FIFTEEN months on, life under the Thai junta has changed quite a bit from the life we were accustomed to before the fateful coup on May 22, 2014. In some ways we have gotten used to living in the new thought space designed by the junta, a dimension of reality where surrealistic results bubble to the surface and often erupt with the unintended consequences of being very funny, only sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
It wasn’t that long ago when we smugly laughed with the world at the wacky Dear Leader Kim, but now we have a world-famous dear leader of our own and North Korea is our newfound friend. Some among us begin to find appeal in the exotic North Korean ‘freedom’, ‘happiness’, and ‘uniqueness’.
Though many of us choose to laugh, the endless newspeak, doublespeak and duckspeak in the increasingly quacky daily news cycle have been an assault on our senses. We’re told by a tireless stream of national polls that we are still happy and things are steadily looking up, but our happiness feels numb and the national prospect dim. In our collective descent into the rabbit hole, as though we were characters in ‘Alice in Thailand’, we laugh together and at each other in our zany land.
We poke, we joke, we make ourselves butts of jokes. Hilarity has become our new national pastime as we strive to quell our fear, manage our frustration and anger, and self-censor, that is, we adjust our own attitude or we get an ‘invitation’ to help it get adjusted for us. The formerly happy-go-lucky country of ours is experiencing a nervous breakdown, but at least it seems we’re all going down together — some sooner than others perhaps.
For those of us who insist on thinking, thinly disguised as jesting (or is it the other way around?), Facebook and Twitter are our big support groups for ill-adjusted, hyperactive jesters. We are living in a regime of infinite jest, says columnist Kong Rithdee.
Living under the new regime of infinite jest has stretched not only our imagination and mental health, but also our vocabulary to navigate and comprehend our new surreal life. We are sometimes unsure whether what we think must be a joke is really a joke, as we realize our country has come to a point where reality is more absurd than satire.
For those not constantly glued to the 24/7 news cycle on social media like me and my hyperactive jester friends and less familiar with the new Thai political speak, I have compiled this glossary to aid your navigation. The glossary is organized by theme. Some terms (the ‘hospitality’ section) are from my previous articles on the first 6 months of life under the Thai junta. Certainly there will be more but I hope the list provides a starter guide for better ‘understanding’ (as you shall see there is understanding and there is ‘understanding’).
Now that it seems we are in for a longer ride down the Thai rabbit hole in search of ‘true democracy’, we need ever more tools to deal with what awaits us. Brace yourself, for we will be hit with events that will keep getting “curiouser and curiouser” as more wonder if what we hear really means what we think it means. We may start asking ourselves, like the Mad Hatter, “Have I gone mad?” Living in present Thailand, even if you don’t want to go among mad people, you can’t help it, as we’re all mad here! I’m mad (certainly, as I am writing this). You’re mad (or you wouldn’t have come here). And if you are confused whether some of the things you will be reading down below is real or fantasy, forgive me, as I am doing my best to explain what I think things mean as I find them. Just think of me as your Alice in Thai Juntaland.
Throughout the first half year and around the first-year anniversary of the latest ‘military intervention’ we Thais became very well acquainted with the new mode of official hospitality under the new regime.
Invitation = 1) ‘request’ to report oneself at a police station or military camp ‘for a talk’ or a ‘discussion’ (i.e. questioning) about one’s activity deemed not conducive to peace and order and happiness of the country, not synonymous with ‘arrest’; 2) official summons to report at a military facility (announced almost nightly on national television during the first few weeks, later helpfully delivered at private homes and offices), failure to report oneself will result in a less friendly invitation and subsequent extended accommodation at one of the government facilities, going into exile, or living as a fugitive abroad.
Invited for a coffee = slang term, arising from an incident in which a previously ‘invited’ individual was asked to meet with a military personnel to ‘have a coffee’ at a neighborhood café which turned out to be another ‘invitation’.
Discussion, talk (see attitude adjustment).
Attitude adjustment = a ‘talk’ or ‘discussion’ session with military or police personnel which results from the ‘invitation’ and/or ‘accommodation’ which has the primary aim to ‘adjust the thinking’ of the invited/accommodated person or persons to achieve an ‘understanding’ that their activity is harmful to national peace and order and creating conflict in Thai society and, if the invited/accommodated person desires to be released, he or she will sign a written agreement (a prepared form) not to engage in the same or similarly divisive or harmful activities or express political opinions in the future, or face more serious invitations.
Request for cooperation = a ‘request’ by military or police personnel to stop engaging in politically suggestive activity, failure to cooperate results in an ‘invitation’.
