Tongue-Thai’ed!: An insult to the PM, a libel suit and an avalanche of poor decisionsBy Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices May 10, 2013 11:00AM UTC
This is part XIX of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, in which we encapsulate the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures – in short: everything we hear that makes us go “Huh?!”. Check out all past entries here.
In her tenure for almost two years now, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra generally comes across as a restrained, non-aggressive politician who generally shys away from personally addressing controversial issues or being confrontative – mostly for the sake of a shaky stability.
However, many saw Yingluck’s recent speech in Mongolia as the end of Ms. Nice PM. In her speech at a conference of democratic countries in late April she addressed the importance of democracy in Thailand, praising the red shirts who have elected her into office and her brother and former prime minister Thaksin for his achievements (overlooking his wrongdoings) before he was toppled by the military and other forces in what Yingluck called an “undemocratic regime”.
For many observers, this was an uncharacteristically sharp and committed speech (more on the speech itself in a future Siam Voices post). For her critics, it’s the ultimate proof of her being solely Thaksin’s puppet and they have been taking to social media platforms to yet again vent their anger at the prime minister, her government, her brother, the red shirts and everybody else they perceive as a threat to the nation.
One of these was “Chai Ratchawatra” aka Somchai Katanyutanan, a well-known political cartoonist at the Thai language daily Thai Rath, who commented on his personal Facebook account:
โปรดเข้าใจ กระหรี่ไม่ใช่หญิงคนชั่ว กระหรี่แค่เร่ขายตัว แต่หญิงคนชั่วเที่ยวเร่ขายชาติ
Please understand: whores are not evil. They just sell their bodies. But an evil woman is going around selling her country.
Facebook post by “Chai Ratchawatra”, approx. May 1, 2013
This vile and nasty remark spread around Facebook very quickly among both pro- and anti-Yingluck camps and has unsurprisingly sparked condemnation and commendation respectively (and in the light of such a horrendously sexist insult, Thailand’s leading feminists have remained quiet again (and again).
The first to react were sections of the red shirts that have almost immediately converged with 100 people to the Thai Rath headquarters to demand an apology and also bizarrely laid a funeral wreath with the cartoonist’s name on it, which could be perceived as a threat. Also, the ruling Pheu Thai Party slammed Chai’s slandering, saying the cartoonist “lost his mind.”
What then followed though is a bizarre series of poor decisions and even poorer remarks from across the political spectrum that warrants this XXL-sized “Tongue-Thai’ed!” in three acts – this is going to be a long one…!
Act 1: The MICT’s wrathful verbal rampage
Shortly after the controversy was about to fade, Prime Minister Yingluck (again unprecedentedly) filed a lawsuit against Chai Ratchawatra for defamation last Friday. As understandable the suit is, it did make the head of the Thai government look thin-skinned (no matter how vile and sexist the insults are) and the timing couldn’t have been any worse: of all days, that Friday was also World Press Freedom Day and that move also reminds of Thaksin’s past rigorous handling of critical press.
However, the government’s enemies got even more fodder for their
fake sanctimonious outrage in the guise of Anudith Nakornthap, Minister of Information and Communications Technology (MICT), who went on record pledging to shut down any websites that contains criticism of the PM. Obviously, he had to defend his stance…
The Information and Communications Technology Ministry had been misunderstood and accused of blocking people’s right to free speech following attacks from “ill-intentioned people”, Minister Anudith Nakornthap said.
The ministry had no mandate to shut down websites on its own, and would normally need a court order to do that, he added. However, defamatory remarks about the prime minister could cause a site to be immediately suspended. (…)
Meanwhile, the ICT minister confirmed reports of his vow to take action related to criticism against Yingluck. He insisted he was doing his duty and that he had the authority to do so.
He urged anyone who finds offensive messages on the Net to report them so the ministry could ask the web administrator to immediately remove the messages.
“My right to close anti-PM websites, minister claims“, The Nation, May 8, 2013
This is in line with his previous anti-free speech remarks to crack down on dissenting voices “more stringently” and “by enforcing the law to the fullest”, mainly lèse majesté-related content. Anudith also previously went on record threatening to criminalize even simple Facebook ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, probably now by his logic also opinions critical against the prime minister, who has given her blessing to Anudith’s vowed online crackdown – so far, there have been no reports of blocked websites or netizens hit by lawsuits.
Act 2: The Democrat’s sanctimonious outrage
The MICT’s vow of course created a huge opportunity for the Democrat Party to condemn the PM and the MICT for “violation of democratic principles”, spearheaded by former prime minister and party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and deputy spokesperson Malika Boonmeetrakul. This is the same Democrat Party with the same persons that have allowed the MICT during the tenure of the Abhisit administration to create the ‘Cyber Scouts’ volunteer force for monitoring dissenting voices online and to draft a worse version of the Computer Crimes Act than we already have.
Their party members have also gone on record endorsing online censorship, especially in lèse majesté cases ,so much so that the aforementioned Malika Boomeetrakul has called for a complete shutdown of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter in the most extreme cases – and that coming from a former journalist, no less!
Act 3: The self-inflicted hack attack
But the absolute climax in this saga was an almost self-inflicted blow for the prime minister and the MICT:
Hackers got into the PM’s Office website (www.opm.go.th) yesterday and posted (…) the picture of Yingluck laughing, captioned: “I know I am the worst Prime Minister ever in Thai history.” The hacker also changed a menu item listing Yingluck’s Cabinet on the top left-hand corner of the page with a very rude sentence.
“Hackers name PM the worst ever in Thai history“, The Nation, May 9, 2013
Anudith’s words have goaded reactionary hackers to take over one of Thailand’s official websites, which have been notoriously unsafe and in some cases a cesspool of potential malware, apart from being bloated with useless graphic and auto-play music elements. This incident is a big embarrassment for the authorities, since the MICT has just recently announced an overhaul of government websites – guess they better start sooner rather than later!
The ‘very rude sentence’ has been widely withheld in Thai media outlets (probably fearing Anudith’s and the MICT’s wrath). The line is “I’m a slutty moron”, or as the as the Bangkok Post has wittingly paraphrased it: “The message made derogatory remarks about the premier’s intelligence and sexual morality.”
Having learnt from the debacle after Yingluck’s Twitter account was ‘hacked’ in October 2011 and not finding the suspect until he turned himself in, the authorities have already quickly identified the hacker suspect and he is reportedly going to surrender to the police.
That is hopefully going to be the last chapter in this undignified saga, in which nobody really looks good – from the initial nasty sexist comment by the Thai Rath cartoonist, the PM’s lawsuit against him and the MICT’s verbal crackdown, the opposition’s misplaced outrage to the hacked government website.
This is the partisan ridiculousness in its purest concentrated form that blows a side-shows out of proportions and also detracts from the most important issue(s) here: Prime Minister Yingluck’s speech itself!
About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and reports for international news media like Channel NewsAsia. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.