Archive for October, 2015

Thailand, once again, confused partly by the purity of nationalist ideology and perhaps low self-esteem, is struggling with its own identity.

As reported by Aljazeera:

A Thai horror film about Buddhist monks has been banned over fears it could “destroy” the kingdom’s majority faith, authorities say.

The culture ministry on Tuesday objected to certain parts of the film Arbat, including a kissing scene and one where a monk is shown taking drugs.

The clergy have long been revered in overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand but in recent years have been rocked by scandals, including gambling and prostitution, as well as corruption at the increasingly wealthy temples propped by donations from the faithful.

“The movie has some scenes that will destroy Buddhism. If it is shown, people’s faith in Buddhism will deteriorate,” Somchai Surachatri, spokesman for Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, told AFP news agency.

Hmm, and what about the PDRC leader cum “monk” Buddha Issara who wrecked the streets of Bangkok with his ultra fundamentalism? Did the faith of Thai Buddhists deteriorate? Seems the institutions of Thailand are not interested to take action against him for shaming Thai Buddhism, or perhaps, due to his hardliner views, they fear his persona?

In the six weeks since then the behavior of 56-year-old Buddha Issara, abbot of Wat Or Noi in the central Thailand province of Nakhon Pathom, has sunk to increasingly depraved levels with photos of him interrogating undercover police who were caught intelligence gathering at his rally site and who were dragged before him after being beaten by his “guards” widely circulated.

Just days after this he led hundreds of his supporters and attempted to check into a hotel owned by the Shinawatra family where ten rooms had been booked in his name and a deposit of Bt4,200 (about US$129) paid. When the hotel refused to honour his booking fearful the affect the presence of protesters would have on their business he refused to leave until he was compensated for the inconvenience and what he claimed were costs incurred by farmers in getting to the hotel from up-country.

Surrounded by his “guards”, some wearing bulletproof vests, he received Bt120,000 ($3,680) compensation which he was photographed counting (The Vinaya-pitika, the disciplinary code laid down by the Buddha for monks and nuns, disallows monks from touching or handling money) and which he said would be paid to farmers for wasted diesel and other costs.

Source: The Establishment Post

Thailand’s military government has issued an order to seize US$16 million ($30 million) in assets from ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra over a failed rice subsidy scheme for farmers.

A Thai court has also issued an arrest warrant for Ms Yingluck’s exiled brother Thaksin Shinawatra, after he failed to turn up for a defamation case filed against him by the army.

The moves intensify pressure on the powerful Shinawatra family whose parties have won every election since 2001 on a wave of policies that were popular with Thailand’s rural masses.

Since toppling Ms Yingluck’s democratically-elected government in a coup last year, the military has dismantled almost all of her family’s network in state institutions and side-lined its political allies.

Source: Thai junta plan to seize $30m from ousted PM Yingluck Shinawatra

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yingluck wrote an open letter to general Prayuth on her Facebook about her views on the rice subsidy scheme and the junta’s action against her. Her complete statement:

Open Letter
To: General Prayuth Chan-ocha,
Head of the National Council for Peace and Order

I am writing an open letter to you because I haven’t had the opportunity to communicate with or meet you in person since you came into power as the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Prime Minister over a year ago on 22 May 2014. Since then, I have been continuously mistreated related to the “Rice Subsidy Scheme”, which I had declared to the parliament on many occasions;

1. National Legislative Assembly (NLA) impeached and removed me from the position of Prime Minister although at the time I was not in that position because I had already resigned and also was disqualified of the position by the Constitutional Court.

2. The Attorney General held a press conference stating his decision to indict and prosecute me to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions just a mere “one hour” before NLA’s impeachment.

You may reject an issue and state that these are not relevant to your responsibility since these two matters are in the hands of the NLA and the Attorney General. However, the following matter will be in your direct authority.

Regarding the Order no.448/2558 signed by you and the Minister of Finance dated April 3rd, 2015 under the subject of “the Appointment of the Fact Finding Committee”, you have appointed a committee to find out whether anybody must be responsible to pay compensation to the government for the damages incurred from the Rice Subsidy Scheme. In this matter, you spoke to the press insisting that if someone was found responsible for damages, compensations must be claimed.

You also emphasized that “if the fact finding indicates that if someone is guilty, then the conclusion is guilty. If the fact finding suggests otherwise, then the conclusion would be not guilty. If guilty, the due process shall be followed in filing for civil claim. Single standard is applied for all parties to ensure justice in an equitable manner.”

I sincerely hope you assigned the Fact Finding Committee to investigate the case under due process of law to provide “Justice” and adhere strictly to the due process without any unnecessary acceleration to conclude the findings. I hope that you will ensure fair and just opportunity for related persons to present evidences.

I feel worried because one of your legal advisors had publicly stated that it was conducive to claiming damages in the civil case which would cost enormous court fees to the government although the way normally used to claim for damages and to bring the case to the court is the best way to maintain justice.

