This is the second and final part of the Siam Voices year-in-review. Yesterday in part 1, we looked at the year of prime minister’s government, that of the opposition and the prevailing impunity over the 2010 crackdown.
Lese majeste: Cowardice in the face of first victim
One topic we expected to continue to play a role in 2012 is the draconian lèse majesté law and its unjust application to crack down on alleged dissent voices. And in many ways – despite the release of Thai-American Joe Gordon and an ‘only’ suspended sentence against Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn for not deleting monarchy-insulting web comments quickly enough – it unfortunately still made headlines for the wrong reasons.
The death of Amphon “Akong” Tangnoppakul marked what could be argued the first victim of lèse majesté. The 64-year-old retiree was serving a 20 year sentence for allegedly sending four defamatory text messages to the personal secretary of Abhisit Vejjajiva (despite inconclusive evidence). Having repeatedly being denied bail and suffering bad health, Akong died in detention on May 8. Obviously, his death sparked universal condemnation against the law – almost: Thailand politicians showed little sympathy and interest to do something about the arbitrary law, with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra insisting not to do anything to change Article 112 of the Criminal Code.
Up until this point, the heated discussion about how to amend or if not abolish the law altogether was ongoing. Leading this debate was the Nitirat group, a collective of reformist law academics from Thammasat University, amidst considerable uproar. And it was that university that had a reputation for being one of the more liberal institutions in this country that was struggling and battling with itself, which led to one of the most astonishing sights of this year: of all people, journalism students (!) were seen protesting against Nitirat and the reform of the lèse majesté law by saying “Don’t use knowledge to distort morality!”
The chances that the law will be somehow changed (or even just remotely touched by politicians) remain slim as two incidents have shown that it is untouchable: the Constitutional Court rejected a petition by Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Ekachai Hongkangwan, both currently on trial for lèse majesté, as it does not see the constitutional right to free speech being violated by Article 112 of the Criminal Code. In another story, a bill petition proposing to amend the law – signed by over 30,000 – was dismissed by the speaker of the parliament.
Emerging neighbors: Thailand’s geo-political opportunities and blunders
This past year showed the rapid rise of neighboring Myanmar, as the country carefully progresses economically and politically – despite the unmasking of the ugly side of the Burmese pro-democracy movement regarding the genocide against the Rohingya – and other countries of course are in a gold rush mood, as they see new investment opportunities and also to grow their regional influence.
Thailand was one of the few countries that already did business with its neighbor before the change and the upcoming industrial area and deep sea port in Dawei on Myanmar’s west coast is the biggest of them. But we reported at the beginning of this year that the mega-project ran into some problems and also caused the Thai government to reconsider their commitment. However, after a visit by Prime Minister Yingluck to Myanmar it seems to be on track again.
A different story shows how Thailand has lost some regional credibility: When NASA planned to use the Thai naval airbase in U-Tapao for atmospheric research study, the opposition Democrat Party drummed up nationalistic outrage and tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists came out crawling again – conveniently forgetting that…
Officials have noted that the Democrats, now opposed to the NASA initiative, approved the program while in power in 2010 and that it would not entail the use of military aircraft.
“Baseless controversy over Thailand’s U-Tapao“, Asia Times One, June 22, 2012
It was petty domestic political squabbles that eventually led the annoyed NASA to kill the project and gave Thailand a huge slap to the face geo-politically for not being able to sort itself out.
While the prime minister was busy traveling the world this year to bolster economical ties (read our exclusive report on her visit to Germany and France here), Thailand needs to take charge in the ASEAN region (and without looking down on its neighbors), if it doesn’t want to loose relevancy.
The exploits of “ThaiMiniCult” in 2012: Mammophobia!
Of course it wouldn’t be Siam Voices if we wouldn’t monitor the self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything “Thai”-ness – or in short “ThaiMiniCult”. And while this year they have been noticeably less outraged in quantity, there were still instances when we could only shake our heads.
