other to name an interim executive branch, citing that the current cabinet is illegitimate. This sounds a lot like what Ahbisit also suggested. The Election Commission apparently supports the idea since a July election now seems unlikely to them.
I would like to point out that while the red shirts wear out the word "democracy," and accuse Suthep and the urban middle class of being "anti-democratic." Yet the current interim caretaker prime minister did not get his job in any election. The remnants of the leadership of Yingluck's now-shamed caretaker government chose him without allowing voters to express themselves. I do not see anything more or less democratic if the Senate and Supreme Court pick the caretaker government than the method chosen to designate the new caretaker prime minister what's-his-name.
What Thaksin will decide to do next is the question of the day. He can continue to go for broke and bankroll the red shirts, or finally admit that he is not going to get what he wants and stop dumping millions into funding a bunch of under-privileged upcountry folks who have nothing better to do.
To put on a mass rally costs a fortune: transportation, stages, lights, big speakers, generators, portable toilets, giant tents, giant TV screens, food, bribery of officials, security, medical care and more. I have it on very good authority that the red shirts receive 1,000 baht (about $32) per "volunteer" per day. So a rally with 20,000 participants costs around $640,000 per day... per day.Red shirt leaders receive this from "benefactor(s)," give everyone who shows up 300 to 500 baht per day, and pocket the rest. Is this a movement driven by ideology or greed?
Meanwhile, two former cabinet ministers who were deprived of their jobs three days ago by the Constitutional Court have issued a statement that says, essentially, "This does not really apply to me." They intend to continue to go about their daily business of running a country and attending cabinet meetings. One is planning to represent Thailand at the Association of South East Asian Nations' summit that begins this weekend in Myanmar. This is quite an embarrassment for the Land of Smiles. How can we expect the rest of the world to respect and have confidence in this country?
10 May 2014
Suthep is a genius. He took a break from the PDRC's protest stage at the Government House (parliament) complex. And, after a chat with the military guarding the place, he convinced them to turn the building that houses the prime minister's offices over to the PDRC. They will make the place their headquarters.
Meanwhile, the red shirts have their underwear in a knot and are crying "that's illegal," and "that's against the constitution" when it comes to any solution or turn of events that are not in their own best interests. They are claiming that the election of the new Senate Speaker is invalid because it ran afoul of a parliamentary rule, even though it was announced well in advance, and their guy lost 2 to 1. Would they be whining if he had won? And who do you think will be there to adjudicate their legal challenges? The Constitutional Court, which they have already discredited? The Supreme Court, which is going to defer on matters like this to the Constitutional Court. But wait a minute. Yesterday, they said they did not want the Supreme Court and Senate to put their heads together to come up with a practical solution to all this crap. They are putting on a pretty big show on the outskirts of Bangkok, and they say they might be there for a month. That could cost Thaksin a cool 15 or 20 million dollars. I think I will start a pool so people can bet on how soon he will cave in.
Today's Bangkok Post has a story about some crazy farang who is growing 100+ tomato plants in his 10th floor condo. I have to admit it does sound pretty eccentric, but I have never claimed not to be. You can find it online HERE. "Craig" is my middle name. I did not want to run afoul of Thai agricultural authorities for importing seeds since I can't afford the bribe. The apron I am wearing, although you can't see it well, is decorated with what looks like hand-painted tomatoes, a clever gift from my San Francisco friends/customers Jeff and Mark. Ton in our office took the photos, and this his first photo credit. There may be hope--at least gastronomically speaking--for Thailand yet.
14 May 2014: The Mexican Standoff
A Mexican Standoff is best described as situation in which there are three armed adversaries. It's a standoff because one of them will shoot you while you are busy shooting the other. That seems to be what the political situation has become in Thailand. We have the executive branch of the government (which includes the red shirts since they are essentially the same), the opposition (made up of the PDRC and the Democrat party), and the Senate.
The senate is legally powerless to choose new leadership under the present constitution. Yet since the House of Representatives was dissolved months ago, the senate is all we have left. Members of the executive branch were mostly thrown out of office last week, leaving an unelected acting prime minister and fragments of a cabinet. The PDRC is pressing for government reforms before any election and sees the current election rules as being corrupt enough to deliver a new government to the existing ruling party. There are two referees in this boxing match--the Elections Commission and the Constitutional and Supreme Courts, and they are both shouting "we aren't allowed to referee this match." This could go on forever, as I predicted it might when a July election date was set.