However, your legal advisor tried to “misinterpret the law and legal mechanism” to claim for damages by advising you to issue administrative order, forcing me to pay for damages and to seize my asset just to avoid the court fees. By exercising the Administrative Order, you do not even have to consult the cabinet. It means that you are using your power as if you were a judge while the criminal case trial is still under the legal process in court.

I am making this statement as the former Prime Minister who was in charge of the Rice Subsidy Scheme that was aimed at enhancing the living conditions of the Thai farmers, who are responsible for the production of our nation’s commodity. The scheme was also vital in addressing issues in the rice price and market mechanism. I performed my duties with the utmost dedication to ensure that it led to the economic and social advancement of the nation. The scheme was managed under the position of Chairman of National Rice Policy’s Committee during my term as it is with you in the same position today.

I believe all people are entitled to a fair trial in court which is fundamental to the rule of law. The Rice Subsidy Scheme was a public policy that was declared to the parliament and the implementation of the scheme was compulsory administrative act. The Scheme legally binds all related government departments to its execution.

Therefore, the claim process of civil charge must be transparent and fair. You, as the Prime Minister and as the Chairman of National Rice Policy Committee, are currently addressing rice issues in disagreement of my rice policy. This means that you are a “stakeholder” and cannot possibly offer “unbiased” views on the matter. Therefore, exercising the Prime Minister power as a judge to order a civil claim without the court’s decision is definitely against the rule of law.

To proceed in accordance to the rule of laws, I propose to you as follow:
1. Reconsider and terminate any executions regarding the Rice Subsidy Scheme’s civil claim proposed by your legal advisors and signed by the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the National Rice Policy Committee at the present which are unfair and is subject to conflicts of interest.

2. After the court’s ruling in the criminal case, the government should file a civil claim through the court in order to be just to the accused if found guilty.

3. The trial at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Positions is still not final. Your legal advisor stated that the case’s statute of limitation still have enough ongoing time. The government should not accelerate or shortcut the fact finding procedure for the case. To be fair and just, you should provide sufficient opportunities for related persons to testify and present their evidences. I have sent many requests to you and the Fact Finding Committee asking for the opportunity to present evidences but many requests have not been considered and examined.

Finally, I have asked my lawyer to submit the formal letter in this matter to you on Tuesday October 13th, 2015 at 10.00 a.m. at the government’s Information and Complaint Channel. I sincerely hope that when you receive this letter, you would not simply ignore it but consider my request in a just manner since you have always claimed that you will ensure equal justice for all.

Thank you.
Yingluck Shinawatra
Former Prime Minister of Thailand
12th October 2015

An angry crowd of about 500 people surrounded Thalang police station in Phuket on Saturday (Oct 10) to demand justice after two people were killed in a police chase.

About 700 police officers and military personnel have been dispatched from nearby Krabi and Phang Nga for reinforcement at the police station in Thalang, local news site Phuketwan reported.

At least five cars near the police station were reportedly set on fire as the protest continued.

Phuket Governor Chamreon Tipayapongthada is investigating the alleged deadly police chase that claimed the lives of the two victims – Prathomwat Panarak, 22, and a 17-year-old whose name has been withheld, according to Phuket News.

Source by Channel NewsAsia

Images from https://www.facebook.com/PataniPeaceful

So much for ‘happiness’ in junta-controlled Thailand.

My thoughts.

Community-based programs, NGOs and privately-run social initiatives are actively involved in areas where Thailand military government support is not sufficient. Often the junta-led “government” projects are cosmetic, and fail to provide much-need policy changes that would greatly improve quality of life.

However efforts are still being made in forging partnerships between NGOs and the government. It’s a fact that the role of an NGO is important especially in the rural parts of the country where poverty incidence is high.

One of my concerns is rural micro-finance programs implemented by NGOs and provincial/federal authorities. Such programs provide valuable services to the rural poor although I have yet to see indicators of accountability and transparency in the financial aspects of these programs. There’s also the issue of questionable deliverables (unachievable expectations, low capacity) and the late dispersement of monies to the stakeholders.

Core problems of social programming are often related to the lack of participation in democratic decision-making. Perhaps some NGOs and officials do not want to see an empowered marginalized community to make informed decisions and lobby for their rights. In this case, from the absence of their rights to a transparent process of not just the budget allocation but also to the conceptualization and project monitoring.

I once mentioned to someone from a reputable local “poverty eradication” NGO that its within their interest to encourage communities to be part and parcel of problem-solving in the programs. But rather than consider and consult the stakeholders about this issue, the officer was rather defensive about the state of affairs. Apparently foreigners do not understand ‘Thainess’ and as such have no business expressing my views. It could also be that he and his organization prefer the comfort zone of prescribing solutions to the communities, rather than consultation.

Anyway as the national economy plunges, its difficult to not come to the conclusion that corruption will increase and that marginalized communities will be extremely vulnerability; as flawed systems, pride and human greed override the original objective of community-service.

Economic growth can help reduce poverty through an increase in household income, providing earnings to obtain the minimum basic needs. That being said, equality and other rights-based concerns must be tackled by all parties to enable a reduction of poverty. I’m not so sure whether the junta realise this, or maybe they just don’t care. I wonder.

