Life under the Thai junta in 2014 – Part 2: The perils of ‘different thoughts’
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Life under the Thai junta in 2014 – Part 2: The perils of ‘different thoughts’

IN Part 1, I focused on attitude and how it relates to happiness. Life under the Thai junta in 2014 has not been and need not be a hardship, provided you have the right attitude. This second part discusses the dark side of different political thoughts in the happiness regime.

The Happy Sunday polls reported every week show that the upward 80-90% of Thais are “happy” and “satisfied” with the situation. We also hear directly from dear ‘Uncle P’ (affectionate nickname for our new dear leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order and prime minister).

Every Friday night Uncle P explains to us in great detail how improvements are being made in various aspects of our country. He used to talk for much over an hour but, as much Happiness has been returned, his recent must-carry Return to Happiness program has shortened to just about half an hour — a sign of progress and a kind consideration to many citizens addicted to prime time TV soap operas.

Despite all this, some people are still determined to be un-Happy. They just can’t stop themselves expressing political thoughts and even discontent. In late August, then still also army chief, Uncle P noted in an almost two-hour Friday speech that resistance remained active with “ill-intentioned” people continuing to use social media, distributing leaflets, and circulating anonymous letters making “false accusations” to discredit the government.

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Junta leader and Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. Pic: AP.

I’ve always said that we want to create a reconciliation atmosphere so that the reform can be carried out quickly but many people still try to destabilize the situation by using the words ‘democracy’ and ‘election’. These people don’t see that an incomplete democracy is not safe and it does not create confidence in the global community. (Thai PBS)

It is true that many Thais are still too attached to the word “democracy”. I have seen that excessive use of the word can cause agitation and nausea among those finding the word synonymous with corruption and an anathema to morality and good governance.

Uncle P himself has asked the un-Happy people to refrain from using the words “democracy” and “election” for the benefit of the country and it does seem that the word “election” has been uttered much less often recently. At this stage we don’t know for certain the timing of the next, er, election, but “democracy” is a sticky word, along with a few others.

Activists, academics, students and even some politicians stubbornly insisted on organizing events discussing provocative topics like human rights and justice, ‘Fall of Foreign Dictator’, our plot – whose land?, land tax reform, rights and freedom of the people, and desirable parliament and hope for democracy. The last three were from last week alone. All were planned and banned— (or rather the organizers “cooperated” and cancelled the event).

At the aborted seminar on land tax (at a bookstore of all places), the organizers were told they had “no permission” and that any discussion about rights, even children’s or women’s rights, were “not allowed.” Indeed, seminar organizers were asked to request for approval in advance, which didn’t sit well with some professors. What these un-Happy people don’t sufficiently appreciate is the idea that Region 1 Police Commissioner Pol Maj Gen Amnuay Nimmano once expressed:

People with different thoughts will have the tendency to create violence.

Political thoughts in particular. But don’t start tossing about foreign slogans like “thought crime” just yet. Freedom of thought is still legal in Thailand, mind. Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan confirmed only last week that Thais are still allowed to think, even quietly disagree with the government. In his own words:

The government is currently working to build reconciliation. We don’t want any disputes. If anyone disagrees with the NCPO, they have the right to think that way. But they cannot express that [disagreement], strictly. (Khaosod English)

So hold the dramatics. Thailand is not North Korea yet, although the two countries are tightening ties and considering an education cooperation program. Authorities have said on multiple occasions that people can express their views, but at appropriate places and times (and presumably with appropriate speakers too). Like the energy reform forum led by right-wing monk Buddha Issara two weeks ago. Organizing a seminar on a questionable topic in a bookstore, university lecture hall, press club or cultural center without first asking for permission was not the right way to go. Expressing provocative thoughts on a mountaintop was not smart either, in the case of two women who, instead of enjoying beautiful scenery like everyone else, had to display illegal messages at the scenic tourist location and posted a picture of themselves on Facebook! No wonder they were “invited for a talk” when the soldiers caught up with them after driving around looking for them for two days. They were released, after having their “attitude adjusted”. PrayuthChanOchaMay26-621x343  PrachataiMountainWomen  Source: Prachatai The two women were told freedom of expression would be allowed in September 2015, when the second phase of reform starts. So it will be a test for them and the rest of us Thais to keep political thoughts to ourselves until then. (Some of us may need to keep a private diary. Ten months is a long time.) Media have also been asked to refrain from reporting provocative political thoughts to the public — political thoughts not in line with those of our leaders to be precise. Most mainstream Thai media are generally obliging to the military anyhow, so not much problem there. But new and politically active satellite TV stations playing an important part in national conflicts are wild cards, given they had been a little too intensely “colorful”— yellow, red and blue — and yet they agreed to end politicized reporting in late August. They even helpfully changed their station names to avoid stirring unhappy memories. All these measures and some people still remain strongly attached to their thoughts and the need to express them, as if determined to be discontent. This is inexplicable to many of my fellow Thais, some of whom have asked angrily, “Would you die, if you couldn’t say what you think?” Well, my guess is that they wouldn’t die necessarily, but I’m not sure if “truth”, “dignity” or “freedom” as a one-word answer would satisfy.

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Five Khon Kaen students were carted off after making the three-finger salute in front of junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha. Image via Dao Din Facebook page.

Some people who are skeptical of notions like rights and freedom have wondered about the motive of the five Khon Kaen University students who flashed the Hunger Games salute clad in black t-shirts bearing a message “No coup d’état” in front of Uncle P last week. “Who was behind them?” “Were they paid?” These are typical questions posed about anyone determined to express unapproved ideas. (The students’ full statement explaining their motive can be read here.) The protest by the five Khon Kaen law students marked the six months anniversary of the military coup and a resurgence of anti-NCPO protests in Thailand, despite police warning since last June that anyone flashing the three-finger salute could face arrest and up to seven years’ jail, and political gatherings of more than five persons is illegal and subject to up to two years’ jail or up to 40,000 baht (US$1,220) or both. Yet, sets of three-fingers continue to be thrust skywards, hand-written placards are popping up, and anti-NCPO leaflets are again littering the streets and university campuses, including in toilets. “An eyesore… unconstructive… biased,” said the NCPO spokesman of the leaflets. PrayuthChanOchaMay26-621x343  PrachataiMountainWomen  KhonKaenStudents  ThailandLeaflets  Source: Prachatai It is relatively easy for authorities to identify the protesting students and give them “attitude adjustment” because they advertise their activities on social media. But not all culprits are so helpful, so authorities had to sometimes rely on CCTV cameras to track down the offenders, like this well-to-do man who when finally caught confessed to littering the grounds around the Democracy Monument with his leaflets.  

 

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Follow these links to read the other instalments:

Life under the Thai junta in 2014 – Part 1: On attitude and happiness

Life under the Thai junta in 2014 – Part 3: Happy, C’est la vie, or Ud-ad?

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PrayuthChanOchaMay26-621x343  PrachataiMountainWomen  KhonKaenStudents  ThailandLeaflets  SV_Kaewmala  About the author:
Kaewmala is a writer, a blogger and an avid twitterer. She blogs at thaiwomantalks.com and is a provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics @thai_talk. Kaewmala is the author of a book that looks at the linguistic and cultural aspects of Thai sexuality called “Thai Love Talk”.