Yesterday was a holiday that celebrates the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha, a day in which this country could benefit from some enlightenment itself. Even though it was a day for shopping and sleeping late for most of us the Senate met informally to discuss what it could do to come up with a solution allowed under the current laws. The acting PM and former PM Ahbisit, leader of the Democrat party, were both invited to speak. The acting PM was busy but Ahbisit showed up and again showed restraint and wisdom. He suggested a referendum to choose a neutral panel to draft political reforms. Once again the red shirt response was to threaten escalation of their activities, perhaps to the point of civil war. They were invited to make a presentation to those present but declined.
Meanwhile, the National Counter Corruption Commission is preparing to indict 88 Thai companies and two in China for their parts in an allegedly phony government-to-government sale under the failed "rice pledging" scheme.
This morning I had a normal commute to work for the first time in four months. The PDRC is gone from Lumpini Park after cleaning up after themselves and moving on to Government House. They have also left all of those TV stations. One thing allegedly left behind in the park, however, was a stockpile of bomb-making materials, several Kevlar vests, a list of the names of the PDRC security members allegedly involved in bomb- making, and the ID card of the leader. Now wasn't that convenient? I don't believe it for a second.
20 May 2014
The time: today
The place: A political landscape strewn with corpses, shattered hopes for democracy, and the debris of a failed government.
Thailand's armed forces imposed martial law this afternoon. But more on that below. In the mean time yeah, I have been busy. So let's back up a few days....
The sands are shifting and perhaps in a big way. Last Wednesday (six days ago--sorry) a group of bad guys lobbed M76 grenades into the PDRC rally site near Government House as people were sleeping. More than twenty were injured and three were murdered. In some of the first crime scene investigative work actually performed in this decade, police found .32, .22, and .45 shell casings and extrapolated that the shots were fired from at least three pickup trucks. The army threatened martial law. The reds and the PDRC said, essentially, "fine with us."
Ahbisit's proposal to replace the present government with a neutral prime minister and fully functional cabinet may be taking root. Actually, this was Suthep's idea in the first place (although he has probably been hoping all along to be the Chosen One). The majority of the Senate--which is the only government entity other than the judiciary that is still in one piece, is looking for a way to replace the current PM and cabinet within the constraints of the Constitution. Yesterday they asked the interim PM to step aside. He declined, stating that he would be breaking the law to do so. It's fascinating how Ahbisit, Suthep and the Senate are proposing essentially the same thing while complaining that the other two are not part of the solution.
There have been media reports that thirty senators belonging to the Pheu Thai party flew to Singapore last week to meet with runaway former PM Thaksin and were paid 20,000,000 baht (about $6.4 million) each to vote against impeachment of his sister and block any plans the Senate may have to choose a replacement PM. The Pheu Thai party and Thaksin's mouthpiece have both denied this, of course. Thaksin is not that stupid. There is no way Pheu Thai can overcome its minority in the Senate to accomplish anything. Nevertheless, this was an intriguing fantasy.
PDRC committees are hunting down the remaining 25 cabinet members who still have jobs to convince them to relinquish their positions. They even cornered the acting PM in his "safe house" a few days ago, which amused us as it was televised live.
One significant development is that Suthep has vowed to give up at the end of the month. If the current government is not thrown out or has not resigned he will turn himself in to the authorities on sedition charges and spend his golden years in jail. Honestly, though, I doubt he will make a martyr of himself.
The red shirts continue to bark about "democracy," which apparently means they only get their way. They are threatening everything from 'eternal barking,' to 'you aren't going to like this,' to 'you're going to cause civil war so the army sill stage a coup,' to 'you'll never be my Facebook friend again.' Bow wow wow wow wow. They are upping attendance at their own rally site to 20,000+ this week, which means an additional two million a day out of Thaksin's pocket. He cheated The Kingdom of his fair share of taxes on the sale of his communications satellite company to Singapore, so it is only just that he should dump his fortune back into a country that will never, ever, elect another Shinawatra to public office and will see him perish in exile.
It's hard to predict who will win this dog race. I am not a betting man, but my money is on "none of the above" for first place and Suthep for a close second, followed by the red shirts to show, but not to win. In the end, showing will get you $3 on your $2 bet. OK, I admit that I used to hang out at race tracks.