Accommodation = provision of free food and lodging for up to 7 days at a time at a given military facility in the early months after the May 22, 2014 ‘military intervention’ without access to a phone or Internet and without charge (as allowed by martial law circa 1914 and its replacement Section 44 of the 2014 Interim Constitution currently in effect), or for a shorter period of time (hours or overnight) at a military camp or police station; not synonymous with ‘detention’.
Meditation = spending a ‘quiet time’ under the care of soldiers in a military camp ‘away from distractions of the outside world’ in an undisclosed location without distracting contact with family and friends, the effect of such a meditation can result in being ‘happier than words can say’ (example); not synonymous with ‘enforced disappearance’.
THOUGHTS & INTENTIONS
Thinking and holding independent opinions and ideas can be hazardous under the new regime. No, it doesn’t mean that thinking or having thoughts is forbidden, or illegal. We Thais are still allowed to think and have thoughts, only we must know the right time and place to express them and realize whether our thoughts would be deemed ‘different’ or not. Invariably it comes down to ‘intentions’.
Different thought = the kind of thought that differs from or challenges the official doctrine, policies or positions; thought that is ‘unconstructive’, ‘uncreative’, ‘provocative’, or ‘divisive’; best kept to oneself for the sake of reconciliation as suggested by General Prawit Wongsuwan, the deputy prime minister; applies especially to political thoughts; examples of ‘different political thoughts’ that have earned people official visits and ‘invitations’ include strong conviction in equality, human rights, the importance of election in electoral democracy, and particularly unaccountable dislike of ‘military interventions’; not to be confused with the concept of ‘thought crime’ promoted in some book by a dead foreign author.
Ill-intentioned = describes opinions characteristic of ‘different thoughts’ which have a propensity to create disagreements, conflicts and division in society (“Different thoughts have a tendency to create violence,” said a police commissioner); individuals or groups on the opposing side of authorities, in particular those believed to have a link with a certain someone overseas, are prone to be ill-intentioned; applies to verbal expressions (e.g., comments, criticism), gestures and actions (e.g., flashing three fingers, wearing provocative T-shirt, performing a provocative play, organizing a political campaign, scheming to instigate violence behind the scene).
Freedom of expression = freedom to say what one thinks or believes, which in November 2014 was promised to become available after September 2015 in the second stage of the national reform process; the September 2015 freedom schedule may need to be postponed given more time needed for reform, so meanwhile it is advisable to check for specific instructions from national leaders as to what is allowed and what not; usually criticisms of various things and people are prohibited and specific conditions may apply, for example, until the draft constitution was voted down this Sunday, criticisms of it was prohibited, and going forward while it is permissible to comment on the reform roadmap, only supportive comments are allowed as per the prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha; it is also advisable to note that permission to speak may also depend on the speakers and their intentions, for example, ‘good people’ with ‘good intentions’ can hold a press conference in support of the government’s constitution and roadmap, while ‘(ungood) people’ with a track record of negative intentions are not allowed because their expression may “potentially cause confusion, adversely affect unity, peace and order.”
Good people = people who by nature have ‘good intentions’ which are first and foremost to uphold and protect the three pillars of Thai society (the Nation, Religions and Monarchy), the embodiment of Thainess—what it means to be Thai; people who appreciate Thailand’s blessed uniqueness, have gratitude and respect for elders, have discipline and respect for the law, have correct understanding of democracy and other good virtues (see also ‘12 Values’).
Good intention (see ‘good people’)
12 Values = a set of values that define Thainess, conceived by General Prayuth Chan-ocha; praised as ‘flawless’ by the education minister in the first Prayuth administration and integrated into Thai school curriculum—students are required to recite them daily; Thai 12 Values compare extremely favorably in the area of ethics and civic duty to neighboring ASEAN nations in education of youths (see the graphic below).
Understanding = state of realization and spontaneous ability to grasp the essence of Thainess, and thereby achieving appreciation of its significance which in turn results in agreement, acceptance and support of the position at hand.
Double standard (does not exist as all Thais on all political sides, be they ‘good people’ or ‘ungood people’, are under the same law; anyone claiming otherwise is mistaken).