 

Some of my Thai acquaintances in Bangkok get uptight when the topic of conversation goes to the livelihood of the working class. With annoyed tones, they tell me there are many opportunities for employment, for the poor and slum inhabitants. Despite their assurances, they’re from the urban middle-class, and if you’ve lived in Bangkok for a time, you would naturally understand that their ‘wisdom’ does not accurately reflect the issues and concerns of the poor.

Street vendors in Bangsaen facing a quiet night, devoid of customers. Image by Zashnain Zainal.

Street vendors in Bangsaen facing a quiet night, devoid of customers. Image by Zashnain Zainal.

Work in the informal sector, are important, they say, the building blocks of the city, and the list is endless, rightfully. They believe that the poor should focus on “the abundance of jobs provided by the businesses” rather than criticise the military establishment for “this and that”. Jobs in the informal sector, such as manual labourers (especially in the construction industry), street vendors, some family workers and traditional craftspeople are available. Then there’s the higher income groups within this sector: factory workers whose wages are low but whose income is regular and secured.

I wasn’t in the mood to argue. In fact, nowadays arguments about “class” have led nowhere, especially with the belief that foreigners such as myself are not capable of understanding the sophisticated mindset of an urban, educated Thai.

But then, I understand the situation quite well. As a Malaysian, I see such class-culture, or caste in most cases, prevalent in my country. I often tell people the socio-economic situation is somewhat “same-same”, that both countries share similar problems.

Anyway, Thailand’s economy under the military has sunk deep into a deep void. The World Bank has called it the “worst performing economy in Asean.” Though it was not always like that. Ten years ago, Thailand was the best performer.

The political uncertainty that has undermined economic growth will persist, as some analysts believe.

Political uncertainty holds back the economy:

The political uncertainty that has undermined economic growth will persist for the medium term. Nomura Securities’ economists believe “political issues will likely be given priority, leaving the economic agenda (including structural reforms and large-scale infrastructure projects) on the backburner.” Thailand’s finance ministry has revised 2015’s growth figure three times down to 3%, with first quarter growth at 3% and second quarter growth at 2.8% this year.

and that’s not the end of it…

Thailand has seen a huge drop in foreign direct investment this year as other companies choose the Land of Smiles’ neighbouring countries with better business environments. According to stock exchange data, foreign investors withdrew a net $1.2bn from domestic equities in August this year, the biggest monthly outflow in two years.

Furthermore, the military regime has prevented Thailand from integrating with the world economy. Military rule led to the suspension of free trade talks with the European Union last year. With the military regime being extended for at least another two years and no sign of a return to democracy, it is unlikely we will see the EU-Thailand Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations finalised in the foreseeable future.

There’s more, as reported by Reuters:

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy has yet to regain traction after more than a year of military rule as exports are sluggish while high household debt has dampened consumption. Falling commodity prices have also cut farmers’ incomes.

So how will this impact the informal sector? I shared several links and economic analysis to my acquaintances; somewhat curious of their thoughts. They replied, with one obnoxiously stating that the working class must place their trust in the junta and that “if they are patriots, they’ll continue working,” in whatever work that’s available, that is.

However the rest appeared hesitant, unsure, and in truth they have lost confidence in the junta’s road-map and other so-called grand endeavours. Clarity has finally caught up with some, and I hope they start questioning their leaders about the poor state of the country, and not just kowtow to the delusions of a clueless junta.

[Poem] Musician’s Words

Posted: October 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

A must read.

Happy souls in Hell (enjoying mental difficulties)

Musician’s Words

the musician’s words; could more easily enter the
world beyond the mind

holding of multiple domains of knowledge in an
unreadable book.

–Humphrey King, 2015

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It’s a positive sign to see peace-building initiatives in conflict-torn south Thailand, especially when people are invited to express themselves about their concerns and hopes.

As reported by Benar News:

Some 1,000 scholars, diplomats, social workers and students took part Wednesday in an international conference in Thailand’s violence-wracked Deep South aimed at fostering peace in the region, where at least five people died in continued fighting this week, according to officials and police.

The participants from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines – three Southeast Asian nations hit by Muslim insurgencies – agreed to forge a network among academics for research and other activities that promote peace-building and conflict resolution using various models.

They said the resolution of long-running conflicts in Indonesia’s Aceh province and an ongoing peace deal in the southern Philippines offered hope for an end to the insurgency in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim southern border region, which has left more than 6,000 people dead and 10,000 injured since 2004.

My thoughts: Key aspects of peace-building is sustainability of discussions, and where people could express their issues and needs without persecution from the junta or other overzealous authorities. That should include out-of-the-conference context, with small group discussions among rural, marginalized groups, and should include indigenous communities.

The Mani community, among a handful of tribes, has been neglected in the “Patani Melayu” equation of self-determination. I worry about the Melayu nationalism agenda, and how it may further ostracise others in the quest for identity. As it is, what is the junta doing to ensure fair representation of indigenous people in decision-making process in south Thailand? If nothing now, when will it happen?