Now for today: Martial law is now in effect since I first checked the news at 05:00 this morning. The army is still working out what the provisions will be. Honestly, most of us are relieved. The police are good at pulling motorists over at random to extort 200 baht, but I have never seen much actual police work going on. The Center for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO) is an arm of the national police, operates like a Gestapo look-alike to enforce the government's policies. They have invited heads of a number of government institutions to meet with them this afternoon to politely "discuss" the ramifications of defying the dictates of the Pheu Thai party government and it's largest benefactor. Unions representing employees of many government departments are promising a general strike at the end of the week, which will possibly disrupt water and electrical power in some parts of Bangkok.
I have enough food and water at home to last for two months. I have a solar charger for my iPhone and enough unwatched movies to get me through the worst imaginable crisis. A coup is looking better and better these days. So what? An election does not make a democracy.
I just realized that the 25th anniversary of OrchidMania passed by quietly last weekend. Of all the things I have done in my life, I am probably most proud of this: www.douglas-thompson.com/OrchidMania.htm. Follow the link at the end if you are absolutely sure you want to know how I got here.
What does martial law look like? Like every other day unless you are satellite TV station that primarily represents a political group, in which case you look like you are off the air. Everything else looks the same. Most of us are relieved and agree with the situation.
General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, top dog of the military, has gone about management of the political chaos here thoroughly and responsibly so far. He has accomplished one thing that has not happened since all of this began last November--he got everyone to sit in the same room and talk. Yesterday the Senate Speaker, other members of the Senate, members of the Election Commission, the head of the red shirts, Suthep as leader of PDRC, and a group from both the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties sat down with each other and began a conversation. You can bet it was not a very civilized conversation at times, but Prayth will keep them there until they begin to work together, find common ground, compromise, and come up with solutions. For the mean time, however, the Pheu Thai, red shirts (same thing) and PDRC are holding their ground. Prayuth sent everyone home with homework at the end of day one: "Figure out how we work together to stop this madness." I doubt they will finish their homework.
The good General has proposed that the current government resign. Thaksin, was not at the meeting (otherwise he would have been arrested), nor was the Prime Minister du jour, who is boycotting just about everything. Thaksin, nevertheless, made it clear that bringing an end to a crippled democratically-elected government, even though none of those leading the government ever ran for office, shook the very foundations of democracy.
General Prayuth made two other proposals yesterday. He suggested (though did not order) that both the red shirts and the PDRC end their rallies and go home, and that a neutral interim government be formed, which echoes both the Democrat's Ahbisit and the PDRC's Suthep. Thaksin's counter proposal was for the army to issue a general amnesty for everyone involved, presumably including himself and Little Sister, and he would keep his family out of politics.
The CMPO is now gone. So are all of the mean-spirited arrest warrants issued for PDRC leaders for sedition, terrorism, treason, and murdering Jimmy Hoffa.
There is absolutely no chance of a July election. However, the military has suggested that there be a referendum on whether Thai voters wanted reform or an election first. That might happen in "six to nine months."
Several people have been arrested for enormous stores of "war weapons," including AK47 rifles and ammunition, rocket propelled grenade launchers, bombs and bomb-making materials. One claimed these things were for personal protection. The Royal Thai Police could not find any of these things over the last six months, but the army did within hours of declaring martial law.
Standard and Poors has rated Thailand BBB+, which is better than Paraguay or Senegal.
The Criminal Court will hear arguments regarding 24 red shirts charged with terrorism in connection with that group's rallies (riots) of 2010. The previous head of the red shirts lost an appeal of his conviction of defaming former prime minister Ahbisit. On the same day the Appeals Court dismissed a suit against a former Democrat cabinet member by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra for defamation. The lawmaker made a speech in Chiang Mai in 2004 regarding Thaksin's corruption, that the court found was supported by facts.
That's what martial law looks like in Thailand.