“What makes people equal is the law and the use of law that is just.”*
—General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Military intervention = sudden seizure of power by the military from elected but deeply corrupt government, with the purpose to restore peace and order and national unity, and to eradicate ‘corruption’; preferred to negative term ‘military coup’
Section 44 = an article in the 2014 interim constitution of Thailand in effect since May 22, 2014 ‘military intervention’; in April 2015 this security order replaced martial law, under which all political gatherings were not permissible and the military were obligated by law to oversee a wide range of issues; different-thinking critics of the regime tend to view Section 44 as “worse than martial law” giving General Prayuth the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) leader “unlimited, unchecked, unaccountable, sweeping powers,” and “leaving the door open to serious human rights violations and”—gasp—“annihilates freedom of expression”—these are all hyperboles!; Section 44 simply allows security forces to make invitations without a court warrant and accommodate people without legal charge just as under martial law, but provides additional effective measures to enforce law and order by making soldiers law enforcement officers alongside the police; it allows military officers to invite, accommodate, visit people at their residence or workplace, initiate discussion to create understanding, and carry out legal procedures in military court; most importantly, Section 44 entrusts in the NCPO leader swift decision-making power that bypasses normally ineffective and slow executive, legislative and judicial branches; any order or action issued under NCPO directives is legal, constitutional and final (more details here); Section 44 has thus far been put to good use, from eradicating illegal overpriced sales of lottery tickets and arresting human traffickers and bomb suspects, to removing official rank of a notorious political fugitive.
Constitution = the highest law of the land and a historically contentious legal document which has failed to satisfy everybody despite its aim to achieve national unity and happiness for all Thai citizens; as a result, after each ‘military intervention’ the existing constitution is cancelled and a new one redrawn to restart the process over again; the draft constitution freshly rejected after a year of drafting would have been Thailand’s 20th since 1932; some critics have described it as “troubling,” “turning back the clock,” “curbing power of elected politicians,” “weakening the democratic process,” or even (very rudely) “a nasty piece of work!” mostly because they failed to get the point; the draft constitution (see analysis), which the drafters themselves hailed as the most democratic charter Thailand has ever had, would not “legalize military interventions” as some misled critics have alleged; this draft constitution’s purpose was to uphold the Nation, Religions and Monarchy; it would rely on the ‘good people’ to supervise the political process with full participation of citizens in combating corruption by politicians at all levels with specific measures to implement reforms to reduce inequalities, ensure justice, and prevent future violence; a pity the opportunity to “recognize the people as the sovereign” has been lost with the rejection of this draft by the National Reform Council (NRC); the struggle for the appropriate constitution of Thailand hence continues on the path towards democracy—when one option is struck down alternative paths must be sought.
Crisis panel = officially the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Commission (NSRRC), the most wonderful feature, if somewhat controversial, in the rejected draft constitution; a 23-member body, NSRRC comprises appointees from the army, navy, air force and police, as well as former house speaker, former prime minister, judges, and experts chosen by parliament or like body; critics called it ‘undemocratic’ which is misleading, for the purpose of the NSRRC is to ensure peace and order in times of national crisis by experienced good people who put national interests before their own; like a ‘super board’ this body would have a five-year tenure after the constitution comes into effect (had it not been rejected), tasked with overseeing corruption-prone elected government, as well as initiating reform policies and intervening in times of conflict that leads to violence; it is fervently hoped that this feature will be retained in the next draft constitution; not to be confused with ‘pulitburo’.
Rule of law (see ‘Section 44’)
“The law is the law” = a phrase that needs to be frequently uttered to remind those given to questioning official law enforcement and treatment of citizens, especially those with ‘different thoughts’.
Politicians = the embodiment of immorality and corruption; unusually rich, greedy, untrustworthy, heavy load on the motherland (in the words of the eminent legal scholar Boworsak Uwanno’s “notoriously untrustworthy, non-transparent … lacking in morality, ethics and honesty”; refer to individuals, especially those from a particular family or the said family’s political party, voted into government by the majority of largely ‘uneducate’ [sic] people deceived or bought by populist policies that gave them material things, rather than moral virtues; does not apply to individuals who came into political office via appointment by ‘good people’ because they only volunteer to work for the country and not to ‘play politics’.
Election = political activity that occurs every four years at the national level; often mistaken by democracy-obsessed citizens as necessary, even indispensable, in a parliamentary democratic system; while it is merely a small part of democracy, considering it involves an average of just four minutes of a voter’s participation in the political process; prone to deception and manipulation by ‘politicians’ with the victims being poor, rural and little educated voters who lack understanding of ‘true democracy’.
Incomplete democracy = the kind of democracy under elected government which has proved unstable, lending itself to exploitation by greedy populist ‘politicians’ whose primary claim to legitimacy was that they “came from election” i.e. voted in by people who have insufficient understanding of democracy.