There was for example the ThaiMiniCult that was rumored (and thank god it was only a rumor) to order that “100 per cent males” shouldn’t play transgender roles on TV. Or some arbitrary survey that blames Facebook for teen pregnancies, only to find out that it was lazy journalism that caused that headline, while the real problem of nearly non-existing sexual education is being swept under the carpet. Or the MP that was caught looking up some naughty pictures on his phone in parliament.
But probably the most noticeable media outrage (and also the most-clicked Siam Voices story of 2012) was the ‘controversy’ over the literally bare-breasted painting performance on the TV show “Thailand’s Got Talent” that caused one of the judges to throw a sanctimonious tantrum on national TV and a moral witch-hunt. In the end, it turns out that the producers have “hired” her for a staged controversy. However, given how Thais reacted (or claimed to react) to this brouhaha, it was in many ways revealing.
What else happened this year? (in no particular order)
– The four-part series on Thai Education Failures by our regular Siam Voices contributor Kaewmala is a must-read! Be it ridiculous O-Net questions, questionable standardization, our poor international performance and lacking English proficiencies – our archaic education system is in dire need of change! And what does the Pheu Thai government do? Give away free tablets…!
– A rape case in Krabi, the disgusting denial by the Thai tourism minister in order to ‘protect’ the image and a father’s creative plea for justice.
– Thais being outraged at Lady Gaga for tweeting the intention of buying a fake Rolex while most of the population otherwise willingly ignores the countless counterfeit markets, and after campaigns by outraged religious groups in the Philippines and Indonesia to ban her concerts, looking rather silly and childish…!
– In upside-down world news this year: The reactionary right-wing ASTV/Manager (media outlet of the anti-democratic yellow shirts) accuses the blatantly anti-Thaksin The Nation (an attempt of a newspaper) of being pro-Thaksin – mind blown!
– “Double, double toil and trouble;” – Thailand’s movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” gets banned, but not for the depiction of regicide, rather for the depiction of another “Dear Leader” and the disparagement of his followers.
– Three Iranian terrorists literally blowing up their cover on Valentine’s Day in the middle of Bangkok after a warning by the United States Embassy and the immediate arrest of a Hezbollah suspect a month before that and the tweeting motorcycle taxi driver that got the scoop of his lifetime. And deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung as the spiritual successor of the former Iraqi information minister by saying that there’s “absolutely no terrorism” in the kingdom.
– Deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung as our new regular contributor to the “Tongue-Thai’ed!“-segments and coming up with the most creative name for the new command center in the South!
– The tsunami scare in April and the failure of Thai TV to inform the public because of a royal cremation ceremony.
– The Dhammakāya Movement’s newest revelation: the afterlife of Apple’s Steve Jobs…!
– The visit of US President Barack Obama to Thailand, and his meeting with Yingluck Shinwatra and half of the internet not able to be mature about it.
– The Bangkok Futsal Arena fiasco, as the city has failed to construct a purposed-built arena in time for FIFA Futsal World Cup and thus embarrassing themselves on a world stage.
– The return of the fraudulent bomb-sniffing device also known as the GT200, essentially a horrendously overpriced empty plastic shell with a dowsing rod. It’s ineffectiveness has been proven since 2010, but it has emerged that the bogus device is still in use by the armed forces for the simple reason that there’s “no alternative” but to keep on using it until there’s a replacement, while soldiers are unnecessarily risking their lives more than they should because of this fraud, whose UK manufacturer has been charged this year.
– Thailand has FINALLY reached the early 21st century with the arrival of real 3G network coverage after an eternal farce and one last court decision – while neighboring Laos is preparing for 4G already…!
– And last, but not least: The still undisputed, most coherent article by The Nation – EVER!
I’d like to thank my co-writers and editors at Siam Voices and Asian Correspondent for their contributions and work this year, and YOU, the readers, for the support, feedback, criticism, links and retweets! Here’s to an eventful, exciting 2013 that brings us news, changes, developments to discuss and report for all the right reasons! Happy New Year!
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent based in Bangkok, Thailand. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and is also reports for international news media such as Channel NewsAsia. You can follow him on Twitter @Saksith.