Breaking news: Fifty-two minutes ago (at about 16:20 local time) the military took control of the government in a full-blown coup after a day-long meeting of the same individuals who met yesterday apparently ended badly. The situation reportedly appeared intractable, with the remnants of the failed government refusing to budge and no constitutional way to install a neutral government headed by a neutral prime minister. Large stores of "war weapons" seized in the last 48 hours appeared to be destined to red shirt operatives. The army has surrounded Bangkok in order to avert any red shirt groups advancing on the city. Except for Senators and members of the Election Commission, those attending the meeting were removed in a fleet of military vehicles to the Fifth Army Regiment, where they are being held temporarily. Consequently, the leaders of Pheu Thai, red shirts, PDRC and Democrat Party have been unable to comment publicly about this turn of events. This is Thailand's 18th coup since absolute monarchy ended in 1932 and the 12th during the reign of the King.
Most here are probably far more outraged by a video posted on Facebook yesterday by a Thai woman living in the UK in which she says terribly insulting and offensive things about His Majesty the King and steps on his photo, which is the ultimate insult in Thailand. Her parents in Thailand turned her into the police and her British husband declared that he would divorce her.
20:00. The military has suspended the constitution, which is like permanently parking a '59 Buick that runs on two cylinders on a good day. Coming up with a constitution that foresees what we have been through the last two weeks, clarifies vague and misleading provisions, and was not created to give powerful people all of the power would be a good beginning.
There is also a curfew at 22:00. All of my 200+ cable TV channels are showing the same tacky test pattern accompanied by what sounds like Thai military mariachi music.
23 May: Ground Hog Day
The military has done a very thorough job of containing what it considered a perilous national situation. All of those who attended yesterday's meeting who were detained, are still being detained. Yingluck and more than twenty of Thaksin's former inner circle (including some army and police brass and a particularly evil guy named Chalerm, who is Satan incarnate) have been ordered to make themselves available to the military by 10:00 today, presumably to be detained.
Troops arrived at the red shirt demonstration site within hours of the coup. People there were told to lay face down on the ground. Leaders were rounded up, and buses removed demonstrators who did not have their own vehicles from the area. Everyone was told to go home. PDRC demonstrators politely left their two remaining rally sites without incident, ecstatically claiming victory in the end.
Schools are closed until Monday and the curfew will go on until the military decides things are stable enough and everyone understands who is boss.
Before the TV went dark last night coverage of the coup on BBC and CNN was absolutely shameful. Understand this media people: The yellow shirts no longer exist. The PDRC are the "flag shirts." Not the same people. And why can't you interview people here? CNN interviewed a moron in London who had no idea what he was talking about and kept mentioning China, then excusing himself with the correction "Thailand." They also interviewed a Thai-born academic in the UK who claims to be a red shirt, but no longer lives here and who probably has no direct personal involvement or knowledge of that group. Even Al Jazeera used "yellow shirts" in their headline report. Shame on you all.
Before I began to write today's entry I looked through what I had written over six weeks of the red shirt occupation of Bangkok, which lasted less than two months. What struck me was how patient the government at the time was with the demonstrators. The red shirts used delay tactics and lies to hold on to their small chunk of Bangkok before then-prime minister Ahbisit finally sent in the army almost exactly four years ago. By comparison, at first glance General Prayuth seems to have been very hasty. However, the final meeting of the parties involved yesterday was reportedly "chaotic." The dangerous rhetoric of the red shirts and the massive supplies of weapons that continue to be found undoubtedly made the possibility of civil war even more imminent than the military once thought.
There is more to Thailand than just Bangkok and the military cannot possibly control it all to the same degree that it is keeping the capital under wraps, and all too familiar scenarios will unfold that could become a nearly endless cycle.
Thaksin is undoubtedly enraged. Tough shit.
You have probably seen the 1993 film Groundhog Day in which a TV weather man (Bill Murray) is sent to cover the day on which a giant rodent emerges from his slumber in a small Minnesota town to signal either the end or continuation of winter. Murray's character wakes every morning to experience the same day over and over again--the same people, weather, breakfast, and conversations with minor but meaningful differences. It is possible that Thailand will, for the next decade at least, live through the same kind of bad dream again and again. The military will install its own civilian government that may (I didn't say "will") bring about meaningless "reforms." Another new Democrat government will eventually be elected, and the red shirts will eventually mobilize and move on Bangkok once again in a Thaksin-bankrolled revolution that will be cleaned up by the military, ending in the burning of shopping malls, a corrupt pro-Thaksin government, and eventually a coup.
And that's what a coup looks like in Thailand. Where is that magic bullet that will end it all?