Democracy trap = an illusion that democracy is “the best,” or “the least worst form of government” as some like to promote; ‘politicians’ have long manipulated the public’s sentiment, extolling the virtues of this imported idea to the point of undue obsession with it among the populations, whereas the reality is that while it may be desirable, democracy remains a foreign concept and needs to be adapted to the local cultural context, and one’s country may not be ready for foreign style democracy due to various complexities.
99.99% democracy = General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s description of Thailand’s political system following his ‘military intervention’, recently also ‘not 100% democracy’; the missing percentage is due to the fact that Thailand is currently under special circumstances that require fixing before full rights, freedom and liberty can be restored to all citizens.
Transitional democracy = form of government under Thailand’s 20th constitution, had it been enacted, as conceived by the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) Dr. Borwornsal Uwanno; the type of democracy appropriate for the current Thai cultural context, alternatively ‘sustainable democracy’ or ‘Thai-style democracy’; represents a necessary stage of democratic development before Thailand can achieve ‘perfect’ and ‘true democracy’.
Reform before election = political position of the ‘good people’ which helped propel the May 2014 ‘military intervention’ and has been adopted by the current administration into its reform agenda aiming to eradicate political corruption in which vote buying was a major problem; since the political situation has yet to be fully stabilized and the reform process still obstructed by sporadic disturbances from people with ‘different thoughts’ and incorrect ‘understanding’, representatives of ‘good people’ have proposed to extend the reform timeline by two more years or as long as it takes; now that the draft constitution has been rejected by the NRC because many members fear “elections will bring indefinite chaos,” the reform timeline gets a needed extension and breathing room, as the election date is now further postponed to 2017; reforms towards the total eradication of corruption must be achieved before electoral democracy can resume.
Corruption = abuse of political power or position for personal gain, a kind of moral depravity characteristic of elected ‘politicians’; includes a wide range of activities such as acceptance or demands of bribery, vote buying, exploiting official policies for personal or family benefits, authorizing official purchases at highly inflated prices, hiring family members in official capacity, embezzlement, etc.; the statesman and Privy Council chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda has recently said that corruption has embarrassed the nation and obstructed growth and urged Thais to stop admiring and respecting corrupt people.
Large discrepancy in prices = large difference (double, triple or more) between market prices and prices quoted or paid for in this government’s procurement of equipment, for example, state-of-the-art Bosch multimedia microphones and not-so-state-of-the-art Plasma TVs; considered ‘not quite corruption’ given that the people who made the procurement had ‘good intentions’ and they have returned the equipment.
Populism, populist policy = political doctrine, characteristic of public policy which aims to appeal to the interests of the general population with debilitating effects on the financial health of the nation and morality of its people; populist policies in Thailand were all implemented under elected governments (as a way to buy votes), such as universal health coverage (‘30 baht healthcare’), free tablets for school pupils, the disastrous rice pledging scheme, the first-car program, and the aborted speed train project; General Prem has railed against populist policies as having discouraged Thais to help themselves, saying “populism stops people from thinking,” and populist policies “have spoiled some people to do nothing but just waiting to take.”; does not apply to seemingly similar doctrine or policies implemented under unelected government with ‘good intentions’.
Low-income people = term used for poor people, instead of ‘grassroots’ reportedly to be banned* by General Prayuth using Section 44; suggested alternative, ‘people with little education’; the reason for suggested use of more appropriate terms is that Thailand no longer has class divisions and using terms that imply class distinctions, such as amart (aristocrat) or prai (serfs) as red shirt politicians have a propensity to do, is a major obstacle to ‘true democracy’ in Thailand (*note: the ‘grassroots’ word ban was actually ‘just a joke’—the government spokesman said that people should be able to tell when the prime minister is joking and that the media should have a sense of humor and avoid misinterpretation).
Service soldier = preferred term to ‘servant soldier’ for military conscripts assigned to do housework at the homes of military officers, as articulated by the army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr; the merit of employing conscripts as domestic workers came under scrutiny after recent allegations of abuse by a private serving a retired rear-admiral who denied the allegations, prompting the army chief to explain the conscript-as-maid policy that ‘service soldiers’ are “treated well with good welfare, they don’t need to spend their own earnings and learn a lot by living with their senior officers”.
*Note: The author has been unable to confirm whether the statement was made in all seriousness or as a joke or whether it was actually made at all. Clarification from the government spokesman may or may not be forthcoming.
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”.