Baby Sister and a gaggle of Thaksin cronies turned themselves in to the military yesterday. So did the acting caretaker PM what's-his-name, who ended what was probably the shortest tenure in that position since absolute monarchy ended in 1932. Yingluck arrived in a black bulletproof VW van filled with bodyguards. While some of the Democrat and Pheu Thai party delegates to the fateful Thursday meeting have been released, PDRC, red shirt, and former politicians have been moved to "safe houses," which should keep them from causing too much trouble for the time being. None are allowed to leave Thailand without permission.
If you believe the Bangkok Post, the Pheu Thai party is "awaiting instructions from Thaksin." We can only hope he will return from his self-imposed exile soon to take control of the situation personally instead of cowering in Dubai. I'm sure there is a safe house here that is big enough to hold him.
One Thai language newspaper today printed a transcript of the failed Thursday meeting between opposing factions, senators, opposing political parties, the military, the police, and the Elections Commission. Apparently neither the red shirts/Pheu Thai party or PDRC were willing to compromise or look for common ground. General Prayuth became very irritated at the stubbornness shown by both Suthep and the leader of the red shirts, so he sent them to a separate room together to work things out. The only thing they had to say when they returned to the meeting was that the plumbing in the men's' room was not working properly. That apparently was the last straw. Prayuth announced that he was taking over and those in the meeting (except for Ahbisit, who later said "I told you so") thought it was a joke. Prayuth left the room. Armed soldiers entered. And, as the newspaper said, "the rest is history."
General Prayuth announced yesterday that rice farmers will be paid in full within a week. I have to wonder why Yingluck could not have done that. I only hope that the good general will also look into relieving some of those living in safe houses of the immense fortunes they amassed during the time they were public servants.
There has been only nominal, yet predictable, resistance to the coup, but most of us think that the alternative was less acceptable or palatable. The curfew will continue indefinitely, which is leaving horny younger Malaysian, Taiwanese and Singaporean visitors with nothing to do except to express their boredom and affection on Grindr, Jackd and Gay Romeo. Unless you enjoy the army's TV channel, you might as well leave the boob tube off since there isn't anything else--no cartoons, soap operas or even Chef Ramsey. So I am working at home this Saturday. There are cookies in the oven and I am having my own personal James Bond film festival. Who needs democracy anyway?
25 May: The Planetary Cops React
It is ludicrous to hear the governments of the world cry for Thailand to "restore democracy." I wonder what they would have said if Thailand had imploded into a state of civil war with thousands dead in the streets. Oh, wait a minute. Isn't that happening in Syria, just as it did in Cambodia and other places? The world's "great powers" love to pay lip service to what they think is just and right, but none have stepped in stop conflict and to save lives. Instead, they prefer to gripe about skirmishes they cannot control and bask in the glory of their ultimate power.
There has been no democracy here for a decade. To (once again) quote U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who I admire very much, even though he was one to plead for a "return to democracy" on behalf of the Obama administration: "A democracy is not defined solely by an election." (Personally I would add "especially if the majority of the votes are bought and paid for with 1,000 baht, a bag of rice or a hand full of Viagra, or magic beans for that matter.") He went on to say some very poignant things about the other ingredients that are required for a democracy to exist, many of which are slipping away in his own country. go back to up to February 28 and 01 March to read his remarks. Or do rules about democracy apply only apply to the Ukrane?
The U.S. is punishing Thailand by withdrawing about one third of its $10 million annual foreign aid. Honestly, $10 million is a pathetic joke. It costs more to operate Air Force One for a year. Thailand, particularly its military, has been America's oldest, most trusted, valuable ally for nearly two centuries. The Vietnam and Korean wars would not have been possible without Thailand's strategic help. Israel gets more than $3 billion annually. Columbia, Pakistan and Liberia, which are hardly loyal friends of the USA, each get hundreds of millions a year.
America has its head up its ass about Thailand and Americans have a very distorted and incomplete view of Thai politics and history, which is why I have been writing this single episode of my blog for nearly six months. U.S. ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kennedy has done nothing to enlighten her government or her people. She lives isolated in a mansion on the edge of a massive CIA compound in the center of the city. She has never bothered to talk to any of the players in the recent political conflicts. Indeed, she strictly forebade any embassy staff from doing so, or even going to see a demonstration first hand. She should be put out to pasture and John Kerry should, if he really wants to know what is happening in Thailand, put his dogma aside and find someone who is truly committed to understanding Thailand to replace her. Hire me. If this situation continues to kill off business I might need a new job pretty soon and I have not been able to pay my own salary this month.
TV was off the air for three days but it is working again except for CNN, BBC, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, Chinese, French and Australian, and other international news channels. There have never been no interruption of the internet, of traffic, or of shopping. There has been a 10:00 p.m. curfew, but that will probably end soon.
Thailand has for months been on the brink of armed civil conflict. While PDRC has fought with words, it is the red shirts who have been preparing to do the shooting. Twenty-three red shirts were arrested in three different apartments in one building in Khon Kaen on Saturday. They were interrupted by soldiers as they were planning terrorist activities and making bombs. An arsenal of weapons, vehicles, red shirt membership cards, and "training documents" were confiscated. (Do the red shirts really publish how-to-be-a-terrorist handbooks?) Honestly, I cannot remember hearing of a single seizure of major stores of weapons while the police were doing police work. The national police chief and the head of Department of Special Investigations (DSI, something like the FBI, although operating most recently as a political arm of the former prime minister Yingluck) have both been reassigned a do-nothing jobs. Hopefully, honest-to-goodness policemen are now doing their jobs.
Yingluck has been released from her safe house. Most of the other major players are still relaxing and soul-searching. Those PDRC, red shirt and Pheu Thai leaders still in custody apparently did not like the idea of sharing safe houses and had to be separated. General Prayuth is like a fed-up parent who has sent kids who fight with each other to their rooms to cool off. The daily list of people being called in for a talking-to is growing more fascinating...corporate tycoons who have bankrolled the Pheu Thai party, the former leader of the now-defunct (get that news outlets? defunct.) yellow shirt organization, and police brass who attended the police academy with Thaksin. Prayuth is systematically drawing lines in the sand with potential trouble-makers, while slowly releasing Thaksin's grip.
The senate has been dissolved. Those who violate the State of Emergency or defame the Royal Institution will be tried in military courts, not civil courts. The military plan to install a legislative body, which will re-draft the constitution and implement reforms in preparation for an election. As an American I should be shocked by all of this until I remind myself that American politics are hardly a model for democracy since Washington is completely dysfunctional. Nothing happens in Washington because of partisan politics like red shirts and PDRC leaders stuck in the same safe house, and because some people just can't stand the idea of an African American in the White House. Too bad there is nobody in Washington to send members of the legislative branch to their respective bedrooms for a time-out.
My sister suggested that I write John Kerry a letter. "He might even read it," she said. Maybe that sounds funny only to me.
General Prayuth has received Royal Endorsement from His Majesty the King, a traditional formality that recognizes all new governments.
Suthep and nearly 30 other key leaders of the PDRC have been released from their safe houses by the military. The only people still under lock and key are one journalist from The Nation newspaper group and all of the red shirt leaders, who apparently are staying drunk and playing cards. (A physical altercation broke out when one lost three million baht. That's nearly $100,000!)
Investigators have found that the weapon used to kill four PDRC demonstrators (including two children) in Trat last February was among those confiscated in a raid six days ago. The woman arrested at the time was not apparently using them for self defense after all. Red Shirt leaders in custody may know of other armed terrorist cells, which is a good reason to keep them where they are.
The military busted into the red shirt radio station in Chiang Mai today that has been the group's de facto HQ. They removed weapons, materials used to make so-called "ping pong bombs," Kevlar vests, and a giant portrait of Thaksin Shinawatra. Honestly, I would not mind having that. I still have a billboard-sized picture of Barry Goldwater. These might make kitschy wallpaper some day.
The Cambodian government has made it clear that they do not want to play host to a Thai "government in exile." Apparently Thaksin's lawyer made some remarks that sparked a lot of speculation about what plans might be afoot.
One of my readers reports that news in the U.S. about the situation here has been "spotty" at best. He especially loved the report that Thailand had become a "police state!" Kill your TV. He later said he might be interested in relocating to our heavenly little police state some day.
Payments to rice farmers began yesterday, too late to avoid the many suicides that occurred because the previous government failed to do the decent and honorable thing. Farmers who participated in the massively-corrupt "rice pledging scheme" have been waiting for more than six months to get money owed to them. These payments are in the nick of time since farmers will now be able to afford seed for the next crop. At last we all have something to smile about besides news about a lot of bad people being locked up.